Week 38

     It is the brief items in the paper that often serve as harbingers of the course of human events.
     About six weeks ago, it was a brief story about a radical Islamic group winning control of a border crossing in Lebanon on the same day that roughly 1,000 kilometers away it had routed Kurdish forces.
     Around the same time, another tiny story said Ebola had spread to Nigeria.
     Since then, the international news has been dominated by those stories in addition to the struggle in Ukraine.
     At about the same time, two other small items created an impression that lingers into the present: a photo of the Iraqi leaders struggling over a deal for a new leader, and a statement by the head of the radical Islamic group.
     The group photo of the Iraqi leadership showed a set of soft, vacuous faces. I looked at that photo and thought, those folks cannot defend anything but their individual pieces of the pie.
     The second item was a statement by the leader of the Islamic State, made after the U.S. started bombing their trucks. He referred to the U.S. as “you defender of the cross.”
     That quote came back to mind last week when satirist Jon Stewart showed on his program a map of the countries that had joined the bombing campaign and noted that the map looked awful “Christiany.”
     Last week, the small story that caught my eye was a one paragraph summary in the New York Times that said 29 had been killed and 69 wounded in a series of attacks in one day in one neighborhood of Baghdad.
     A disintegrating capital is a sign of a disintegrating government. If a government cannot control its home base, it is unlikely to win a military campaign jumping off from that base.
     By contrast, the front on which the Islamic State is fighting is enormous. And it has proved itself tenacious, hanging on to most of the territory it gains.
     My dad who fought as a foot soldier in France and Germany in WW II told me that a war cannot be won from the air. It is with blood and bullets in the mud.
     So who will fight on the ground in the north of Iraq and Syria.
     The Iraqi government’s inability to control its own capital says that it is unlikely to be that force in the field.
     And we so far have refused to help government forces in Syria.
     That leaves only the Kurds who have been only somewhat effective against the forces of “black terrorism,” as IS is described by Iraq’s grand ayatollah.
     The other alternative is for U.S. ground forces to re-enter the region from which they have been extricating themselves. While that seemed so unlikely a month ago, a poll last week showed that 62% of Republican voters now favor sending troops back into the region.
     The bombing raid last night in Syria and the escalation of the number of military advisers sent back into Iraq also point to a turning of the tide of U.S. military commitment.
     As Stewart was pointing out on his show, the Muslim countries most directly affected by the black terror were not part of the alliance of European and English-speaking nations committed to bombing it. Since then, the local nations have been more supportive, but the support is limited.
     Turkey, for example, is directly affected by the fighting. The Turkish president last week expressed his fury with western reporting on the Islamic State’s financial and recruiting activity in Turkey.
     And then over the weekend, Turkey announced that a group of Turkish diplomats taken hostage by the Islamic State had been released.
     The silence surrounding the circumstances of their release reeks of a deal.
     When I think of the U.S. diving back into those turgid waters, I think of the movie Chinatown, about murder, betrayal and water, and it’s final line, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
     The Guardian newspaper listed the line as one of the ten best last lines in pictures. “Chinatown is a metaphor for the indecipherability of 1930s Los Angeles and its labyrinthine corruption,” said the Guardian’s critic.
     Just so, the Middle East has proved indecipherable to the U.S. and its corruption is labyrinthine. So why are we going back into the labyrinth.

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