The left’s own slip­pery slope

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Two “lead­ing na­tional se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tions” — that’s their own des­ig­na­tion, in case you’re won­der­ing — have con­demned Pres­i­dent Obama’s “re­turn to the bat­tle­field in Iraq.” Their names are a mouth­ful — the Coun­cil for a Liv­able World and the Cen­ter for Arms Con­trol and Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion — but their state­ment is worth read­ing, not for what it says but for what it doesn’t. It of­fers no hint of how any­thing other than mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion was go­ing to save those poor peo­ple stuck on a moun­tain in Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, some of them dy­ing of de­hy­dra­tion, some of them al­ready dead and the rest doomed to be mur­dered.

I chose these par­tic­u­lar groups and their news re­lease be­cause while they may not ac­tu­ally be “lead­ing na­tional se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tions,” they are de­press­ingly typ­i­cal of a cer­tain school of for­eign af­fairs. This is the “tough noo­gies” school that laments the plight of this or that eth­nic group but can’t do any­thing for them lest the U.S. find it­self on a slope slip­pier than the one the Yazidis were cling­ing to on Iraq’s Mount Sin­jar. In­ter­vene to save the des­per­ate Yazidis and, be­fore you know it, you’re back at war.

Not nec­es­sar­ily. The U.S. did not put boots on the ground in Bos­nia or Kosovo and did not do so, ei­ther, in Libya. The lat­ter op­er­a­tion is now be­ing con­sid­ered a fi­asco, since Libya has be­come a failed state. But one fail­ure that’s hardly men­tioned any­more was Moam­mar Gaddafi’s — his threat­ened mas­sacre of the op­po­si­tion. Lots of peo­ple are alive to­day be­cause the U.S. and oth­ers in­ter­vened in Libya.

A mas­sacre was pre­cisely what ap­peared im­mi­nent in Iraq. The Yazidis, an an­cient non-Mus­lim sect, were pro­nounced un­ter­men­schen by the Sunni zealots of the Is­lamic State. I em­ploy the Ger­man term for less-than-hu­man be­cause the Is­lamic State goons have Nazi men­tal­i­ties and prac­tices. With a few key­strokes, you can sum­mon pic­tures of these ex­trem­ists ex­e­cut­ing pris­on­ers who made the fa­tal mis­take of be­ing born into the wrong re­li­gion. In some of the pho­tos, boys are made to watch the mas­sacre.

Any­one who has been to the Holo­caust Memo­rial Mu­seum has seen sim­i­lar pic­tures — the doomed ly­ing in a ditch that they were forced to dig them­selves. Here again is the fol­low-up killer, strut­ting down the line squeez­ing off the coup de grace. It is all so re­pel­lently fa­mil­iar, so un­ac­cept­ably fa­mil­iar — and so, too, are the calls to avoid the slip­pery slope, to mind our own busi­ness and the singsongy chal­lenge to peo­ple like me: Are you go­ing to in­ter­vene ev­ery­where? No. Just where I can. When I can. I fa­vor the pos­si­ble.

What could we have said to those des­per­ate peo­ple on the moun­tain? We’ve been to Iraq be­fore? We were lied to be­fore? We’d like to help but Congress has to be sum­moned back in ses­sion so that ev­ery blovi­a­tor in our pa­thetic na­tional leg­is­la­ture can tweet some inanity, is­sue a news re­lease and won­der what this ef­fort will do to the bud­get? In the mean­time, peo­ple will die of star­va­tion or thirst or a bul­let in the back be­cause we didn’t do what we could eas­ily do. This is not who we are. This is not who we should be.

I rec­og­nize that these are not easy is­sues. I rec­og­nize fur­ther that we are a war-weary na­tion and that events in the Mid­dle East are so con­vo­luted they re­deem the pre­pos­ter­ous plots of “Home­land.” But, Lord, how did the moral cen­ter of the Amer­i­can left get so iso­la­tion­ist and self­ish? How did it man­age to cede the moral high ground to the right? Why does it see no dif­fer­ence be­tween a moral obli­ga­tion to save lives by avoid­ing mur­der — not just with hu­man­i­tar­ian mea­sures — and a kind of mil­i­tarist lust for yet more ad­ven­ture? A press­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian calamity was fac­ing the re­gion. A re­ported 500 Yazidis had al­ready been mur­dered. Some­thing needed to be done. Some­thing could be done.

Obama has fi­nally done the right thing. Up to now, his for­eign pol­icy amounted to a vow — ex­pur­gated here for the kid­dies — not to do stupid stuff. That amounted to not hav­ing much of a for­eign pol­icy at all. The ab­sence of one — the lack of lead­er­ship, of red lines that hum men­ac­ingly like a third rail — helped pro­duce a world where the play­ground mon­i­tors dis­ap­peared, and the kids took over. To avoid the slip­pery slope, we were ap­proach­ing one of tawdry moral in­dif­fer­ence. At Mount Sin­jar, we acted just in time, sav­ing many lives and our honor as well.

Richard Cohen is a writer with the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. He can be reached at co­henr@wash­post.com.

RICHARD COHEN

COLUM­NIST

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