For many of us in this hemisphere it is befuddling. That's because from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego our concepts of politics, government, society and yes, even, democracy come from a European perspective. The native populations of the Americas, had they survived the tsunami of Euro and Anglican hordes, might have had some sort of insight into it--simply because, like the Arabs, their civilizations were also tribal based. And like the Arabs, while similar in so many respects, many of those tribes were not particularly enamored with each other, even to the point where clashes between them were not unheard of.
So given that, let's try to run down the current situation in the Mid East--a name given to an area which Westerners decided was about half way between them and what they called the Far East.
The whole landscape of the region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire for years until they ended up on the losing side during World War I. The Ottomans were Turks and Arabs thought of them pretty much the same as 19th century Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche, and other American tribes thought of the new government in Washington which was ruthlessly expanding its control into their lands.
Up until the Ottoman collapse, there was no, what we would consider, sense of nation or nationality in the Arab world east of Egypt. Everyone belonged to one tribe or another and each of those tribes practiced whichever version of Islam had been handed down to them through the generations. They lived, fought themselves time and time again in skirmishes and the only common enemy was the Turk.
Enter the French and British. They got together in their insufferable imperial sort of way and carved up the area into spheres of influence. Before they were done they had drawn arbitrary borders and decided who was going to be running each of the "countries." To them an Arab was an Arab and little attention was paid to which sect lived where and which sect the man, or family they put in charge belonged to. The Europeans made the same dreadful mistake in Africa, when the colonial powers divided up the continent into countries based, not on tribal, or ethnic differences, but their own political ends.
Jumping forward a few decades: Saddam Hussein, who was a Sunni, brutally governed a nation with borders which were drawn by western powers and was populated by mostly Shi'ites. The United States got rid of Saddam so George Bush could say his penis was larger than his old man's and Dick Cheney's buddies could make a few billion bucks.
We made sure there was an election, because we think elections solve every problem and the Shi'ite majority, of course elected a Shi'ite prime minister named Nuri al-Maliki. After a few years and an insurgency which failed thanks to us and some Sunni tribesmen who naively thought things were going okay, he and his government told us to withdraw our troops.
Immediately after we left, Maliki went all Saddam, the Shi'ite version. Within a short time his policies managed to piss off every Sunni in the country, not to mention kill a good number of them..
So we've come to this.
Iraq and parts of Syria are now infested with a bunch of run amok monsters. They are so out there they gleefully post beheadings and crucifixions on the internet because they actually believe it is good PR and will help them recruit new members. Gruesomely, their ad department appears to have nailed the campaign, so to speak, because large numbers of disaffected youths and the criminally insane are lining up to participate in the violence and awful sadism.
The British, French, and other Europeans are flapping around like panicked quail squawking that someone has to do something--just so long as it isn't them. At this time the Russians are too busy trying to eviscerate Ukraine to do anything, while the Chinese, who don't seem to have any interest in world affairs outside of a quick profit and Asia, are preoccupied with taking control of the entire Sea of China.
That would leave us, the good ol' U.S. of A.--you know--the same people who started this huge bloody snowball rolling downhill in the first place.
For those of us who are of a certain age, quite honestly, the nightmare in Iraq right now makes the one we went through in Vietnam look like a little slice of heaven.
People like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and others want to put American troops on the ground in a place where Sunnis hate Shi'ites, Kurds, Christians, the Yazidi and Iranians. The Shi'ites despise the Kurds, Sunnis, and, if it wasn't for their military and political help, probably the Iranians too, because after all, they aren't Arabs. In fact, besides the Israelis, the only people any of these crazed fucks hate more than each other is us.
Maliki is being replaced by a man everyone hopes is more tolerant and acceptable to the Sunnis, Haidar al-Abadi. However, Maliki is claiming the new government is illegal and refuses to step down probably because in Iraq if you can't be The Guy, you many times end up being just another Dead Guy. In the strange bedfellows department, both the U.S. and Iran are applauding the change, as are what appears to be large and important segments of the local Shi'ite leadership. Maliki, despite his bitter caterwauling, looks to be a goner.
While Abadi might make a difference, at least early on, the truth is the situation is so FUBAR now it is nearly impossible to believe Kurdish and Iraqi forces alone can destroy the rogue army of Islamic State. Indeed, the truth is, every gun, bullet, rocket, and tank we give the Iraqi army, given its combat record, could well end up in IS hands.
When it comes to Iraq, Barack Obama is in an untenable position. There is no right decision The republicans will rage and beat their chests and blame him, but they haven't an answer to the crisis either. The American public is loathe to jump into another war, so despite the rumblings of McCain and Graham and because of public opinion, both ends of the spectrum will blame the other, rather than make any sort of real effort to stop the carnage.
Hey, modern military technology can solve a lot of problems, but this isn't one of them. The truth is, unless this nation wants to reinstate the draft and send a half million young people kicking and screaming into the black maw of Mesopotamia for decades, we'll never come close to a solution our western sensibilities are comfortable with and even then it won't be a done deal.
We all know it. The politicians, both dove and hawk, just don't want to admit it.