The Best Thing America Can Do to Help Iraq Is to Do Nothing at All

The U.S. should learn from its mistakes and stay out of another Middle Eastern quagmire.

Iraqi tribesmen carry their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants, on June 16, 2014 in the southern city of Basra

Editor's note: As Obama's "favorite" think tank, the Center for American Progress announced in a new report on Tuesday that the US should “prepare for limited counterterrorism operations against ISIS, including possible air strikes,” Thom Hartmann points to the folly of another US intervention in Iraq.


The best thing we can do to help Iraq is to do nothing at all.

Any American intervention will only fan the flames of a fire that’s already threatening to burn way out of control.

It’s now been a week since the jihadist group Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, and its fighters now control a whole stretch of territory ranging from the Euphrates Valley in eastern Syria all the way down to the ring of cities surrounding Baghdad.

Today they crept even closer to the capital.

If it wasn't obvious before it should be now: Iraq is a broken country.

Whatever kind of sectarian peace Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule created, George Bush shattered. Now the Iraqi people are reaping Bush's whirlwind.

This is what happens when you invade a sovereign country, eliminate its government, and destroy its infrastructure.

Of course, Iraq’s current Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki does deserve a lot of the blame for the current mess.

His corrupt and brutal government, which is made up of mostly Shia Muslims, has completely alienated Iraq’s minority Sunni population.

That is one big reason why ISIS has had such an easy time gobbling up territory: Iraqi Sunnis are so fed up with the Maliki government that they’re willing to work with people who were kicked of Al-Qaeda for being too extreme if it means not having to worry about the Shias running Baghdad.

If all this sounds confusing and complicated to you, that’s because it is confusing and complicated.

Iraq is a really complicated country, and although we’re ultimately responsible for what’s going on there right now, there’s really nothing we can do to fix it.

Nothing that won’t make the problem worse in the long run, that is.

Airstrikes against ISIS fighters—which is one of the things the White House is reportedly interested in doing—will almost certainly kill civilians, making Iraqi Sunnis even more likely to join up with ISIS extremists.

Airstrikes will also have a blowback effect, making America enemy number one for ISIS radicals.

Working with Iran to snuff out ISIS fighters, meanwhile, is just as dangerous— not because, as Republicans think, Iran is the root of all evil but because working with Iran would send a message to Iraqi Sunnis that we’re on the side of the corrupt Shia government that they hate.

There are really no good options.

That’s why we shouldn’t “do” anything in Iraq.

We should learn from our mistakes and stay out of another Middle Eastern quagmire.

This is what’s best for us in the short term and it’s what’s best for Iraq in the long run.

The great historian Crane Brinton had a theory about how human societies change that tells us a lot about the current crisis in Iraq and how we should deal with it.

According to Brinton, when societies go through times of revolutionary change they go through three main phases.

During the first phase the people revolt and the old order is overthrown.

Then during the second phase the revolutionaries— the people who overthrew the old order — become oppressors themselves and use violence to stay in power.

And finally during the third phase—the Thermidorian Reaction—the people revolt against the revolutionaries to restore the peace and tranquility they used to have during the old regime.

After this third and final phase, order is restored, and if things go well the best parts of the revolution are preserved.

Brinton was writing about the French Revolution but his ideas still fit with what’s going on Iraq right now.

Iraq had its old order overthrown in 2003 and is still caught in the second violent and radical phase of Crane Brinton’s theory of revolution.

Until the Iraqi people decide to revolt against this violence, Iraq will be stuck in an endless cycle of radicalism and terror.

Any American intervention—especially a violent one with airstrikes—will keep them in this violent phase for a long time, maybe even decades.

That’s why the best solution to the Iraqi crisis isn’t really a solution at all; it’s to do nothing, to let the Iraqi people solve their problems themselves.

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