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OUR VIEW — Caution in Iraq

The administration of President Barack Obama may be using the pretense of protecting American assets and personnel in northern Iraq as a justification for airstrikes against Islamic State militants. But the reality is, whether the president realizes it or not, the current unrest in Iraq was unavoidable.
These are the fruits of prematurely exiting President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and the Obama administration’s disinterested stance in Syria’s civil war. Both have fostered fissures in the region. Radicals like those in Islamic State are the result.
That observation does nothing to alleviate the suffering Islamic State is handing out in the areas controlled by its so-called caliphate, which stretches across portions of both Syria and Iraq. But it may be helpful as a guiding principle for future military actions that the United States will take, either alone or as part of a half-hearted coalition.
The prospects of the Islamic State for international combat, outside of Syria and Iraq, appear limited. Their fanaticism, which is what has inspired the U.S. response, is matched by their ineptitude to expand beyond already unstable areas.
The current unrest in Iraq is a regional issue, and should be dealt with by regional powers. The U.S. can do far more good with humanitarian and economic aid, in the hands of the right people, than it can by dropping ordinance or flying armed drones over northern Iraq.
We have acted as a guardian in the Middle East for too long. It’s time for moderate, secular countries in the region to take the lead.
The Middle East is plagued by conflict between on religion against another, one denomination against another, one ethnic group against another. The U.S. simply doesn’t have the ability to curb those deeply ingrained prejudices that have amounted to so much shed blood. It’s the height of arrogance to think that we do.
We can right some of the wrongs of the last decades of our Middle East foreign policy with calculated, cautious moves going forward. Whether Obama and Congress are capable of that kind of thinking has yet to be seen.

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