The moral, intellectual, and now military disarray of the Western democracies is blinding. The beheading of American, British and French hostages by brutes from Islamic State is filmed and shown to the world. Our leaders speechify about bringing them to justice while at the same time adding that they will not send troops. Justice is beside the question. Did we bring justice to the SS or battle? “No boots on the ground” is a sickening euphemism for surrender. Our men are murdered with impunity. That’s where we are.
Israelis and Kurds are defending themselves primarily, but in the process holding the line for us against the brutes. And what happens to those whose battle is also ours? The White House puts barriers in the way of resupplying Israel with weaponry. Hamas boasts in public that when it rules the West Bank it will destroy Israel with a speed that will astonish everybody, and John Kerry starts to burble all over again about a peace process.
There’s a precedent of sorts. In 1944 the Poles rose up against the Germans. Lying to the Allies about his intention to take Poland after the war, Stalin ordered the Red Army to stand by outside Warsaw and watch while the Poles died. Months later, at Yalta, Roosevelt and Churchill conceded Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe to Stalin. Millions of people were left to suffer from this victory of brute force.
President Obama is now facing decisions as weighty as those facing Roosevelt. The Islamic State is poised to take Kobani, a small town to be sure, but to the defending Kurds what Warsaw once was to the Poles. The Kurds are receiving no help. So desperate is their situation that women are fighting like men, and one who ran out of ammunition ended her life as a suicide bomber. The Islamic State also looks as if it’s taking Baghdad, and has already made probes in Lebanon and Jordan. Turkey, nominally an ally, has mobilized but only for show; it has been fighting off the Kurds for decades.
Turning towards the Mediterranean, the Islamic State would encounter the Israelis, and, turning inland, the Iranians. A mysterious explosion has just occurred in Parchin, a site in Iran said to be involved in the nuclear-weapons program. Somebody is attempting to do what President Obama has decided not to do. It is clear that in the final talks due in November about the Iranian nuclear program he intends to go to any lengths to avoid military measures and will settle with Iran on its terms. Conceding the Middle East to one or another set of brutes, Obama will go down in history as the president responsible for a retreat as disastrous as Yalta.