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Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

George F. Will: Into a new void?

By George F. Will, Washington Post

Published: Thu, Aug. 14 6:21 a.m. MDT

 When Russia sliced Crimea off Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry was nonplussed: "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext." If, however, Vladimir Putin is out of step with the march of progress, where exactly on history's inevitably ascending path (as progressives like Kerry evidently think) does Kerry, our innocent abroad, locate the Islamic State?

When Russia sliced Crimea off Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry was nonplussed: "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext." If, however, Vladimir Putin is out of step with the march of progress, where exactly on history's inevitably ascending path (as progressives like Kerry evidently think) does Kerry, our innocent abroad, locate the Islamic State?

(Carolyn Kaster, AP)

WASHINGTON — This far into the human story, only the historically uninstructed are startled by what they think are new permutations of evil. So, when Russia sliced Crimea off Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry was nonplussed: "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext." If, however, Vladimir Putin is out of step with the march of progress, where exactly on history's inevitably ascending path (as progressives like Kerry evidently think) does Kerry, our innocent abroad, locate the Islamic State?

The Islamic State uses crucifixions to express piety and decapitations to encourage cooperation. These are some of the "folks" — to adopt the locution Barack Obama frequently uses to express his all-encompassing diffidence — Obama was referring to when talking to The New York Times' Thomas Friedman. "That's exactly right," Obama said when Friedman suggested that Obama believes all Middle East factions must agree to a politics of "no victor, no vanquish." It will be interesting watching Obama try to convince the crucifiers and the crucified to split their differences.

Exactly 70 years ago, America grappled with a humanitarian dilemma. On Aug. 9, 1944, A. Leon Kubowitzki of the World Jewish Congress wrote to Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, quoting a Czech official's opinion that the "destruction of gas chambers and crematoria in Oswiecim [Auschwitz] by bombing would have a certain effect now." On Aug. 14, McCloy rejected the request, noting that it would require "the diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations elsewhere," a defensible argument. But then McCloy added that such bombing "might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans." That is, bombing an extermination camp might make the operators of the crematoria really cross.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed implementation legislation for the Genocide Convention, the parties to which agreed to "undertake to prevent and to punish" the kind of crimes the Islamic State vows to commit. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., today says, "It takes an army to defeat an army." Is she, too, so very 19th century? Obama seems to agree with her, telling Friedman, "We can run [the Islamic State] off for a certain period of time, but as soon as our planes are gone, they're coming right back in." So air power is insufficient. He also said, "We're not going to let them create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq, but we can only do that if we know that we've got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void." We will not "let" something happen — unless air power alone cannot prevent it and no "partners" fill the void beneath our bombers. About that void:

America has fought its longest war — more than three times longer than U.S. involvement in World War II — lest Afghanistan become a state unable or unwilling to prevent terrorists operating with impunity in a substantial area. Since this war began, U.S. policies have created two such voids by shattering two states, those of Iraq and Libya.

Friedman reports that Obama says his regret about Libya is not that he waged an utterly optional war of regime change. Rather, Obama regrets not getting busy "on the ground" to "manage" Libya's transition to democracy. So, even after 13 years in Afghanistan and nearly a decade in Iraq, Obama wishes America had gone into Libya for more of the excitements and satisfactions of nation-building.

Two questions must be distinguished. First, is it an important American interest or duty to protect, as much as air power can, Kurds and Yazidis from the Islamic State, and to (in Obama's words) "push back" (back to where?) this group? Even if the answer is yes, there is another question: Is it wise to support the use of force by this president? He is properly cautious about today's awful dilemma, which is not primarily of his making. But caution can be reckless.

One of Napoleon's aphorisms — "If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna" — means: In military matters, tentativeness is ruinous. Are F-18s going to be used for a foreign policy of rightminded gestures — remember #BringBackOurGirls? — the success of which is in making the gesturers feel virtuous? "Success," said T.S. Eliot, "is relative: It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things." There is much material — rubble, actually — to work with as we seek success.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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1. John Charity Spring
Back Home in Davis County, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

George Washington himself stated that America must avoid all foreign entanglements unless national security is directly at issue. The current left-wing administration's failure to follow that counsel is leading to disaster.

Obama has failed to realize that he cannot force democracy on countries that do not want it. He cannot erase in a moment the eons of cultural hatred that has precipitated war for the last few millennia.

Not being content to just make this mistake, Obama is also failing when national security is at issue. Instead of going in at full strength to take care of the problem, he uses half measures and hollow threats.

No reasonable person can deny that left-wing theory of security is, at best, a mediocre fiasco. The administration must follow Washington's sage advice before it is too late.

2. Wildcat
O-town, UT,
Aug. 14, 2014

@John Charity Spring

Obama has ended the wars and is doing limited strikes. If we had a President McCain, we'd have troops fighting in about four to five locations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Russia and potentially the US border. Romney wouldn't be much better.

I bet you were all behind "W" when he launched the US into Iraq and was one of those that would say "Freedom isn't free." Now since a president with a different party label attached is in charge, it's "Freedom isn't forced." (I agree with you on freedom isn't forced by the way). I just have to laugh at the 180 flip on the defense issue.

One more thing, the right-wing's record on national defense: 9/11 and 3,000 Americans dead by not taking a presidential daily briefing seriously. Own it Republicans!

3. Irony Guy
Bountiful, Utah,
Aug. 14, 2014

Let's send George Will and his bowtie to the Middle East to see if they can figure out what to do about the mess that the Cheney Oil Company created. T. S. Eliot was right: What do you do with the fragments after you've blown up a civilization?

Old men are so ready to send young people to war.

4. happy2bhere
clearfield, UT,
Aug. 14, 2014

John C S

Right now the left wing theory of security seems to be isolationism and non engagement. Which is ironic since that used to be the territory of the conservative right back during WW11. Or in other words, if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. However, since the U.S. is proudly championed by Islam as the Great Satan, it is unlikely the U.S. will be left alone. More 911s to come here if not stopped over there first. What I think might be happening is too may folks still think of this terrorist stuff as the same as the cold war with the USSR. It isn't. Russians could be reasoned with. They did not want to die anymore than we did. Islamic terrorists however, see death in fighting Satan as a great reward, and one to be looked forward to. You can't reason with them as we could with the communists. Politics is one thing. When people believe they are on Gods mission, and that mission is death and destruction of the infidel, there is no reasoning with them. This is a much bigger problem than the cold war was.

5. GaryO
Virginia Beach, VA,
Aug. 14, 2014

“These are some of the "folks" — to adopt the locution Barack Obama frequently uses to express his all-encompassing diffidence . . . “

Oh My! . . . The sneering George Will is doing his sneering thing again.

Lots of people use the term “folks.” GW, unsurprisingly, used it to excess. Why didn’t George Will sneer at GW?

On 9/11/2001, GW stated his intent to “ . . . hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.”

Well, GW couldn’t find those folks, so he went ahead and invaded some other folks and killed over 100 thousand of them.

The rest of Will’s tirade follows the same pattern. He’s placing the blame for past Republican malfeasance on the Obama administration.

George Will is OUTRAGED that the Obama administration is not using our military more in the Middle East. And if Obama was doing more in the Middle East, George Will would be complaining that we have more important problems at home.

Right Wing pundits must follow a recipe that calls for 80% percent senseless complaining and 20% percent sneering to create the perfect dish for Republican consumption . . . 100% “Conservative” tripe.