The Illusion of Control, the Reality of Responsibility
I’ve been struggling to find something useful to say about the horrible situation unfolding in Iraq, and Daniel Larison’s most recent post has finally enabled me to crystallize my small contribution.
I agree with him that maintaining a presence in Iraq would not have given us very much ability to shape events. The best evidence of that is the situation in Afghanistan, where our presence – augmented for several years – has done little to change the character of the Afghan government, or to prevent the reemergence of the Taliban once we began to reduce our commitment once again.
But we are responsible for the situation in Iraq. We are directly responsible in that we broke the existing arrangement of power and installed ourselves as the occupier. We are also indirectly responsible inasmuch as our overweening hegemonic influence in the region means that inaction is also a kind of action. So, because the Syrian civil war has not resolved, but expanded and become more violent and extreme, and because that civil war and Iraq’s are, with the rise of ISIS, effectively merging, to the extent that we may be “blamed” for not resolving that civil war, we may also be “blamed” indirectly for the deterioration in Iraq.
None of which means we should do something stupid and counter-productive, but it provides and genuine moral explanation for why we might feel obliged to do something.
ISIS may be likened to the Khmer Rouge, who might never have come to power in Cambodia had we not bombed that country as part of our failed effort to defeat North Vietnam. Then, of course, it was our old enemy, Vietnam, that kicked out the Khmer Rouge from Cambodia. Similarly, if ISIS is prevented from overrunning Iraq, it will probably be because of intervention by Iran.
People who think the world will swiftly get more peaceful if we mind our own business may well be just as wrong as the people who think that by sticking our nose into other people’s business we can force the world to be peaceful.