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A Week of Surprises in Iraq

A Week of Surprises in Iraq

I like to pride myself on not being surprised. This week, as usual, pride goeth before a fall.

It is unlikely, but possible, to connect some dots this week in a peculiar way. First, non-Kurdish Iraq is falling to Islamist militants, and a particularly nasty strain of Islamist militants who once caused even other Islamist militants to turn away with disgust at their aims and methods; second, the U.S. is apparently considering airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces, however distant such an option may be in the president’s own mind; and third, Iranian ground forces are already in Iraq assisting Iraqi forces, and more Iranian troops may be on the way.

And here is the latest surprise: As an indication of just how far American policy has departed from the previously unthinkable, we are at a point where it is imaginable (unlikely, but "imaginable" is the operative point) where the U.S. Air Force and Navy could conduct airstrikes in direct or indirect support of Iranian forces in Iraq. I, for one, did not see this day coming.

Some things, I can foresee. I will not claim that Pope Francis’s prayer meeting with Peres and Abbas in the Vatican gardens resulted in the Israeli election of a new president who favors a "one-state solution" (albeit a proposed state with strong minority rights), but I did foresee that immediate peace was unlikely coming out of that meeting, which itself grew from the sense that prayer was all that was left after Secretary Kerry’s strange efforts to jam a two-state solution down the parties’ throats. I did not foresee that Israel would oppose the United States and support China’s effort to de-legitimize bilateral security arrangements in Asia, but it was not hard to see that playing fast and loose with Israeli security, or survival, might have consequences for how Israel views the U.S. as a partner. I did not foresee the date of Putin’s invasion of Crimea, but again, it was not hard to see that he would not sit still for the ouster of his client in Kiev during his Olympics, that everything his foreign minister would subsequently say would be a lie and would be believed eagerly (or at least given public credence) by western officials from Berlin though London to #Washington (at least until his minions started commenting on the State Department spokeswoman’s wardrobe — there are still redlines), and that Putin’s plan to foment chaos would continue indefinitely or until his restoration of Russia’s rightful (by his lights) sphere of influence is complete.

To help me avoid further surprises, I hope Shadow Government’s best minds will try to answer this: What will the Obama administration give the Iranian mullahs in the nuclear negotiations in order to get this Iraq mess off the front pages and ensure that "ending" the Iraq war continues to be one of the president’s most cherished legacy items? And is there a way forward for the U.S. that would, surprisingly, make the current moment seem less like a blend of 1914 and 1938?