It’s hard to imagine a bigger disaster than nine years of a propped-up Iraq quickly slipping into the hands of the Islamic State — a vortex for terrorists from 80 countries. The Islamic State sees itself as the new caliphate, fulfilling Osama bin Laden’s global jihad. They use beheadings and videotaped executions to bring doubters into line, while ruthlessly massacring Christians and government troops.
America’s armed forces are worn out and discouraged; the nation overspent and tired of foreign do-goodism and misadventures. Our Veterans Affairs hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties — costs we face for decades, while our infrastructure crumbles. Whether 300 troops, or 3,000, we can’t fix the unsolvable: an explosion of Islamic extremism. Tragically, America is easily influenced, manipulated and drawn into others’ costly, unwinnable conflicts. What have we learned from the expenditure of our blood, irreplaceable youth and trillions of dollars? Little. Since the creation of Israel at the end of World War II — a thorn in Muslims’ side — coupled with our dependence on Mideast oil, we’ve been drawn into their conflicts.
Iraq, along with Syria and the greater Mideast, is imploding, along with America’s naive, meddlesome foreign policy. Iraq is falling apart under the assault of the Islamic State. When its fighters moved into Mosul, a security force of some 30,000 Iraqi troops and police collapsed in a few days. The U.S. response: ethereal considerations that perhaps we should team up with the Iranians. In 2011, just 2 years after U.S. troops pulled out after billions of dollars and nearly nine years in Iraq, it was in free fall. President Obama bragged we were “leaving Iraq a stable, sovereign and self-reliant country” — fulfillment of a campaign promise. That “stable country” vanished overnight.
Americans seem to think that any and all problems can be fixed, including the Mideast. We rush off to mend century-old conflicts, despite being more than $17 trillion in debt, and nothing has been repaired. Our international reputation is in tatters. Few take the current administration seriously. We elected a president with no foreign-policy experience, with a mandate to change the American way of life and save the planet. His foreign policy, however, is hesitant, overly cerebral, amateurish and weak in the face of seasoned world leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Angela Merkel. He’s no match for the Islamic State. We are so overextended we let other crises go unnoticed. Secretary of State John F. Kerry issues empty, hollow admonitions. Mr. Putin enjoys his international celebrity or infamy, unfettered by America’s weak-kneed stances, doing as he wishes: grabbing the choicest bits of Ukraine, ignoring treaties to explore oil at the poles and frightening the rest of his neighbors.
America sits sidelined while cash-flush China expands its ruthless hegemony over the oil-rich Pacific islands claimed by American allies — unopposed by our impotent leaders. America remains bogged down in Bosnia, where clashes continue. America’s response: the same answer we give most crises these days, whether it’s Somalia, Mali, Libya, Iran, Poland, Ukraine, Indonesia or the Philippines. We lurch from one emergency to the next, offering promises, condemnations or cash. There one minute for the TV cameras, gone a few months later.
It’s not just abroad. Our borders are overrun by swarms of Central American invaders — coached by lawyers to claim they are driven here by fear, when it’s mainly for freebies, while addled citizens coddle and shield these “immigrants,” oblivious of the real costs of invasions and mushrooming demographics. Turn to Congress for solutions? Not these days when getting re-elected is all members have time for. Unlimited political contributions will now permit large purchases of propaganda — posing as advertising or First Amendment defenses — propaganda that will be effective at hoodwinking voters, even savvy voters, to vote against their own best interests and ours.
Presidents Bush and Obama could have drawn on the intelligence community’s expertise, with its knowledge of Mideast history: tribalism, Islam, culture, languages, divisions and people — as have other presidents — rather than allow war-industry lobbyists, neocons with foreign schemes and others to run the show, waste lives and spend trillions. Our soldiers and intelligence officers know how to sidestep, divert and, if needed, win battles. Policymakers blindly rush in only to become mired and retreat.
There are others, albeit in other realms, who have learned from this and arrived at a simple solution. It involves the contentious debates over the Washington Redskins football team name. The owners heard the arguments, looked around at all the leaders, listened to the opinions and read the letters of outrage, discussed the matter with lawyers and congressional leaders, and arrived at a solution any of us would admire. They are said to be considering dropping the word “Washington” from the team name. Today, it’s just too much of an embarrassment.
Gene Poteat is a retired CIA senior scientific-intelligence officer and president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.