Paul Greenberg

My, what a surprise. After lavishing neglect on this growing threat for years, the president admits it might take some time to save whatever can be saved of what was once Iraq. That is, if he's really interested in saving it, rather than just going through the motions.

These thousands of new refugees, tens of thousands of them, are sure to be followed by hundreds of thousands fated to share their ordeal as Iraq turns into the latest Syria, where the bloody results of this administration's negligence have been all too clear all too long. For years.

Unless Washington can somehow get a grip on what's happening in that part of the world and reverse its disastrous course, these latest victims in Iraq will surely not be the last. For their country has been left prey to the tender mercies of still another horde of fanatics who have materialized out of the desert wastes and started advancing in all directions.

An air drop or two may not make much of a difference at this point. Or even the dispatch of a few hundred Special Forces to get a fraction of these refugees off the barren mountaintop where they'd been left to swelter and suffer. America, once the hope of the world, now does little but watch as this tragedy unfolds.

Yes, this sudden show of force is better than nothing, but just barely. As the whole world surely recognizes, whether friend or ever advancing foe. By now even the British and Italians and French -- the French! -- have urged that something be done to stop this Islamist version of the Khmer Rouge from wiping out still more innocents.

By now even Hillary Clinton -- Hillary Rodham Clinton! -- is saying it was a mistake not to have done something earlier to stop the never-ending carnage in Syria, which is what gave rise to this ever-advancing army of Islamist crazies.

Only now does Mrs. Clinton tell us she had misgivings when she was actually in a position to do something about them. Back in 2006, she had dismissed the Surge that turned Iraq around and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Back then she was telling us it would take "a willing suspension of disbelief" to believe this Surge would work. But work it did. Even though she and another senator at the time -- Barack Obama of Illinois -- said it never would.

Only now, after this president's policy in Iraq has proven so costly a failure, does she tell us she was against it all the time she served as secretary of state. If so, why didn't she say so or, even better, do something honorable -- like resign her high office in protest? But the time when a secretary of state would resign over a matter of principle seems to have passed with Cyrus Vance, who parted ways with the Carter administration when it adopted a policy he disagreed with.

It's so much more prudent for an ambitious politician to wait until a president's policy becomes a clear failure before criticizing it. Only now, as she herself prepares for a presidential run, has Mrs. Clinton decided to distance herself from her former boss.

Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. And when a great power decides to abdicate and leave history's stage to whoever will seize power for whatever low purpose, what else did our president think would happen -- that peace would suddenly break out? The man seems oblivious to reality, and what it should have taught all of us: Whenever America retreats, evil advances.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.