In “When the Necessary Is Impossible” The Moustache of Wisdom says stabilizing Iraq and Syria depends on crushing ISIS and Shiites and Sunnis agreeing to share power. And I’m sure it’ll be just peachy keen in 1 or 2 Friedman Units… Mr. Bruni, in “College Admissions Shocker!,” says the future has arrived, and it’s the thinnest of envelopes. Here’s TMOW, writing from Sulaimaniya, Iraq:
Being back in Iraq after two years’ absence has helped me to put my finger on the central question bedeviling U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East today: What do you do when the necessary is impossible, but the impossible is impossible to ignore — and your key allies are also impossible?
Crushing the Islamic State, or ISIS, is necessary for stabilizing Iraq and Syria, but it is impossible as long as Shiites and Sunnis there refuse to truly share power, and yet ignoring the ISIS cancer and its ability to metastasize is impossible as well. See: Belgium.
And if all that isn’t impossible enough, our trying to make Iraq safe for democracy is requiring us to turn a blind eye to the fact that our most important NATO “ally” in the region, Turkey, is being converted from a democracy into a dictatorship by its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who should now be called “Sultan Erdogan” for the way he is closing opposition newspapers and putting journalists on trial. But because we need Turkey’s air bases and cooperation to foster a modicum of democracy in Iraq tomorrow, we are silent on Erdogan destroying democracy in Turkey today. Go figure.
And to think that in America we have all these people competing to become president to get a chance to take responsibility for this problem! Has no one told them this is absolutely the worst time in 70 years to be managing U.S. foreign policy?
Obama has my sympathies. If you think there is a simple answer to this problem, you ought to come out here for a week. Just trying to figure out the differences among the Kurdish parties and militias in Syria and Iraq — the Y.P.G., P.Y.D., P.U.K., K.D.P. and P.K.K. — took me a day.
Let’s go back to the future of Iraq. “The problem in Iraq is not ISIS,” Najmaldin Karim, the wise governor of Kirkuk Province, which is partly occupied by ISIS, remarked to me. “ISIS is the symptom of mismanagement and sectarianism.” So even if ISIS is evicted from its stronghold in Mosul, he noted, if the infighting and mismanagement in Baghdad and sectarian tensions between Shiites and Sunnis are not diffused, “the situation in Iraq could be even worse after” ISIS is toppled.
Why? Because there will just be another huge scramble among Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmens, Shiite militias, Turkey and Iran over who controls these territories now held by ISIS. There is simply no consensus here on how power will be shared in the Sunni areas that ISIS has seized. So if one day you hear that we’ve eliminated the ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and lowered the ISIS flag over Mosul, hold your applause.
And here is another not so fun fact from Northern Iraq: Despite all that you have read about “foreign fighters” who have joined ISIS, a vast majority of the people in Kirkuk Province who have come to fight with ISIS were local Sunnis, who saw ISIS as a force protecting them from the pro-Iranian Shiite government in Baghdad. Or, they were more impoverished Sunnis who saw joining ISIS as a way of gaining power over wealthier, upper-class Sunnis.
Also, many Sunni tribes in the Mosul area split, with some members joining ISIS and others not. Kurdish intelligence officials tell me there will be a lot of revenge against those Sunnis who joined ISIS, exacted by those who didn’t — if and when ISIS is defeated. Women from Iraq’s Yazidi sect who were captured and raped by ISIS fighters and eventually escaped to refugee camps in Kurdistan have told Kurdish relief workers that in more than a few cases they were raped, not by some foreign fighters from Chechnya or Libya, but by Iraqi Sunnis from their own hometowns. “They will never trust their neighbors again,” an aid worker told me.
I don’t know anymore what is sufficient to eradicate ISIS — and create a decent order in its place — but it is obvious what is necessary: The struggle between Sunnis and Shiites, fueled by Saudi Arabia and Iran, has to be tempered.
ISIS is a rocket whose guidance system is a direct descendant of the puritanical, anti-Shiite, anti-pluralistic Saudi Wahhabi ideology, and its fuel system is a direct reaction to Shiite Iran’s aggressive push to keep Iraqi Sunnis permanently weak. As long as Iran and Saudi Arabia are going at it, there will always be another ISIS. Which is why the “peace process” the Middle East needs most today is between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
But just waiting for that is no easy option, either. The impossible is impossible to ignore because ISIS is wicked and wickedly smart. The longer it hangs around, the more dangerous it becomes. Britain’s Independent newspaper recently reported that ISIS militants were plotting to take a Belgian nuclear scientist hostage in order to get access to Belgium’s nuclear research facility.
