06/13/2014 06:43 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2014

What Is U.S. Leadership at Iraq's Rock Bottom?

The eruption of war -- again -- in Iraq has called into question -- again -- America's "leadership" in that region. That there wasn't a sustainably stable structure in Iraq is likely both failure and inevitability. Tearing themselves apart, now, they are arguably getting to rock bottom. Where Iraqis take it from there needs to be up to them.

Who screwed up what -- in full 3D -- is for the historians to decipher. Maybe we can all agree that how we respond (rather than react) right now is the true test of America's leadership.

When it comes to Iraq, we can't appear to do "nothing," nor can we change what we already did and didn't do. Perhaps, though, we can realize we've done enough.

In fact, leading something to its inevitable breaking point is, at times, all leadership can do. You need to know when the rest is up to them, even if further interference is incredibly tempting.

If, for example, the active alcoholic asks you for five bucks to buy more booze, is leadership saying "no," or "yes"? After all, if more cheap vodka hurries the drunk to "bottom out" and hit those self-definitional questions -- should I live or die? Do I want to recover and redefine my life? -- then leadership is to help propel them in the direction they were going -- downward toward those questions. Besides, they will find the money somehow if they are determined to keep drinking.

Similarly, despite and because of U.S. intervention in Iraq over the last 11 years, the point it finds itself now might be precisely the right point to catalyze the self-determination that no amount of outside "military assistance" can do, which ineffectiveness, by the way, has been proven beyond any doubt.

If the Iraqis want to lay down the arms we bought them and join warring factions, then like the drunk determined to find the next drink, any further McCain-like commitments of U.S. blood and treasure would simply be delaying the inevitable self-definition of Iraq, even if that goes against what we would do if we were they. Newsflash: we're not them, and their future is not (nor should it be) up to us.

As is said to an addict, so maybe it's apt for Iraq: "Welcome to your bottom. I hope you choose life." May it then come quickly and more peacefully than it has in the recent past.