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What Exactly Are We Doing In Iraq? What’s The Peace We Seek?

As beltway partisans spar for political footing, we’re reminded we have no hope of achieving an end to war in Iraq without understanding our specific goals.

I don’t mean to show excessive or anxious concern about detail, but what is our goal in Iraq? And why aren’t we talking about what that specific goal is?

Consider a few random items that came across the transom this week.

1) From Jeffrey Goldberg’s introduction of his interview with Hillary Clinton:

2) Former Obama advisor David Axelrod’s response:

3) From a growing petition headlined, “A Plea on Behalf of Victims of ISIS/ISIL Barbarism in Iraq”:

Now, I actually agree with parts of each of these items. It’s difficult to disagree with Clinton that Obama’s foreign policy doctrine is insufficient. It’s cartoonishly insufficient. It’s difficult to disagree with Axelrod that occupying Iraq was a bad decision (even if almost everyone in the Obama administration and the New York Times enthusiastically supported it when the call to do so was made). Or at least, it’s not difficult for me to disagree with that since it’s always been my position. And it’s difficult to turn away from the plight of Christians and other religious minorities being slaughtered by ISIS/ISIL or that the goal of the United States should be more thought-through than the current short-term strategies indicate.

But do you notice that no one in the Clinton-Obama micturation match is talking about what, specifically, the object of our latest iteration of military action/war in Iraq should be? And are we sure, with the petition-signers, that our foreign policy should be mostly about genocide prevention of others? How far does that go? People are hurting all over the world right now. How do we pick, in a world of limited resources, which few we help? And what’s the long-term strategy of making that our foreign policy?

I wouldn’t presume to advise how to achieve the end we’re aiming for, but I’m beyond concerned by the lack of discussion — much less popular consensus and much, much less executive leadership — concerning that goal. To be completely honest, I’m worried that no one thinks it’s necessary to have a specific goal that relates to the peace of the American people.

George S. Patton had that funny line about how “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” But I think Conan the Barbarian was closer to the philosophy of war when he told Mongol General what was best in life:

When it comes to Iraq, the goals of our military action seem to have been unclear for some time now. Consider this tweet from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:

But let’s take it back one step. The reason why the United States should be involved in military action is so that Americans may live a quiet and peaceable life, no? In our case that means it is to secure our system of self-government from the tyrannies around every corner. We may have forgotten this basic principle of military action after decades of half-hearted military engagement throughout the world, but war is supposed to be a way of achieving peace, not more war.

In his essay, “Tools of Statecraft: Diplomacy and War,” Angelo Codevilla says you can’t really talk about the object of a country’s military action without thinking about the peace that country seeks. What is the peace we seek? Shouldn’t we have an answer to that question?

The answer might be diplomacy, military engagement or all-out-war. But we don’t know what it will take because we’re completely confused about what we seek and the statesmanship required to even maintain a clear understanding of what we seek, much less have a hope of achieving it.

Follow Mollie on Twitter.

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