Will Bullwinkle and Wyatt Earp Start World War III?


Recognized and esteemed conservative opinion-makers seem to have a dismally inadequate grasp of Middle Eastern issues.

On September 30, Rachel Marsden wrote the following paragraph in an article not dedicated to the Middle East—but whose encapsulated pedigree for the murderous, loathsome Islamic State was the clearest thing of its kind that I’ve seen:

Economics are at the root of all the current problems in the world, including Middle Eastern terrorism and the Islamic State. The Islamic State problem was seeded years ago, with the funding and training of Syrian mercenaries to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort by the West and by oil-revenue competitors Qatar and Saudi Arabia to upend the economic alliance of Syria, Russia and Iran. If economics hadn’t been a consideration, the Islamic State probably wouldn’t exist.

It puts me somewhere between despair and fury to think how long I’ve looked for straight talk of this nature from people who ought to know a helluva lot more about the Middle East than I. My expertise falls loosely within the vast terrain of ancient and medieval language and literature. I’m a generalist… but even in my vainest moment, I would not pretend to understand much about recent Eastern Mediterranean history or Islam or the oil market. I’m just an ordinary American citizen with a deep respect for our Constitution and a strong suspicion of governmental power. I’d like the “experts”—the diplomatic folk, the politicos, the professional commentators, and anyone else who has been trained and gets paid to do this—to explain to me the ongoing crisis in an area that the Romans called Asia.

Why am I constantly tormented by a feeling that I, in my ignorance and naiveté, see things more plainly than they do? That’s not good.

For starters, why did we invade Iraq and remove its Sunni dictator and and his elite entourage from power if we did not intend to create a steady band of Shiite influence from Iran to Syria? Doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do, but… didn’t we know that it would happen? And once it happened, why did we think that Sunni factions would not disrupt the new Iraqi government with help from Saudi Arabia?

Why do “conservative” commentators persist in saying that we should never have drawn our troops out of Iraq—was it because they know darn well, and always knew, that the Sunni Saddam’s removal would be followed by Sunni insurgency for the foreseeable future? But under what scenario, then, did and do these same conservatives imagine that we could ever have withdrawn our troops? Or was their plan to make of Iraq our fifty-first state?

Why have we pursued alliance with Saudi Arabia since long before 9/11 if we are so preoccupied with the democratic process, human rights, and religious freedom? The answer, of course, is oil; but why, then, in the wake of a direct attack by a terrorist organization funded by Saudi money—Al Qaeda—and led by a member of the Saudi royal family—Osama bin Laden—did we not forthwith sever our ties with that nation by producing all or most of our oil domestically? Initial support for President Bush was immense, Congress would have produced the necessary votes, and the issue could justly have been put before the people as a matter of national security.

Why does Israel appear relatively comfortable with the near presence of Saudi Arabia while harrowed and obsessed by the distant presence of Iran? Probably because Iran funnels money to Hezbollah and has publicly and repeatedly threatened to wipe the Jewish nation off the map. But why is the sponsor-state of Al Qaeda less of a menace to us than is the sponsor-state of Hezbollah; and now that the Saudis are also supporting ISIS, both by a trail of money extending well into the past (according to Ms. Marsden) and by a persistent pattern of non-intervention, why is the default “conservative” position that we must oppose Iran, first and foremost, just to help out our good buddy Israel?

Purely from an impartial point of view (if any such “pure” view is possible among human beings), when has any terrorist organization in the history of higher hominids ever committed such atrocities as approach the fiendish tortures and bloodletting of the ISIS cultists? If all twenty-to-forty thousand ISIS “warriors” could be assembled in one place, would any decent person strongly object to our dropping a nuclear bomb on them? Okay, there would be environmental consequences… but, say, a “clean bomb”, if such a thing exists?

And if killing these ravenous animals in pants is Job One, why are we dragging our heels by trying to work out the simultaneous ouster of Bashar al-Assad? If Iran’s pressure from the east and Assad’s from the west is our best way of crushing ISIS, why are we crippling one of our lines of attack by subverting its leader?

Not that the obamaniacal treaty with Iran makes any sense as a way of catalyzing this clap of two great hands from opposite directions… Iran would already have pursued ISIS without any hyper-concessive treaty, simply in self-preservation. And if Israel appears far less distressed about ISIS than she does about the Iranian nuclear program, this is hardly a reason to pledge that we will spy on our ally for the mullahs and otherwise compromise what the Israelis see as justified self-defensive measures. Israel has shown that she can protect herself. Let her do so.

