Another fortnight, another foreign policy disaster for President Barack Obama. This week, Iraq is coming apart at the seams, the remnants of the Al Qaeda-backed groups the United States and Britain fought there having regrouped and coalesced in the void left by the accelerated withdrawal of virtually every last allied soldier.
Even as the hard-fought gains we made in Iraq are violently reversed and that unfortunate country is poised to revert to the kind of medieval barbarism that culminated in 9-11, the federal government steadfastly refuses to let that distract from its higher mission of mounting aggressive offensives against culturally awkward National Football League team names.
OK, look, this column is going to be about Iraq, but permit me a bit of a sidebar here. The Redskins might or not might not be archaic and even somewhat insensitive in this hyper-delicate age of ours. But is this really something that need consume the time and resources of the government? And, invoking the Equal Protection Clause, I should predict that other scandalous team names are among the next dominoes — most notoriously the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, so hatefully stereotypical. (And that leprechaun mascot! It’s like the ghosts of Cromwell returned.) And don’t forget the ever-offensive Dallas Cowboys. (Yes, I’ve always considered it a proud title for a noble profession, but if you don’t think it has weight as a derogatory term, you have missed many a liberal animadversion directed against President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and Bush the Younger in the last decade.)
But back to Iraq. While it’s true the Status of Forces Treaty ball was initially fumbled under Bush, it was quite ostentatiously dropped by Obama, whose foreign “policy” was singularly focused on withdrawal, as quickly as possible, oblivious to any consequences.
The comparisons to Vietnam are compelling: In 1973, the U.S. precipitously abandoned South Vietnam, leaving only a few hundred advisors, much as was done in 2009. What America left in its place was an increasingly unstable government, somehow expected to take up the torch in the face of a ruthless enemy that, though militarily defeated, was determined to prevail, which it did in 1975. That resulted in a humanitarian nightmare exacerbated by a U.S. government rendered largely impotent by scandal — Watergate in the early 1970s, take-your-pick in 2014.
And, of course, there’s the sense of anguished betrayal felt among the American servicemen and women who watch the ground and people they and their fellows sacrificed dearly for fall to the savages, now as then.
Unsurprisingly, the left, who invoked Vietnam from the moment Bush indicated a willingness to take the war on terror to Saddam Hussein, have been mum on the comparisons related to the relative aftermaths.
Now, it might not be safe to say that the human costs will be directly comparable between the two historical episodes. The scale of the human tragedy precipitated by our abandonment of South Vietnam has not, and probably never will be, fully tabulated, but easily approaches 3 million people left to torture and death at the hands of the North Vietnamese communists. It’s doubtful, though not inconceivable, the numbers will reach those figures in Iraq. Still, the slaughter ensuing from myopic U.S. policy will constitute nothing short of tragedy.
The problem is one of follow through, as the classical historian Victor Davis Hanson spelled out nicely in a recent column. The United States military can extirpate any tyrant or threat from power that it needs to. But the first priority of any society (including ours, lest the ACLU forget) is the establishment of order. Those things that most of us in the West consider good –— political and personal freedoms, democratically elected institutions, a functioning economy based on the free exchange of goods and ideas — cannot exist outside the aegis of a society operating under the rule of law and some functioning authority.
Historically this was provided, to varying degrees of success and competence, by colonial empires; in the 20th century, by the presence of an occupying force of sufficient size to buy time and deter aggression. That’s why Germany, Japan and South Korea turned out quite well, while Vietnam became an execution chamber and Iraq is crumbling.
The cost of refusing to follow through in Iraq might be confined to a bloody intermural human catastrophe. Continued hesitancy might result in having to link arms with the devil in Iran to prevent an even worse outcome. Or it just might result in another 9-11 and more thousands of American civilians dead in their own streets.
But at least in the meantime, the Washington Redskins won’t own a politically incorrect trademark.