Iraq is burning, and the United States of America is watching.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, a radical Islamist group more commonly called ISIS, has made good its name. It already governs Raqqah Province in Syria and has now seized Mosul, Tikrit and parts of Kirkuk and Samarra in Iraq. It has deployed hundreds of fighters as conventional forces and defeated the Iraqi military in the north, seizing vehicles and weapons while continuing on its path to Baghdad. It is no longer a terrorist group. It is becoming a nascent state with a small army.
President Obama says that he is mulling options for providing support to Iraq, but with great reluctance. "The U.S. is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis," he said Friday.
A political plan for Iraq is vital. Everything the administration has said about the sectarianism and mis-governance of Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki is true. Assistance to Iraq must include strong conditions to press Maliki to change his approach - or leave office.
But the Iraqis need vigorous and intelligent American involvement right now to prevent a stalemate that will leave ISIS in control of much of northern Iraq. That is an unacceptable outcome, one that would do far more damage to America than our retreat from Vietnam in 1975.
We face a simple choice: We can either rejoin our demoralized Iraqi partners in the fight against ISIS or we can watch as this Al Qaeda franchise solidifies its control over several million Iraqis and Syrians, completes its plundering of military bases and continues to build up, train and equip an honest-to-goodness military.