SHOCK AND YAWN

08.16.14

Up to a Point: Shrugging Our Way Back to War in Iraq

We’ve begun a new military adventure in Iraq, and Americans don’t seem to mind. Isn’t that, you know, kind of weird?

I was on the patio honoring the cocktail hour and reading the paper when my son, who was supposed to be mowing the lawn, said, “Dad, is America at war in Iraq?”

“Usually,” I said. “Let me check.” And, sure enough, there on page 5 of The Daily Bugle, “Obama Orders Airstrikes – Small Group of Military Advisors Deployed.”

Now, to a fellow my age, whose memory dates back to well before the Tonkin Gulf Incident, you’d think “airstrikes” and “small group of military advisors” would be cause for alarm. But this is Iraq. It was cause for a second scotch, which, to tell the truth, I was going to have anyway.

Aren’t we always at war in Iraq? Mightn’t the Bugle headline just as well have been “Cloudy in Seattle”?

War in Iraq is exciting the first few times but then begins to pall, the way sex, drugs, and rock and roll turn into marriage, Prilosec, and the One Direction concert I took my daughter to.

When I was a foreign correspondent, at the turn of the last century, it seemed like I was always rushing off to cover Desert Sword, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Desert Swipe, Desert Wipe-Up. Nowadays I wouldn’t even know where to rush. We seem to have “war in Iraq” automated.

Is war in Iraq one of those things that U.S. Presidents just do? Perhaps it’s among the arcane and incomprehensible routine Oval Office ceremonies such as photo ops in the Rose Garden with foreign leaders nobody’s ever heard of, or giving every member of Congress a pen, all of which have been supposedly used to sign a pointless piece of legislation.

JFK’s C.I.A. was complicit in the February 1963 coup that overthrew Iraq’s dictator, Abd al-Karim Qasim, and killed 50,000 Iraqis.

Relations with Iraq were severed during the LBJ administration. That’s usually a prelude to war, and we might have had one if LBJ hadn’t been so busy in Vietnam.

Nixon armed Iraq’s Kurdish rebels. 

Reagan sold weapons to Iraq to fight Iran. And (in Iran-Contra) sold weapons to Iran to fight Iraq.

George H. W. Bush waged the First Gulf War.

Clinton ordered cruise missile and bombing attacks on Iraq.

George W. Bush waged the Second Gulf War.

And President Obama has caused more carnage in Iraq by retreating than other presidents caused by invading.

Is the problem us? Or is the problem Iraq?

Maybe we’re addicted to war in Iraq the way kids today are addicted to what war has become more and more like, a video game. (In Obama’s case “Angry Birds” rather than “Call of Duty.”)

Do we need a 12-Step program?

Step No. 3, “Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him,” is the problem over there, not the solution.

Are we bullies? Is Iraqi the designated freshman with Scotch tape on his eyeglasses, a pocket protector, and mismatched socks, who gets locked in a locker?

War in Iraq is exciting the first few times but then begins to pall, the way sex, drugs, and rock and roll turn into marriage, Prilosec, and the One Direction concert I took my daughter to.

Again, no. Iraqis aren’t freshmen. In 2250 B.C. Sumerians and Akkadians were going at it in what’s now Iraq.

And if you really get to know the kid with the mismatched socks—and one gets to know oneself quite well during hours spent locked in a locker— you’ll discover he’s a mean little prick who’s been asking for it.

Does oil explain it all? Iraq produces only four percent of the world’s oil. That’s less than our old enemy, Russia, and our easily conquerable northern neighbor, Canada.

The problem is not us. The problem is them. And what is their problem?

Bad governance?

For sure. But in 2010 and 2011 Belgium was so politically divided that it took the country 541 days to form a government. And the Belgians didn’t even throw chocolates or spit Stella Artois at each other.

Being Arabs?

I’ve been to Irish weddings. I’ve been to Arab weddings. Guess where you’re more likely to need a Taser.

Isn’t Islam a violent religion?

Read Psalm 137, the one that was turned into the catchy reggae song “Rivers of Babylon.” Read it to the end. “O daughter of Babylon… Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

Then check history from Sumerians and Akkadians to Ukrainians and Putin. What’s going on in Iraq is normal, quotidian human behavior and has been since the start of time.

There are only a few parts of the earth where these things don’t happen all the time—England, Western Europe, Canada, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

My personal theory is that we have lawns and other large expanse of greensward (or, in the case of Japan, neatly raked Zen gardens), the care and maintenance of which keep us too busy for fanaticism on our Sabbath or murder on our time off. Eastern Europe has weedy lots. Latin America has walled compounds. The Indian subcontinent may have lawns but so many beggars are sleeping on them that it’s hard to tell. The Chinese will pave anything.

And the Middle East is Calamity’s Country Club, Satan’s Sand Trap, a golf course with no greens or fairways and rough that couldn’t get rougher if the Middle East collided with Mars. The slope rating is infinity. The 18 holes are tunnels into Israel from Gaza.

Maybe we should give them lawns instead of air support.

“Father, I am going to Paradise by slaughtering infidels with a suicide bomb on my body.”

“Not until you finish mowing the lawn.”

The Middle East turns out to be a country club that’s easy to get into but hard to get out of.

Resign and we could have Iran coming in and saving Iraq’s Halal turkey bacon. Put 77 million Iranians who hate us together with 36 million Iraqis who hate us and that’s a lot of people who hate us, all trying to make an atomic bomb.

Or we could have the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq actually becoming “The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq” and joining the UN with Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi getting a photo op in the Rose Garden.

Of course there’s a third option, which, given President Obama’s fondness for agonizing over decisions, is the most likely. We could have both.

I’d write a blistering editorial about it, but I have to bug my son to finish mowing the lawn.