Or if Israel must be muzzled so that Iran may fling itself collectively upon ISIS, then why must Assad be toppled even as we try to enlist his troops in the war against ISIS? Even if some sort of hand-shaking were required to mobilize Iran against ISIS, why would we use the other hand to slap down Assad as he mobilizes the same effort from the other direction?

And although I am now accusing Obama & Co. of runaway imbecility in their prosecution of the war against ISIS, will I not also find a host of Republicans—not just the anemic McCain/Graham strain, but most of the Russian-baiting hotspurs who would be president—among those who wish to vaporize Assad and ISIS in one motion?

Speaking of Russia, that other major player in Ms. Marsden’s assessment… the amiable Mr. Hannity and his brethren are whipping us into a frenzy of rage over Putin’s strafing of anti-Assad targets under the guise of opposing ISIS. Well, if Assad’s troops are our best bet for crushing ISIS from the west in Operation Symplegades (my name: no truly concerted operation exists, of course), and if lovable freedom-fighters are impeding him from doing that, then might not the lovable freedom-fighters be viewed as assisting ISIS indirectly? Erdogan’s Turkey also recently dealt itself into the war—very belatedly, and just long enough to strafe several Kurdish targets under the guise of attacking ISIS. In this instance, the Kurds were and had long been actively engaged in fighting ISIS tooth and nail, so they could hardly be construed as having impeded anti-ISIS strategy. Where was Mr. Hannity’s outrage then?

And for that matter, what batting average do we find typical of the various lovable freedom-fighters into whose hands we have connived to deliver various Islamic dictatorships over the past five years? And for that matter, how did the deposing of the Shah of Iran in 1978 work out? Any chance that we might pause and pass our policy of indiscriminately embracing lovable freedom-fighters under review?

Perhaps the “conservative” hawks are really just ticked off that Putin has occupied our “sphere of influence” in the “balance of power” (they always seem to revive terminology that orbited events preceding World War I). Why? Where in our Constitution is any authority delegated or any right declared to mingle in the affairs of nations halfway around the globe? Counting the Caspian Sea, Russia shares about a thousand miles of border with Iran. How would we feel if Putin decided to interfere with our oil supply from Mexico?

Is this Scene Two of Sundown at Tombstone, an evolving Hollywood script where we eventually shoot it out at the O.K. Corral with Putin because he keeps fencing in range that isn’t his? Is it even worthwhile trying to point out that the removal of Ukraine’s Yanukovich from office as the streets of Kiev burned was a strictly illegal provocation (backed by the EU and the US) that understandably moved ethnic Russians in the nation’s east to seek a champion?

Mr. Hannity notes that Putin is “ex-KGB” as regularly as Homer tells us that Achilles is swift-footed. Is this really the level at which we conservatives are going to process information? Is it not possible for us to get beyond the “Bullwinkle paradigm”, where every guy who speaks English without articles before his nouns is Boris Badenov? Hannity’s ad hominem presentation of the issues is at least far above Glenn Beck’s throaty “Boris” imitations; but when our children’s peace hangs in the balance, shouldn’t we expect a framing of the situation more serious than either one of these? Alexander Litvinenko (in whose murder Putin may or may not have been implicated) was ex-KGB, too. Practically every ambitious, energetic male of that generation flirted with the KGB in his school days. Should Heinrich Böll be stripped of his Nobel Prize because he served the Third Reich as a lad? Don’t look now… but if we’re keeping score for association with despotic murder, our own president, who seems to have grown up as much as he’s capable of doing, is actively using JSOC forces as a public-sector Murder, Inc., in almost a hundred nations around the world. (See Jeremy Scahill’s documentary, Dirty Wars.)

Why are we meddling in all this? If you grew up with Vietnam on television every evening and you have a draft-age son, you have to be less than thrilled about the prospect of World War III. Why is anyone who calls himself a conservative trying to unleash a pack of dogs in this hunt?

I know that I know virtually nothing in these matters. Why is it, then, that even an ignoramus like me can tell that our specially selected experts and strategists, our watchdogs of talk radio and the blogosphere, and a distinct majority of our Republican presidential hopefuls are wading in a muck of stupid calls while spitting trash at their adversaries like WWE hulks?

Why do I have to rely upon my own meager resources and my natural allotment of common sense when there are so many others who ought to be able to render assistance? What’s the matter with us?

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