People often say negative things about the Beltway and its chattering classes, its think tanks and wonks on one hand, its pundits on the other, its congressional committees on yet a third hand.
But it’s in times of crisis — like this current situation in Iraq with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seizing city after city — that we feel grateful to these people. At least they have kept up with all the goings-on and come up with handy acronyms for us to use. At least they are ready to offer us good, sound advice, or at least set out our options.
As John Kerry told Katie Couric, “I think we are open to any constructive process here that could minimize the violence, hold Iraq together, the integrity of the country, and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces that are ripping it apart.”
Fortunately, we have plenty of options that fit that bill!
“There are no good options,” The Post’s Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News.
The Riverdale Press asked Eliot Engel, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, what the U. S. responsibility was toward Iraq. Engel observed, “The truth is, right now there are no good choices in Iraq. It’s a very, very dire situation. It almost makes you long for the good old days of Saddam Hussein, and I never thought I’d say that.”
“Defenders of the president often ask critics, “Well, what do you want to do?” I’ll be honest. I don’t know.” writes Jonah Goldberg in National Review. “We have no good options left. I certainly think we should have provided assistance to the (corrupt and pathetic) Iraqi government when they asked for air support last month. But I don’t want boots on the ground. What I really want is that time machine.” I am pretty sure this time machine is a rhetorical device, but it’s closer to a concrete suggestion than many folks have offered.
It could potentially create more tears in the space-time fabric than it winds up solving, but, you know, is at least a viable solution.
The New Republic’s John B. Judis at least offers some hope: “Obama has two options on Iraq,” the headline on his piece reads. “Both are terrible.”
The New Yorker’s Political Scene podcast discussed the situation and came to the same conclusion. “No Good Options in Iraq,” reads the headline.
But at least on the ground we have some good options, tactics-wise!
The Daily Beast quotes Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) of the House Intelligence Committee as saying that — given, among other factors, our lack of good intelligence about whom to strike and the proximity of ISIS to civilians in urban areas — “It’s hard to imagine how we could do something that would produce … even the most modest tactical advantage.”
But of course, it is possible to take the long view.
“We are not only talking about Iraq when we talk about Iraq, we are also talking about ourselves,” writes Peggy Noonan. “We are not only talking about the past, we are talking about the future.”
So: time machine? It sounds like time machine.
As Socrates said, the beginning of wisdom is the knowledge of your own ignorance. So at least we have that going for us. In spades.
The problem is that with everyone announcing loudly and in print that “I have no idea what we are supposed to be doing! I thought ISIS was something from ‘Archer’! Good luck, somebody!” we create a void for the same people who were absolutely convinced that they knew what to do in Iraq the last time.
Dick Cheney, for instance, has a few ideas. “Our security, and the security of our friends around the world, can only be guaranteed with a fundamental reversal of the policies of the past six years,” he and his daughter Liz Cheney wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
So that is … an option.
Fortunately, we can feel confident that what we come up with will be at least as good as that plan the CIA briefly had in Afghanistan, where we were going to turn public sentiment against Osama bin Laden by producing a creepy devil-doll that resembled Darth Maul! The minds behind that plan are probably hard at work on this issue right now.
My point is, we have lots of capable people here, and I’m sure we can come up with something great.