In seeking to define the Obama Doctrine, the president and his aides have resorted to a crude saying that amounts to “Don’t do stupid stuff.” It is a pithy if frustratingly vague slogan that is now being tested in Iraq, where the Sunni militant group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is waging a fierce battle against the Shiite-dominated Iraq government. Once again, hawks in the United States are pushing for U.S. intervention, and the president seems open to the military option. Why the United States would intervene in Iraq and not Syria can only be explained by the fact that we seem to feel a greater duty to a country that we destabilized through a grossly ill-advised invasion. But U.S. policy in Iraq, or anywhere else, must be based on a sober assessment of whether intervention is worth the inevitable costs.
President Obama has called for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to set up a representative government that would give more power to Sunni and Kurd leaders. The Obama administration’s willingness to work with Iran to broker a peace deal is a good sign that the White House will explore all options before deploying U.S. military might. Unfortunately, Mr. Maliki has been intransigent thus far, which points to a larger problem in Iraq. The government is a strongly sectarian entity that so far has not proven itself interested in governing a pluralist country. With the Kurds in the North already living in a quasi-independent state, the possibility that the breakup of Iraq is inevitable is something the international community may soon have to consider.
A Vote for Peace
The armed struggle has gone on for more than 50 years, with 220,000 lives lost, 5.7 million internally displaced people and over 20,000 disappeared. These are not figures from Syria or the Congo but from Colombia, where violent conflict between the government and several factions—leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitary groups and criminal gangs—has dragged on since 1964. President Juan Manuel Santos initiated peace talks with the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in 2012. His re-election on June 15 is widely seen as a mandate to continue negotiations.
Mr. Santos narrowly defeated his challenger from the right, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who attacked the president for sacrificing justice for peace and promised to place tougher preconditions on negotiations with the guerrilla fighters. While Mr. Zuluaga’s uncompromising position resonated with many Colombians, in the end a slight majority, 51 percent, voted to give peace a chance.“I’m obliged to put my soul, life and hat into this process,” Mr. Santos said in the wake of his victory. He pledged,“This will not be peace with impunity—this will be peace with justice.”
Clinching a final deal, however, remains an uphill battle. The two sides have reached agreements on land reform, combatting the drug trade and the political participation of former rebels. But major sticking points remain: how to compensate victims and how to prosecute combatants who have committed human rights abuses. Displaced peasant farmers and indigenous people have suffered the brunt of this conflict, and the restoration of their livelihoods must be a top priority. Still, both parties will have to compromise during a period of transitional justice. As one reluctant supporter of Mr. Santos said,“I would rather have a flawed peace process than a perfect war.”
In June a horrific tale emerged in Ireland of the nearly diabolical indifference of a group of Catholic sisters who ran a home for mothers and babies between 1925 and 1961 in Tuam, County Galway. As the story was retold in press accounts by The Irish Independent, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and many more, the public was led to believe that hundreds of infants and toddlers were disposed of, after their untimely deaths, in a septic tank.
If that were true, it would certainly be more damning evidence of institutional depravity in Ireland. But after the initial Internet hysteria subsided slightly—some reporters had dubbed the emerging tale an “Irish Holocaust”—more careful reporting revealed that the septic tank story had been badly misconstrued.
What can be said of the Tuam home with certainty is that over almost four decades as many as 796 babies and toddlers passed away there from a variety of ailments common at the time, among them malnutrition, tuberculosis, measles and influenza. Much needs to be discovered about the short unhappy lives of these children and how they were laid to rest, and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has wisely demanded a full investigation by the Irish government, which was the supervising authority of the Tuam home. It is important to get to the bottom of this story.
Despite the extravagant media accounts, baby bodies have not been located in a septic tank. As for the “Irish Holocaust,” it may prove to be a conflagration mostly of sloppy and indifferent reporting and twitter/Facebook frenzying—signifying nothing more than how quickly misinformation can travel in this era of social media.