Monday, November 16, 2015

The Warmonger and the Smug Shrug

Domestic reaction to the tragic events in Paris this week leaves little doubt about the decrepit state of American politics. While liberals and conservatives do not shoot one another, their conflicts are no less anti-intellectual and insane than the ancient rivalries that are roiling today’s Middle East. The right decries President Obama’s “pacifism”.  The Ann Coulter/Rush Limbaugh/NRA crowd posit that to end terrorism what the world needs now are guns, more guns while bigoted Republican Governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan and Texas assert they’ll close their borders to all Syrian refugees. On the left, the Internet is full of memes bashing former President Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, endlessly re-litigating Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, and blaming all present and historical ills in the Middle East on the actions of an early 21st Century American President.

Sadly, neither left nor the right have any solutions to the dual foreign policy conundrums of terrorism and the Middle East’s descent into anarchy.  Heroes on both sides have made mistakes. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq blew the lid off the always simmering Sunni/Shia conflict and provided a breeding ground for fanatic extremists. President Obama’s unsure, tenuous policies in Syria and Libya further destabilized the region and his diplomatic agenda has been lackluster and at times contradictory. Both left and right were foolhardy in placing too much faith in the Arab Spring, in which fragile democratic flowers were crushed under the boots of age-old tribal factions and religious sects. 

Both sides have done some things right, too. The senior President Bush defanged the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by deftly building a gigantic multi-national coalition, and President Obama helped to reduce the threat of a nuclear Iran with diplomatic aplomb. Yet partisans insist upon a binary world: their team must always be on the side of the angels, while their opponents must be all evil. In the convoluted, gray-scale world of foreign policy, that’s a stupid world view. On this, both the left and right are a Confederacy of Dunces, in which Rush Limbaugh is no less misguided than a liberal political science professor at an Ivy League University.

The right are WARMONGERS:  bomb, baby bomb is the only solution proffered.  The irony here is obvious. Bomb baby bomb doesn’t change hearts and minds, regardless of whether the target is Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq or Syria.

The left offer little more than a SMUG SHRUG: the solution, we are told, is old fashioned isolationism, ignoring ISIL and withdrawing within our borders whilst leaving the European Union to sort it all out, and oh well, terrorism isn’t that big a threat, anyway. The irony here is that just HOURS before the Paris bombing a Politico investigative story outlining how Bush and Cheney allegedly ignored intelligence warnings of the impending 9/11 attack was pounced on by liberal Facebook and blog posts and by left-leaning cable talking heads. Bush and Cheney failed, it seems, because they were…um…too isolationist in their dealings with the Middle East.

Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake but we must not forget that Arab factionalism, religious extremism and fanaticism are not an invention of the United States. The intense hatred amongst the Sunni and Shia Muslim sects dates from the Battle of Siffin in the year 657, not from the months leading up to September 11, 2001. 

Even before the US invasion of Iraq, the Shia, a minority Muslim sect, was already seething at the hands of Sunni totalitarianism. Much like Europe in the years before the First World War, conflict was coming. Whether the match that ignited this mess was ultimately struck by Bush’s missteps in Iraq, the spread of the Taliban from Afghanistan to neighboring states, the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, or the rapid souring of the Arab Spring (weakening Sunni Egypt vis a vis a resurgent Shia Iraq) is largely a moot point. The Arab world is on fire. What we need is a policy to deal with it.

Since the Paris bombing, the left has erupted in a Civil War of Words to determine who among them are the most politically correct. Those who changed their Facebook profile backgrounds to mirror the French flag are told they are racist, ignoring the pain and suffering of the victims of terrorist attacks in Lebanon in the days before the Paris violence. Those flying the French flag on Facebook offer the counter-accusation of “Grief Shaming."  The only common ground here appears to be racial insensitivity toward the Russian victims aboard the downed jetliner, who garner zero sympathy from either camp. Newsflash. None of this online nonsense is any solace to any victim of terrorist violence, and none of it will do a damn thing to promote adult discussions to give us real policy solutions in the real world.  

Roughly a week before the Paris bombing, President Carter published an op-ed in the New York Times on possible diplomatic solutions in the Middle East. Before the Paris attack interrupted the methodology, I was running an online test. I posted links to Carter’s article on 25 randomly selected public liberal forums. On the same day, on the same forums, I also posted a meme showing Bush and Cheney swinging from a tree. The Carter link drew a few snide comments, of the smug shrug none-of-this-will-work variety, while the baboon meme garnered hundreds of gleeful comments (and a small but lively coterie of right wing trolls). The descent into the anti-intellectual abyss is pretty much complete on this issue. Not only do progressives not care to have adult policy discussions, they get snippy if you suggest maybe they should.

You may say the Internet isn’t the place to make such judgments, that one’s snappy comment in an online forum or on Facebook or Twitter proves nothing. Then why not search for commentary from those on the left in reputable newspapers and journals for proposed solutions? Alas, you see more diatribes and left versus right sniping. Discussion on Presidential campaign sites, where we should be discussing issues, are the deepest, vilest cesspools of all. No matter where one searches, President Carter ends up looking lonely, indeed.

The right, meanwhile, is issuing racist bellicose diatribes, as a dozen candidates, half of whom likely don’t know the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam, seek to solidify their poll numbers in Iowa.

And so it goes. Just one of the hundreds of memes, posts and vitriolic diatribes on my Facebook feed rang true this week: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” It’s attributed to H. L. Mencken, but it was on the Internet, so who knows who said it.