Our opinion: A crisis of conscience

Forty-six people were killed in Iraq last Sunday, as it becomes clearer and clearer U.S. strategy to pacify that country was a dismal, bloody, expensive failure.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in Iraq during the past few months. Much of the violence seems to involve battles among Sunni and Shiite religious factions.

If that sounds to you like history repeating itself, you are absolutely right.

After toppling the late Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime in Iraq, U.S. officials set about the ambitious task of installing what they hoped – and at times bragged – would be a peaceful, democratic culture.

Nearly 4,500 Americans gave their lives in the process of “regime change” in Iraq. Tens of thousands of others were wounded, some maimed severely for life.

Billions of dollars were poured into Iraq – and the flow of money has not stopped.

Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq came when that country’s new rulers said they were ready to run the country on their own, without outside military help. Clearly, they were wrong.

Violence is increasing in Iraq. There have been discussions among that nation’s leaders about asking for renewed U.S. military involvement.

As matters stand, that should not be considered. There is no reason to believe a more effective long-term strategy of pacifying Iraq has been devised.

U.S. involvement in Iraq seems to have changed little, if anything. Going back would merely waste more American dollars – and lives.

It is a lesson that has been spoken and unspoken in the recent maelstrom of debate regarding Syria. It is the nagging fear that our military involvement, no matter how limited in that civil war, will somehow become less limited and infinitely more expensive in lives and treasure.

America is weary of hauling the coal for the rest of the free world. We agree that the common sense conclusion is that Bashar Assad’s forces launched a chemical attack on Syrians. It has happened before and likely will happen again. But, despite international law and U.N. resolution that makes such action not just abhorrent but illegal, the international community appears to have no appetite for taking action against it.

A crime repeatedly unprosecuted, unpunished, ultimately ceases to be a crime.

If there was ever evidence that the United Nations is a fatally impotent keeper of the peace, this is an exhibit.

So, the question becomes, does it fall to the United States of America to be the world’s peacekeeper, the sole prosecutor of crimes against humanity? The exigencies of that role have proven terrible over the past half century. And, whether expressed or not, they weigh heavily on the minds of Americans who have to balance their natural instinct for compassion and justice with the knowledge gained from a bloody experience in the not-so-distant past.