I ain’t got no quarrel with ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but should “we” support the war against it in Mosul and Raqqa? I don’t know. As for me, the jury is still out, deliberating.
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, was a man of strong convictions. His convictions were so strong and steadfast that he was convicted fifty years ago last month by an all-white jury of refusing to fight and die for the United States in Viet Nam. He famously said “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong…” adding “…no Vietcong [ever] called me a nigger.” He refused to put on a uniform and travel “10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam”. For that principled stand, he was sentenced to five years in jail and stripped of his world championship boxing titles.
Today Donald Trump, a man without any conviction, is faced with foreign policy decisions that he is ill prepared to make. Some decisions involve issue he inherited – Afghanistan and Iraq thanks to George W. Bush; North Korea, a war still in progress courtesy of Harry S. Truman. Some are Trump made – the North Korean escalation, the Iran nuclear deal reboot and the Syria line in the sand made by Ivanka’s distaste of barrel bomb chemical weapons.
Today’s fucked up world is not all of Donald Trump’s making. That downward spiral started in Yalta in January, 1945 when three guys, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, without as much as a how-de-do divvied up the world. That was followed by the Truman Doctrine of the 1940’s and 50’s that morphed the benign Marshall Plan for reconstruction into a bellicose NATO mindset for military intervention, followed by other foreign adventures stacked one upon the other, all initiated by the world’s major powers.
The total failure of intervention, meddling in a country where one has no quarrel was Vietnam. Vietnam, like most wars, was a war of choice not of necessity. Viet Nam was the perfect storm where personal and national hubris merged with financial greed that drove America’s failed effort – an effort doomed from the get-go since America had no interest in that quarrel.
America failed to heed the Vietnam “I ain’t got no quarrel” lesson. It failed to heed Russia’s expensive in blood and money adventure in Afghanistan. It is still on the rails hurtling to meddle in affairs not of her making. Justification for this course of action, whether by Donald Trump or Barack Obama, is the lie that is the heart of Cabaret, the musical: “Maybe this time, I’ll be lucky … not a loser anymore like the last time, and the time before … maybe this time I’ll win …” The lie denies Einstein’s maxim that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Every president, every head of state and every elected official should look himself or herself in the mirror and answer the Muhammad Ali question – “Have we got a quarrel, a dog in that fight?” – before committing a country, a nation’s treasure, men’s and women’s lives to foreign adventure, to intervention.
The question is not limited to democratic leaders; it is just as applicable to autocratic regimes and hereditary sheiks and sultanates. Soldiers die and bleed no matter what color their uniform; civilians and children are sacrificed, be they Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Jew; dollars, rubles and euros spent on guns and munitions are finite and cannot be redeployed for civilian use.
Do not confuse skepticism of intervention as a return to isolationism. One does not lead to the other. Healthy skepticism requires a selfish re-assessment of the cost benefits of intervention – an objective determination “are we in fact part of that quarrel?”
It is only if the collective “we” has a quarrel with ISIS, the nascent Islamic state, that “we” should intervene. An ad hoc “coalition of willing” ain’t going to cut the mustard – George Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed miserably for two decades. Barack Obama’s 2014 “Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” is a paper tiger, another fig leaf hiding failed intervention by the few. I doubt that Donald Trump is aware of its on-paper-only existence.
So, there you have it: Is there a civilized, collective “we” that is all inclusive? Do “we” have a quarrel with ISIS or is that just a local dispute? Are “we” prepared to support the war against ISIS for the next 20 years, first in Iraq and Syria, then in Libya and Somalia and elsewhere? That’s up to you, the “we”, not me.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com