Obama is probably doing about the best one can with ISIS: Degrade it, contain it and downplay it, and keep nudging Sunnis and Shiites to come to their senses. But I have a bad feeling about the ISIS boys. They are networked and they have cast off all civilized norms. And we don’t have the answer for them.
It takes a village. Only Arabs and Muslims can truly take down and delegitimize ISIS and right now their village is too divided, angry, ambivalent and confused to do it.
And now here’s Mr. Bruni:
Cementing its standing as the most selective institution of higher education in the country, Stanford University announced this week that it had once again received a record-setting number of applications and that its acceptance rate — which had dropped to a previously uncharted low of 5 percent last year — plummeted all the way to its inevitable conclusion of 0 percent.
With no one admitted to the class of 2020, Stanford is assured that no other school can match its desirability in the near future.
“We had exceptional applicants, yes, but not a single student we couldn’t live without,” said a Stanford administrator who requested anonymity. “In the stack of applications that I reviewed, I didn’t see any gold medalists from the last Olympics — Summer or Winter Games — and while there was a 17-year-old who’d performed surgery, it wasn’t open-heart or a transplant or anything like that. She’ll thrive at Yale.”
News of Stanford’s unprecedented selectiveness sent shock waves through the Ivy League, along with Amherst, Northwestern and at least a dozen other elite schools where, as a consequence, there could be substantial turnover among underperforming deans of admission.
Administrators at several of these institutions, mortified by acceptance rates still north of 6 percent, chided themselves for insufficient international outreach. Carnegie Mellon vowed that over the next five years, it would quadruple the number of applicants from Greenland. The University of Chicago announced plans to host a college fair in Ulan Bator.
Officials at the University of Pennsylvania, meanwhile, realized that sweatshirts, T-shirts and glossy print and web catalogs weren’t doing nearly enough to advertise its charms, and that the university wasn’t fully leveraging the mystique of its world-renowned business school. So early next fall, every high school senior in America who scored in the top 4 percent nationally on the SAT will receive, in the mail, a complimentary spray bottle of Wharton: The Fragrance, which has a top note of sandalwood and a bottom note of crisp, freshly minted $100 bills.
Seniors who scored in the top 2 percent will get the scented shower gel and reed diffuser set as well.
On campuses from coast to coast, there was soul searching about ways in which colleges might be unintentionally deterring prospective applicants.
Were the applications themselves too laborious? Brown may give next year’s aspirants the option of submitting, in lieu of several essays, one haiku and one original recipe using organic kale.
“Compositions of 750 or even 500 words give some students syllable fatigue,” said a school official, “while others exhibit their greatest creativity around roughage. We want to meet them on their turf, especially if it’s leafy and a rich source of vitamin B6.”
Current high school seniors who had set their sights on Stanford responded to its announcement with astonishment and fury.
“This is the worst thing that has happened to anyone, ever,” said Alissa Parker, 18, a senior at Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C. She added that whether she accepts an offer of admission from M.I.T. or one from Duke, she’ll defer enrollment and take a gap year to regain her confidence.
Taylor Abramovich, a 15-year-old senior at the Horace Mann School in New York City, blamed his parents for his dashed Stanford dream. When he was a toddler, they hired the lawyer David Boies and successfully sued Horace Mann to let Taylor begin kindergarten far ahead of schedule.
“If I’d been held back a year, I would have been applying to the Stanford class of 2021, when the school might start accepting students again,” Taylor fumed. He said that his one consolation for not getting in was knowing that none of his peers did, either.
At first blush, Stanford’s decision would seem to jeopardize its fund-raising. The thousands of rejected applicants included hundreds of children of alumni who’d donated lavishly over the years, their expectations obvious in the fact that they affixed their $50,000 checks to photographs of Emma playing an obscure woodwind in an Umbrian chamber orchestra or Scott donning the traditional dress of an indigenous people for whom he tailored a special social-media network while on spring break.
But over recent years, Stanford administrators noticed that as the school rejected more and more comers, it received bigger and bigger donations, its endowment rising in tandem with its exclusivity, its luster a magnet for Silicon Valley lucre.
In fact just 12 hours after the university’s rejection of all comers, an alumnus stepped forward with a financial gift prodigious enough for Stanford to begin construction on its long-planned Center for Social Justice, a first-ever collaboration of Renzo Piano and Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the pedestrian bridge that will connect it to the student napping meadows.
Christ, but I wish they’d all stop trying to out-MoDo MoDo. She’s bad enough… (Which is why I’ve been sparing us all her offerings, as well as those of the Pasty Little Putz, wee Ross “Don’t” Douthat.)
Tags: The Moustache of Wisdom