I watched The McLaughlin Group last night for the first time in years. John McLaughlin looks awful but I guess that’s not surprising given that he’s in his mid-80s for goodness sake. I don’t think I agreed with any of the positions that anybody was articulating. The subjects they discussed were the situation in Iraq, PTSD, and the crash on Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 last week.
As should be obvious from what I’ve written over the last decade, I think that our policy in Iraq is deeply flawed. DAESH is an existential threat to many countries in the Middle East, a danger to European countries, and a nuisance to us. It would be very difficult, expensive, and possibly bloody for the Middle Eastern countries threatened by the Islamic State to mitigate the risks it poses to them (I expect many of them to attempt to arrive at a modus vivendi, an ultimately doomed strategy). It will be expensive and politically difficult for the countries of Europe to mitigate the risks. I expect them to defer, delay, and otherwise avoid doing anything, sticking with their core competency. While it would be politically painful for us to mitigate the risks, it would be much less difficult for us than for, say, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Germany.
I’m concerned we’re being drawn willy nilly into fighting the KSA’s and Europe’s wars for them. Last week I heard an NPR interview with retired Gen. Gregory Newbold, formerly an advisor to the Obama campaign, in which he urged exactly that. He recommended a Desert Storm-style build-up and re-invasion of Iraq and Syria to make good on the president’s promise to “degrade and destroy” DAESH. The Republican presidential candidates are vying with each other on how hawkish they can sound. President Obama is continuing to insist that his strategy is succeeding. Time will tell just how that sounds in a year. We have yoked our reputations to the feckless Iraqi government. Every day that goes by without destroying DAESH damages our reputation the more.
PTSD? I don’t disagree we have a debt of honor to those in the military who have suffered wounds on our behalf, whether physical or psychological. However, I think that we need to re-think our “give war a chance” knee-jerk policy. Doing that would avoid untold thousands (or millions) of future cases. Drone pilots suffer from PTSD, too.
With respect to the train crash, I’m afraid that the panelists have forgotten the reason Amtrak runs that route at all. It’s because of the bankruptcy of the Penn Central. This is yet another example of a middle (or upper middle) class subsidy. If the voters of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania wish to subsize commuter rail, that’s up to them. The federal government should be out of the choo choo business entirely. I’m in favor of rail as a mode of transport but I think it needs to stand on its own two feet. As do air and automobile transport.