The battle for Iraq has rapidly escalated from a grassroots insurgency to a struggle for the country’s very survival. Sunni ISIS militants continue to realize gains in the northern part of the country, though a heavier response from Iraqi military forces seems to have stymied their lightning-quick advances of earlier weeks. The outcome of a vicious battle for the Baiji oil refinery remains somewhat unclear, with conflicting reports from both sides claiming victory.


On a larger scale, many are questioning whether the country can remain politically solvent in its current form. Western diplomats are warning of an imminent collapse of the Iraqi state, beset by religious divides and the glaring incompetence of Iraqi president, Nouri al-Maliki. The newly-minted Iraqi state, a tottering relic left trembling in the mire of the American invasion, simply may not have the political capacity or the coalition-building will to survive.


American intervention has been slim, with a war-weary American public haunted by the memories of previous Iraqi summers and a cautious President reluctant to use military force to salvage the wreckage. Some have argued that America, unwilling architect of the modern Iraqi state, has a moral responsibility to intervene in the widening conflict. Others have noted the geopolitical consequences of a region-wide conflagration, while still others have resisted any attempts at even the appearance of military entanglement. The American response is cautious and understandably conflicted. “Why fight a losing game?” some might argue. “Iraq is as good a definition as any of a truly lost cause.”


An eerily prescient 2007 article in The Atlantic argued that the breakup of Iraq was all but inevitable, insurmountably divided as it is among the Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish populations. Revisited by original author Jeffrey Goldberg in a recent post, the argument contended that “modern, multicultural and multi-confessional states” such as Iraq could achieve a lasting peace only in theory, beset as they are by the deep-rooted tribal tensions and religious strife that continue to play such a vital role in the hall of mirrors that is the give and take of power in the Middle East. Goldberg reprints a David Fromkin quote that does a dispiritingly good job of capturing Western attitudes towards the embattled region. “The Middle East,” bemoaned Fromkin in 2007, “has no future.”


The reality may not be as bad as all that. Nevertheless, it is disheartening to watch the flames of modernism and participatory democracy sparked by the Arab Spring vanish in the corpse-strewn wildernesses of Syria, the militarized streets of Cairo and the splintering sectarian fault lines of Iraq. The winds of change have changed. They now blow in foul and furious violence over a region coming apart at the seams. That alone is reason to mourn.


What do you think? Is Iraq doomed? Does America have something of a moral responsibility to intervene? Start the discussion in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter @aa_murph