Opinion Columns & Blogs

Davis Merritt: Debate future Middle East policy, not the past


With 17 agonizing months of presidential campaigning left, how many Americans do you suppose want to spend them hearing the candidates triangulate their positions on whether George W. Bush’s decision to destroy Iraq was a correct one?

And how many relatives and friends of the dead and wounded want to see and feel their loved ones’ sacrifices once again become chips in a hand of political showdown?

Even for those of us who were convinced from the first rumbles that invading any country in the Middle East was foolhardy, continuation of the postmortem carries neither value nor any wisp of satisfaction.

Everyone should hope that journalists, the candidates’ “oppo” hit squads and the candidates themselves move on to debate something more useful, such as how we can contain this decade’s paroxysm of lawlessness and national suicide in the Middle East.

In August 2002, eight months before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote in a commentary:

“Let’s get over one idea right away: Democracy is not going to spring up – or even seep to the surface – in the Middle East in the lifetime of any living person, no matter how much the United States wishes it or how aggressively we pursue it….

“This is not to say we should stop encouraging the democratic impulses that live in the hearts and minds of most people of the world; or that we should learn to live with people like Saddam Hussein. But the notion that we can somehow, for example, replace Saddam’s regime with even an approximation of U.S.-style democracy is both hopeless and non-productive thinking.”

Nothing about those realities has changed except that the destruction of Iraq’s government, as bad as it was, inflamed Arab resentments against the West, particularly the United States, and confirmed the 2002 belief expressed by 63 percent of Americans in a CBS poll that invading Iraq would increase the terrorist threat to America.

So if the presidential candidates decide to talk about the future rather than the past, be wary of any who suggest they have quick fixes for the Mideast mess.

Ignore any who continue to talk about a “war on terrorism” as if America’s traditional military tactics can prevail against constantly evolving gangs of religious radicals who have no national identity, no large bases to target and no scruples about murdering disbelievers and who are willing – even anxious – to die for their cause.

As I wrote in a 2007 commentary, dropping the war metaphor must happen, because “framing our effort against terrorists in mostly military terms has locked us into old patterns of thought and reflex that imply we need only win a couple of decisive battles or eliminate a certain hierarchy of terrorist leaders to achieve ‘victory.’”

Nothing has changed about that reality either.

The religious extremism that infects the Middle East has been ebbing and flowing for more than a thousand years. The West has been involved for more than 900 of those years.

No would-be American president can erase that history nor diminish its allure to this generation of radicals and psychopaths who want to write their chapter in our blood. But our 21st-century mindset doesn’t tolerate lengthy wars; the half-life of our resolve is measured in months, theirs in centuries.

We need to hear in detail the candidates’ plans for dealing with those present realities.

Davis Merritt, a Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at dmerritt9@cox.net.