There is a group, the "Islamic" State, that has decided that their brand of extremist Islam demands the "restoration" of a caliphate in the Middle East. They are willing to go to any length to make this happen. They carved a territory out of Syria and Iraq, declared it theirs, and imposed their brutal version of justice on the inhabitants. The brook no interference, to the point of beheading American journalists as retaliation for attempts by the United States to keep them from overrunning and slaughtering groups that do not meet with their fanatical approval.
Their existence is a product of the Cold War. The U.S.A. vs. U.S.S.R. chess match shaped policies on both sides in the Middle East that led to a region rife with fanaticism, shot through with tyrannical dictatorship, and left some nations open to exploitation by dictators, religious fundamentalists, and terrorists. The Shah of Iran, Nasser, Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Qaddafi, bin Laden, Hussein... these are the products of a global tug-of-war that produced regional conflict, fair weather alliances, power grabs, religious oppression, and lethal dictatorships. The Middle East as it is now, was a product of the 20th Century version of The Crusades.
The "Islamic" State is only the latest mutated offspring of the undeclared war between Capitalism and Communism. As such, the blood is on our hands, like it or not. We may have moved a long way from the genesis of the current instability, but it is an albatross that casts its shadow on the deck of the ship of State.
It would be easy enough to claim that we have reached some moral ascendance, that with Gulf War II now nearly over in Afghanistan, we must strike the standards, fold the tents, and return to our homes, and banish from our minds any thought of returning to involve ourselves in the melees the region finds itself enmeshed in. Perhaps we could absolve ourselves that easily.
It doesn't work that way.
Our hand set the game in motion. The waves of dissent and ripples of instability were caused by the rock we heaved into the middle of that desert pond. The single greatest foreign attack on American continental soil, September 11th, was one of those ripples, rebounded from a cave in mountains in Afghanistan. We might wish to believe disengaging from the pageant keeps us safe from the repercussions of our actions, that our new found moral certitude in peace without superior firepower would insulate us.
It is true that, at some point, a nation must stand up before the world, say "we will not continue to live by the sword," and work tirelessly to foster peace. It is true that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, but within that is the implicit assumption that we were competent in the first place. Violence is not the ultimate solution to our problems; the Cold War was the greatest teacher of that lesson, for the mutually-assured destruction that might have been wrought had tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R. escalated would certainly have extinguished us all. It took a tremendous effort to pull two great powers back from the brink of mass nuclear suicide. It was done. But the threat is still present even now.
It is hubris to believe that we can simply pick up our toys and go home. There is no reason to believe that the "Islamic" State will somehow see our withdrawal as a "get out of jihad free" card. Their rhetoric suggests they see the United States -- and all Westernized societies -- as their enemy. They are willing to die for what they believe and more than willing to take as many of us as possible with them when they do. Right now, they are confined to a home they have carved from other nations, but are we seriously going to bank on them staying there. within their Arabic playpen?
Ideology is the worst offender in war, for the ideologue believes so wholeheartedly in the righteousness of their cause, they are willing to immolate themselves and their brethren in its defense, even when their situation is hopeless. Hitler wrecked Germany rather than admit defeat. The Japanese were willing to hurl themselves at ships in order to prevent the hated enemy from setting foot on their shore. The suicide bomber destroys himself in the belief that self-sacrifice wins him a ticket to Heaven for obliterating his enemies.
President Obama is taking the prudent steps he must to ensure that the "Islamic" State cannot present a greater threat to the United States and the world, that an organized state with greater resources would pose when wrapped up in self-destructive fanaticism. The man will not go to war, casually or without deliberation, if at all. He has used the tools at his command to end the wars we have been involved in and to attempt to prevent new ones from starting. He is perched precariously at the apex of a pyramid of Western interference in the Middle East that stains our reputation among Arabic nations, colors even our well-meaning our actions as suspect, and leaves us no good options when it is clear that a situation is of our manufacture.
The man has stood before the flag-draped caskets. He knows what he asks of our military and the nation. He knows there is risk with every move he makes. But he also knows that we, the United States, owe this region for centuries of bloodshed brought about by our machinations. It is a debt not so easily written off, especially where the payment for it may come in the deaths of American citizens on their home soil. We take a grave risk in ignoring a threat that is so transparent, when we did not take seriously the last threat, and allowed almost 3,000 names to be added to the butcher's bill as a result.
A day will come when the world will know true peace. To get there, we will still have to fight, until those who worship violence are vanquished. Human nature being what it is, we have a long road yet to follow.