"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
Morpheus to Neo, The Matrix (1999)
While Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants rip through western and northern Iraq, a centuries-old notion of a pan-Islamic caliphate metastasizes in their wake of violence. To counter this advance Western protagonists, along with a cast of regional actors, are naturally spooling up for the only fix to unrest in Mesopotamia that they know, military intervention, or more accurately, blowing stuff up, regardless of global consequences.
Without a hint of Wonderland expectations, a collective sigh of relief from everyone but John McCain capped an Obama proclamation last month that there would be no US boots on the ground to jumpstart an Iraq War 3.0, despite entreaties from Baghdad, and also that the US could not "solve this problem by sending in tens of thousands of troops and committing the kinds of blood and treasure that has already been expended in Iraq."
If he had stopped there the rest of us could have taken a breath, but Obama continued:
We're developing more information about potential targets associated with ISIL, and going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.
After Progressives exhaled, a brief surge of long sought optimism gave way to grizzled cynicism. Where exactly did this contingency leave our costliest foreign policy misadventure in Iraq should our "targeted" military precision be unleased, ironically to quell a protracted civil war spawned by the Bush cabal and four decades of misguided American hubris? While we wondered, Secretary of State John Kerry even upped the ante in Baghdad, promising Prime Minister al-Maliki "intense and sustained" support to counter the ISIL advance. After all, such sustained intensity worked so well the first time.
No boots on the ground, really? Unless Apache gunship pilots and embedded Special Forces units are excluded from this mix of double-speak. Intense and sustained? Or just another White House warrior flirting with the queen mother of all foreign policy blunders, mission creep, reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson's descent down a similar rabbit hole in Vietnam.
Fifty years after Congress went all the way with LBJ and his Gulf of Tonkin machinations, another false flag is on the verge of being planted squarely in the middle of another civil war, engendering wet dreams for new arm-chair warriors, and threatening an escalation in the new Islamic State on a scale unmatched since the Great War. Russia has even spotted Iraq 12 new warplanes, US and Iranian drones are sharing Iraqi airspace, Iran's Quds Force are defending Baghdad, and the beat goes on.
But history and lessons-learned have never stood in the way of a US overreach. Obama continues to play off the same sheet of music that led to a dozen year slog in Southeast Asia, only this incremental path to catastrophe is threatening to redefine quagmire. All the signs are there, from authorizing covert lethal aid to the Syrian rebels last January, to openly requesting $500 million to train and arm the same "moderates" this month; from Kerry remarking in 2013 that there was absolutely no military solution in Syria, to the US jump-starting escalation by arming rebels and a " military-lite " commitment. And increasing the US military signature in Iraq with Special Forces embeds and F16s has WWI or Vietnam sequel written all over it.
Incredibly, a mission creep stupor seems to be contagious back home with US polls showing a split on US air attacks against ISIL. Even the catastrophic bloodletting in Syria is barely an afterthought. But sending an additional 300 so-called military advisors this week, then the next to help an unpopular Shia majority repel Sunni fundamentalists in a deadly sectarian war is just another bad idea. And how soon before the next drone pilot targets, with precision, then shreds the next Muslim family in Baghdad?
Why not set our military hammer down, gently. The West, especially the US, along with Russia and a reality based coalition of the willing in the Middle East, must finally recognize that peace negotiations have been on the very same table , along with military force, since long before Archduke Ferdinand's assassination in 1914 sparked catastrophe. The major powers then chose hammers over diplomacy, setting in motion one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.
It's said that destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice, and a century and countless mass graves later another diplomatic option is still within the grasp of new adversaries. Still, where are the leaders, the diplomats, the voices for a peaceful resolution over jihad and retribution, for summits over assassination lists, when a regional diplomatic surge focusing on de-escalation and humanitarian relief throughout the Levant is the only viable alternative to another century of sectarian violence?
Admittedly, ceding our knee jerk armed interventionism to diplomacy and reconciliation will only be halting first steps, and even failing at crucial rounds of negotiations might be worse than not trying at all. But without a genuine attempt at a peaceful resolution, and soon, this rabbit hole could turn out to be an abyss, with no amount of blue pills ending the fall.