dotCommonweal

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Plus ça change

Now up on the homepage is our editorial on the situation in Iraq:

On August 7 President Barack Obama ordered airstrikes against the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The aims were to protect Yazidis and other religious minorities and to prevent ISIS from routing Kurdish fighters and endangering U.S. personnel in Erbil, the Kurdish capital in Northern Iraq. The airstrikes succeeded in halting the advance of the Islamic extremists, saving the lives of thousands and allowing Kurdish and Iraqi forces to regroup. Obama’s decision was the right one. Yet the reintroduction of the U.S. military into Iraq’s internecine religious and ethnic conflicts raises fears of a broader re-engagement in a country still recovering from the aftermath of the U.S. invasion just over ten years ago. So far the president has rejected that possibility. “There is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq,” he has said. But the prospect of further advances by ISIS may force the president’s hand again: Iraq’s Kurds, Shiites, Yazidis, and Christians are now counting on some kind of help from the United States.

Read the whole thing here. Also on the homepage is Margaret O'Brien Steinfels's column on the revanchism behind violent conflicts in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. A hundred years after the start of World War I, what have we learned? Perhaps the better question is: What have we forgotten?

The desire for revenge and recovery (revanchisme, in French) of [France and Serbia] nations paid off at the Versailles peace negotiations. Alsace-Lorraine was returned to French control in 1919. Serbia corralled unwilling Croatians, Slovenes, Bosnians, Macedonians, and Montenegrins into Yugoslavia, which after, decades of internal conflicts dissolved in 1992 into its constituent parts. While Versailles satisfied these demands of revanchism, it laid the groundwork for others: in the declaration of an independent Ukraine and the provision for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

If revanchism seems far-fetched, even old-fashioned, consider the passions at work today in [Eastern Europe]. Russia lost Ukraine after World War I, regained it after World War II, and lost it again in the demise of the Soviet Union. Today, when Russian President Vladimir Putin lays claim to Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine, he appeals to national grievances that oblige redress. However the current fighting ends, eastern Ukraine is likely to remain contested territory—perhaps for centuries. Some people never forget.

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