Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'Normal' is killing us.

Donald Trump is out of the White House. COVID-19 is fading, at least in wealthier nations. The world, they say, is returning to “normal.” That’s the narrative that the corporate media is selling. But there’s a problem: “normal” is destroying our planet, threatening our democracies, concentrating massive wealth in a tiny elite, and leaving billions of people without access to life-saving vaccines amid a deadly pandemic. Here at Common Dreams, we refuse to accept any of this as “normal.” Common Dreams just launched our Mid-Year Campaign to make sure we have the funding we need to keep the progressive, independent journalism of Common Dreams alive. Whatever you can afford—no amount is too large or too small—please donate today to support our nonprofit, people-powered journalism and help us meet our goal.

Please select a donation method:

All the military power in the world won’t solve the problems in the Middle East or South Asia, writes Bacevich, and Obama knows that.

All the military power in the world won’t solve the problems in the Middle East or South Asia, writes Bacevich, and Obama knows that. (Photo: Reuters)

Obama Is Picking Targets in Iraq and Syria While Missing the Point

Andrew Bacevich

“We are now living in what we might as well admit is the Age of Iraq,” New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks recently wrote.  There, in the Land of the Two Rivers, he continued, the United States confronts the “core problem” of our era — “the interaction between failing secular governance and radical Islam.”

Brooks is wrong. For starters, he misconstrues the core problem — which is a global conflict pitting tradition against modernity.

Traditionalists, especially numerous in but not confined to the Islamic world, cling to the conviction that human existence should be God-centered human order. Proponents of modernity, taking their cues from secularized Western elites, strongly prefer an order that favors individual autonomy and marginalizes God. Not God first, but we first — our own aspirations, desires and ambitions.  If there’s a core problem afflicting global politics today, that’s it.

This conflict did not originate in nor does it emanate from Iraq. So to say that we live in the Age of Iraq is the equivalent of saying we live in the Age of Taylor Swift or the Age of Google. The characterization serves chiefly to distract attention from more important matters.

To the limited extent that we do live in the Age of Iraq, it’s because successive U.S. presidents have fastened on that benighted country as a place to demonstrate the implacable onward march of modernity.

For the 20 years between 1991 and 2011 — the interval between Operation Desert Storm and the final withdrawal of U.S. forces after a lengthy occupation of Iraq — Washington policymakers, Republican and Democratic, relied on various forms of coercion to align Iraq with American expectations of how a country ought to run.

The effort failed abysmally.

Now here is Barack Obama, elected president in 2008 largely because he promised to end the Iraq war, back for another bite at the apple. A small bite — since Obama’s aversion to large-scale intervention on the ground will largely restrict the U. S. effort to aerial bombardment supplemented with a bit of advice and equipment.

Whether the president will make good his promise to “degrade and ultimately defeat” Islamic State militants will depend less on the accuracy of U.S. bombs and missiles than on the effectiveness and motivation of surrogate forces fighting on the ground. Identifying willing and able proxies is like to pose a challenge.

The Iraqi security forces, created by the United States at such great cost, have shown neither fight nor skill. Though the Kurdish peshmerga have a better reputation, their primary mission is to defend Kurdistan, not to purge Iraq as a whole of invaders. The Syrian army is otherwise occupied and politically toxic.

The countries that ought to care more than the United States simply because they are more immediately threatened by Islamic State fighters — Iran, Turkey, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia — have not demonstrated a commensurate willingness to act.

The best hope of success may lie in the possibility that Islamic State militants will overplay their hand — their vile and vicious tactics alienating erstwhile collaborators and allies, much as the behavior of al Qaeda in Iraq alienated Sunni warlords during the famous U. S. surge of 2007-2008.

This much is certain, however: Even if Obama cobbles together a plan to destroy the Islamic State, the problems bedeviling the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East more broadly won’t be going away anytime soon.

Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war.  It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All the military power in the world won’t solve those problems. Obama knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary — mostly because he and his advisers don’t know what else to do. Bombing has become his administration’s default option.

Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University,  is the author of "America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History" (2017). He is also editor of the book, "The Short American Century" (2012), and author of several others, including:  "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country" (2014, American Empire Project); "Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War" (2011),  "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War" (2013), "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism" (2009, American Empire Project), and "The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II" (2009).

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

US and Israel Vote 'No' as 184 Nations Condemn American Blockade of Cuba

"The U.N. vote... on Cuba was a chance for President Biden to show global leadership," said CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin. "He failed miserably."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


With Planet's Future at Stake, Biden Told to Be Bold With Pick for Top Energy Post

"It's time to treat climate change like the emergency it is, and stop approving new fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, reads a letter signed by over 300 climate-focused groups.

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·


SCOTUS Solidifies Students' Free Speech Protections, Upholding Right to Say 'F**k Cheer'

"The message from this ruling is clear—free speech is for everyone, and that includes public school students."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


Right-Wing SCOTUS Majority Rules Union Organizing on Farms Violates Landowners' Rights

The Supreme Court "fails to balance a farmer's property rights with a farm worker's human rights," said United Farm Workers of America.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·


Lawmakers Tell Biden US Has 'Moral Obligation' to Ban Landmines

"If the United States takes these steps it will be welcomed around the world."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·