Here’s a sobering thought: three reasonably intelligent old men of diverse political views are sailing off the coast of Maine. When the conversation veers from reminiscing about the old days to current foreign policy, not one of them can articulate a coherent plan about what the United States should do in the Middle East. They can’t even quarrel, which is unusual. They agree on two things: the situation, including the cultures and players involved, is too complicated to completely comprehend; and regardless of what we do or don’t do, the U.S. can neither control nor even predict the outcome. I think we are hardly alone in this, not just among ordinary people but among those who represent us in Washington. With so much uncertainty and so little power to affect the outcome, the time seems unripe to rush into frenzied action. And yet the pressure to do something builds unrelentingly, whipped up by pundits at home and the despicable behavior of ISIS – which seems bent on goading us to act – abroad.
President Obama’s announcement that he will send 475 military advisors to the Middle East seems modest and humane, but I came of age with a war that began with military advisors, ended with 55,000 American – and countless more Vietnamese – dead, and spawned books with titles like The Making of a Quagmire. The U.S. didn’t understand the culture then, and it couldn’t control the outcome.
Wearied by sobering thoughts, we poured a drink and changed the subject to Ukraine.