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Whither Iraq and Syria?

The "mess" in the Middle East continues to grow daily.    Possible shifting alliances and threats from this or that quarter make for hard decisions how to deal with it all.

Obama is confronted with some difficult decisions, as this piece on The New Yorker discusses.

"On his first full day back from vacation, President Barack Obama could be forgiven for wishing he were still on Martha’s Vineyard. With confirmation that ISIS fighters have just captured another military base from the government forces of President Assad, and that Qatar has engineered the release of an American freelance journalist who was being held by a non-ISIS jihadist group, Obama has two formidable challenges to deal with.

The immediate task for Obama is deciding whether to launch American bombing raids on ISIS positions inside Syria, while simultaneously preparing his Administration, and the country at large, for the possibility of another video showing an American hostage being butchered. The ISIS militants, having carefully orchestrated the beheading of James Foley following the launch of U.S. strikes inside Iraq, will surely seek to exploit the fate of its remaining American hostages for maximum effect. Any U.S. decision to expand its air campaign is almost certain to be met with the release of more snuff films.

No President—no American—could take such a prospect lightly. At the same time, Obama has to guard against allowing emotion and wishful thinking to take over U.S. policy. That’s what happened after 9/11, and some of the chaos that we now see in the Middle East can be traced back to that historic blunder. What’s needed is calm cost-benefit analysis of the options open to the United States, taking account of its strategic interests, its values, and its capabilities. In short, we need what Danny Kahneman, the Princeton psychologist who pioneered behavioral economics, would refer to as some Type 2 thinking: a disciplined weighing of the likely consequences of our actions. If we give into our Type 1 reaction—horror, outrage, anger—we will be playing into the hands of the jihadists.

One place to start is by acknowledging two errors in thinking that have blighted U.S. policy in the past decade: the conservative delusion that the United States could, more or less single-handedly, use its military power to reinvent the Middle East, and the liberal illusion that we could simply walk away from the mess that Bush, Cheney & Co. created. Without the political willingness and the financial capability to garrison the region in the manner of postwar Germany and Japan, U.S. influence has to be exercised through air power, political proxies, economic inducements, and regional alliances. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the United States and other Western countries have vital interests at stake, one of which is preventing the emergence of a rogue Islamic state that would provide a rallying point, and a safe haven, for anti-Western jihadists the world over."

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