There’s a great story in one of David Niven’s Hollywood books (I cannot find them in the clutter of my study, which looks like a particularly slovenly used bookstore; bad me) about attending a Hearst-Davies circus themed costume party with Errol Flynn. The two actors showed up wearing white hats and jackets. They were carrying brooms and shovels with buckets marked IT. That’s right sports fans, they were the guys who clean up Elephant shit.
That’s been the story of the Obama administration: tidying up after the horrendous mess made in Iraq by the Presidents Bush. The reason I throw Poppy’s name into the hopper is the current situation involving the Yazidis and Kurds. The sight of those folks cowering on that mountain evokes images of Kurdish refugees fleeing for their lives after Bush the Elder incited them to rise up against Saddam Hussein. We have a way of talking loud and dropping the stick when things get too, well, sticky.
Iraq continues to be an ungodly mess. The current shit storm can be traced to the last Gulf War but the whole thing goes back to the Treaty of Versailles. That’s right, all roads lead to the Great War and its botched aftermath. Iraq is simply untenable as a single nation state. If they can fend off the bloodthirsty maniacs of ISIS and stabilize the situation, it may be time to revive then Senator Biden’s sensible partition notion from 2006.
Humanitarian interventions can be the slipperiest slope of all. I took a really good course on Human Rights Law at Tulane in 1989 from a visiting Professor, Tom Farer. It was one of those courses derided by the corporate law crowd as a “law of the banana” class. I learned a lot, and always think of the final exam whenever there’s discussion of a possible humanitarian military intervention. The exam involved an elaborate, genocidal situation, which sounded very much like what would *actually* happen in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990’s. We were asked to balance the risk to our troops with the danger to a threatened civilian population. It was hard and an exercise that the Bushies would have been well advised to undertake. They were not big on homework, alas.
There’s no easy solution to the current situation but past American administrations caused it and President Obama’s cautious and incremental approach is the best of a group of exceedingly poor choices. It’s like every day life, we don’t always have an ideal solution but we have to muddle through. The good news is that nobody but unrepentant neo-cons wants American ground forces back in Iraq since a diplomatic and political solution is called for. It’s complicated, it’s hard, and I happen to think that Hillary Clinton was wrong when she said, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Actually, it’s a good place to start and we’d be a helluva lot better off if the previous administration had used the same maxim.
Obviously, Iraq isn’t the only pile of Elephant shit the Obama Administration has had to clean up but it’s the smelliest and most persistent. I’m sure that Niven and Flynn would offer President Obama and Secretary Kerry a fifth of whiskey and urge them to buck up. It’s not easy being the clean up crew for the worst President in American history (Bush edges out Buchanan by a nose in my estimation) in a region where the mess has been getting swept under the rug for centuries.