God only knows what happens next, but this much is clear—the Syrian war is no longer the Syrian war. It’s a regional war. It spilled into Lebanon at a low level some time ago. It sucked in Iran and Hezbollah some time ago. Now it is spreading with full force at blitzkrieg speed into Iraq and has even drawn in the Kurdistan Regional Government which managed to sit out the entire Iraq war.
This could easily suck in Turkey, Jordan, and Israel before it’s over.
Or maybe it won’t.
In the future we might see the events of the last few days as the beginning of the end of Iraq as a state, or at least the beginning of the end of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose American-trained army has proven utterly useless. Or maybe he’ll survive in an Iranian-backed rump state.
Maliki wants an American-backed rump state. Eli Lake in The Daily Beast reports that he’s asking for American air strikes and drone warfare.
But we are not going to save Iraq and we are not going to save Syria. It’s over. That’s what the Middle East wanted, and it’s what the Middle East is going to get.
Arab governments complain when we intervene and they complain when we don't intervene. Basically, they complain no matter what. So asking what they want is pointless. It takes a while to notice this trend over time, but there it is. They have not stopped to consider the consequences of this behavior, but those consequences are about to become apocalyptic for Nouri al-Maliki.
“We’ll kill you if you mess with us, but otherwise go die” is not even close to my preferred foreign policy, but it’s what President Barack Obama prefers (phrased much more nicely, of course) and it’s what the overwhelming majority of Americans prefer, including most liberals as well as conservatives.
Still, it’s only a matter of time before we get sucked in kicking and screaming one way or another. Because the Middle East isn’t Las Vegas. What happens there doesn’t stay there.
We're out for now, though. This is the time of festering.