Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why there will be no American boots on the ground

In one of my favorite articles about Barack Obama before he became President, Ryan Lizza tells this story about his time as a community organizer in Chicago.
Not long after Obama arrived, he sat down for a cup of coffee in Hyde Park with a fellow organizer named Mike Kruglik. Obama's work focused on helping poor blacks on Chicago's South Side fight the city for things like job banks and asbestos removal...

On this particular evening, Kruglik was debriefing Obama about his work when a panhandler approached. Instead of ignoring the man, Obama confronted him. "Now, young man, is that really what you want be about?" Obama demanded. "I mean, come on, don't you want to be better than that? Let's get yourself together."

Kruglik remembers this episode as an example of why, in ten years of training organizers, Obama was the best student he ever had.
You might wonder what that story has to do with my title above. Lizza points out that Obama didn't ignore the panhandler. But an even more important point is that he didn't simply hand him some money. What Obama DID do was challenge the man to do better for himself. That's exactly the same thing he is saying to Iraq today.

President Obama made it clear that the United States would not join an offensive movement against ISIS unless and until Iraq had formed a government that would be inclusive of both Shia and Sunnis who need to work together in order for the country to stabilize. In other words, he didn't just jump in to rescue them,  he said: "come on, don't you want to be better than that? Let's get yourself together." 

Yesterday at the United Nations, the President made a similar point more broadly about sectarianism and extremism in the Middle East.
Ultimately, the task of rejecting sectarianism and extremism is a generational task – a task for the people of the Middle East themselves. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds.
When you see people assuming that President Obama is simply repeating what George Bush did in Iraq (like this absurd cover of The Economist) or when they suggest that he is not sending in ground groups due to political considerations, just remember that those folks are too lazy and/or ignorant to be able to grasp the strategy here. I suppose we could ask them the same question: "come on, don't you want to be better than that?" ;-)

1 comment:

  1. Well said, or they focus in on whether he has a cup in his hand while he salutes..... I have been trying to help people on a facebook posting of this incident, about the foolishness of spending so much time on the mote they don't see the beam in their own eye. We need to help people use critical thinking instead of believing nonsense.