With Iraq in crisis, many corporate news accounts treat the US war there as if it was something that was done to us, and the ensuing chaos proof that the good intentions of a US superpower cannot overcome tribal grievances.
The rapid march by ISIS from Syria into Iraq is only partly about the troubled land where the US lost almost 4,500 lives and spent nearly $1 trillion in increasingly vain hopes of establishing a stable, friendly democracy.
We tried to bring them a stable democracy, and look at what they’re doing.
Crowley’s statistic, of course, dismisses roughly 99 out of 100 human lives lost as a result of the invasion of Iraq. But he wants to say that this is not even just about Iraq, but about Islamic radicalism from Nigeria to Pakistan. To Crowley, Osama bin Laden’s “fundamentalist ideology–and its cold logic of murder in God’s name–arguably has broader reach than ever.” And so in Iraq, the story is less about the brutal US invasion and more about inevitable history, a place where
ancient hatreds are grinding the country to bits. Washington has reacted with shock–no one saw it coming–and the usual finger pointing, but today’s Washington is a place where history is measured in hourly news cycles and 140-character riffs. What’s happening in Iraq is the work of centuries, the latest chapter in the story of a religious schism between Sunni and Shi’ite that was already old news a thousand years ago.
Why feel too bad about a 10-year-old invasion if what’s really happening is “the work of centuries”? The notion of an intractable, tribal religious war is popular in the press, but it has been questioned; see Murtaza Hussain’s “The Myth of the 1,400-Year Sunni/Shia War” (Al Jazeera, 7/9/13), for instance. And it functions as a way of letting the US off the hook for unleashing it. As Crowley writes, “To Americans weary of the Middle East, the urge is strong to close our eyes and, as Sarah Palin once put it so coarsely, ‘let Allah sort it out.'”
To be clear, Crowley doesn’t agree with regional expert Palin:
As long as the global economy still runs on Middle Eastern oil, Sunni radicals plot terrorist attacks against the West and Iran’s leaders pursue nuclear technology, the US cannot turn its back.
One might assume that “nuclear technology” is code for weapons; Iran says it has no interest in the bomb, and there is no evidence that they do. But Time knows otherwise, as Crowley later writes of “Shi’ite Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon.”
The language about “turning its back” seems to want to let the US off the hook for starting the Iraq War–and give a green light for intervening in its next phase with a clear conscience. If you don’t think that line quite does it, Crowley also writes:
What Leon Trotsky supposedly said about war is also true of this war-torn region: Americans may not be interested in the Middle East. But the Middle East is interested in us.
Crowley is back to arguing that the region’s problems are due to a religious conflict the West simply cannot fathom, as he wonders: “But how could the secular West hope to understand cultures in which religion is government, scripture is law and the past defines the future?”
The piece closes by stating its premise quite clearly, with Time explaining:
On a deeper level, the blame belongs to history itself. At this ancient crossroads of the human drama, the US’s failure echoes earlier failures by the European powers, by the Ottoman pashas, by the Crusaders, by Alexander the Great. The civil war of Muslim against Muslim, brother against brother, plays out in the same region that gave us Cain vs. Abel. George W. Bush spoke of the spirit of liberty, and Obama often invokes the spirit of cooperation. Both speak to something powerful in the modern heart. But neither man–nor America itself–fully appreciated until now the continuing reign of much older spirits: hatred, greed and tribalism. Those spirits are loosed again, and the whole world will pay a price.
We offered them the spirits of cooperation and liberty and the modern heart, and this is the thanks we get. It’s almost as if some people don’t appreciate being invaded.