Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Necessary reading about Iraq: Lawrence Wright's current blog post in The New Yorker:

Wright is to my mind our best and most indispensable investigative reporter. His New Yorker pieces about the Satanism scare — I wasn't merely abused, I was really and truly SATANICALLY abused, and hence I hate my parents and have so many personalities I am more like a village than an individual (compiled in Wright's "Remembering Satan, 1994") — helped put an end to what was becoming national hysteria. Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11", what I’ve read of it, in The New Yorker, is excellent. His most recent book "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief" (2013) means he must always look over his shoulder to see if Tom Cruise or, if Cruise is on location, John Travolta is sneaking up on him.

Wright's post about ISIS is chilling. For example, leaders of al Qaeda asked their counterparts in ISIS not to behead people: beheading is old school and leaves a bad impression. What's wrong with just shooting whomever in the back of the head? The leaders of ISIS stuck to beheading on principle. That group favors brutality, savagery, horrible press. Brutality begets brutality, unforgiveness, endless sectarian strife. Endless sectarian strife is their hearts' desire, as Wright sees it. ISIS wants a war to the bitter end between Shia and Sunni that will lead, so their faith tells them, to the creation of a Sunni Caliphate.

Wright does not weigh in on what the United States should do vis a vis ISIS. After reading him, it's hard for me to see how we could do anything to fundamentally change the course of events.

That assessment is informed by an op-ed in the NY Times (Steven Simon, "Who Will Win in Iraq?"). The writer makes some basic points about this complicated situation it's useful not to forget: "Sunnis," he writes, "are a relatively small part of the Iraqi population, about 25 percent — though they are a majority in some areas of the west and north. And in Baghdad their numbers are minuscule."

Simon's view is that the ISIS can never take Bagdad or rule from there, and that its insurgency will, on its own, reach its limits. What will be left of Iraq is unclear. He thinks what's left of it will be ever more in "thrall to Iran." Perhaps. Hard to see what any sort of American military action can do about that. I tend, therefore, to the position that the United States should pretty much do nothing. I know, that's tough given our unique military and so many Republicans.

Obama voted against funding the invasion of Iraq. He wanted to get us out of there, and has (though, as if to compensate, he "surged" in Afghanistan to no apparent purpose given that he simultaneously set a date for American withdrawal. How inane was that?).

I don't think Obama's got it in him to defend inaction vis a vis ISIS by saying loud and clear that the invasion of Iraq was a geo-political disaster of untold proportions, and that no amount of bombs or drones can change that, or give meaning to the loss of American lives.

Obama won't go that route. He will, perforce, bomb or drone something.

(I, personally, am not against boots on the ground, lots of them, provided nobody is wearing them. Let's drop, or better yet, parachute, 150,00 boots —  all sizes and styles, men, women, children boots — into Iraq. It will be good for manufacturing here, and, I submit, freak out ISIS.)

As I've said, Iraq is complicated. I don't have a knee-jerk solution, though I reason toward the conclusion that it's best for us to leave dreadful enough alone.

Here's the worst piece I've read about Iraq and ISIS. It's by Lee Smith who writes about the Middle-East for Smith's always snarky about Arabs. He doesn't think much of them, or their capacity for modernizing. Sometimes, he makes me think, as when he writes: "The bedrock issue in the Middle East isn’t the Israeli occupation of anything, but sectarianism."

Hmm. . . But when he argues that we should arm Israel, as if we haven't already, super-arm it, because only Israel can fix the problem, whatever respect I've had for him, whatever reason I've had to read him, evaporates.

How can Israel fix the problem? Does he think Israeli troops storming into Iraq will do anything other than resolve the Sunni-Shia split in favor of all guns blazing at the Jewish State?

People say such things, and despite patent absurdities, go on saying and getting paid for saying them.


  1. I read Juan Cole at --- He's a professor of Arabic at Michigan. He gives some -- not too much -- historic background to the current crisis. He agrees with those who state that ISIS will stall and can't win. I agree with that. I also say the the Sunnis of Iraq will soon deeply regret inviting them to lead the struggle. Sort of like inviting the Hell's Angels to provide security at your BBQ birthday party.

    1. fred, i agree with you & juan cole. just heard jay garner, who headed our administration in iraq, argue at length (on the bbc) that anything we do will be as bad as what we have done, except for arming the kurds.