Sunday, June 15, 2014


When things fall apart, there is a frenzy to fix the blame on this or that individual in a position of political power. And there are plenty of candidates for “who” is to blame for particular aspects of recent fiascos highlighted by the tragedy engulfing Iraq and Syria.

William Kristof, in yesterday’s NY Times, blames Maliki mainly, but assigns a share to Obama (for failing to intervene militarily in Syria) and parenthetically to Bush (although he treats that as a matter of history, no longer particularly relevant to dealing with the current crisis). David Brooks, along with John McCain and hawks in both parties, has it in for Obama for “under reach” in the exercise of US military power. In the blame contest, the easiest bipartisan consensus is that the main fault is with Maliki, as with Karsai in Afghanistan, whose corrupt and autocratic regimes of our own creation failed to bow totally to demands for long term US intervention as military overseer.

It’s time to focus on “what”, more than “who”, is to blame. One trouble with putting all the onus on one individual culprit versus another is the implication that a different tactical decision here or there about how to deploy US armed forces could have made our military intervention a success and stabilized (pacified?) the Middle East. Yet the last half of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st show beyond doubt that war and military power, however superior in favor of the United States, don’t produce “victory”, don’t bring peace and compliance, and almost always make matters more dangerous. No matter how often and how hard we bring down the hammer, solutions to problems within and among nations fail to take shape.

Beyond debates over whom to blame when violence and chaos create an acute crisis, the question becomes what do we do now, right now? Of course there never is a magic short term answer when deep antagonisms — especially nationalist, ethnic, and religious — erupt into warfare that victimizes millions, engulfs nations and regions, and endangers the world community. The first essential is not to do more harm through another futile resort to US military intervention. The only helpful response is to participate urgently in building a coalition of all nations and groups who have a common interest in stemming the tide of war in Iraq and Syria and organizing massive humanitarian relief. Whether our hawks like it or not, that collective effort has to include assumed US adversaries Iran and Russia, as well as the United Nations. The Bush Administration courted the UN notoriously in the run-up to its invasion of Iraq. Maybe US support for a coalition of all who want to end war in the Middle East could yield greater success and breath life into lingering hopes for an effective UN.

There is no escaping the need for a longer view, not just an “emergency response”. We are in a time when “things fall apart”. (Those three words are the title of a novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, who describes the collapse of African communal society as colonial intervention took root.) The violent ethnic and religious conflicts of today have deep roots, and have been exploited and nurtured in a long history of Western colonialism and post-colonial imperialism. Now the economic and political system that fashioned and dominates the present world order cannot keep it under control. More than anything, its increasingly dysfunctional state and decline are the product of widening chasms of extreme inequality that fuel antagonisms within and among nations.

At some stage, a process of fundamental change has to take hold in a more equalitarian and humane direction. That has been what socialists of different stripes have understood. The notion that far flung US military power can sustain a failing economic order, that it can by force keep things from falling apart, is as irrational as other messianic currents plaguing our world.

I’m not happy to wind up this longer than usual blog on a note of “I don’t know”. Who knows how, when or even if the ways to serious social change can come together before everything falls apart?  Past 90, one may feel that life is very long. Each generation, though, only has a very short time in human history, not long enough to foresee or guarantee the future. Yet, over many generations, humanity is resilient and the struggle for liberty, equality and, ultimately, for survival is refreshed. That’s what makes for hope, and may also make the impossible possible:  “we shall overcome some day.”


  1. Leon, to quote your post, We are in a time when “things fall apart”. (Those three words are the title of a novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, who describes the collapse of African communal society as colonial intervention took root.) "
    I read and appreciated that book. Last Friday at our discussion group I mentioned that I blamed the Sykes-Picot agreement & nobody present seemed to recognize this little piece of history. This was the British-French arrangement whereby the Middle East was divided up into neat parcels with arbitrary state borders, and it drove T.E. Lawrence nuts because he had promised the Arabs would be free to do their own thing. So you are 100% correct to blame colonialism because that is exactly where all this mess got its start. I say we quit butting in. Back in the seventies when pop psychology was all the rage, we read a book called "Games People Play." One game cited in the book was called "Let's You and Him Fight." Just exactly what Geo Bush did chucking out the Baath party folks from Iraq. Will we ever learn?

  2. Thanks so much Leon for following through with what is happening in the world. I appreciate your thoughts and I agree that war as well as the "blame game" is not the answer. Let's hope the impossible becomes possible and that survival is refreshed.