Trying to follow the turmoil in Iraq can be a bit like reading a Dostoevski novel for the first time. The intricate plot can be confusing, one needs a score card to keep straight the characters, but there is plenty of far-reaching drama.
Make no mistake, there's drama aplenty in Iraq and it is so far-reaching that it may affect us all.
The nation, invaded by a U.S.-led coalition, torn apart by the ensuing war and then rebuilding to some extent is once again in disarray, and that isn't good for anyone except arms dealers.
Insurgent forces known as ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq al-Sham, have systematically retaken stretches of territory controlled by the Iraqi government. In fact, ISIS militia have taken Mosul, the nation's second-largest city, and are moving toward Baghdad with alacrity and alarmingly impotent resistance.
They captured a huge oil refinery in northern Iraq on Wednesday and gained control of what used to be a chemical weapons facility the next day.
These guys are not your garden-variety zealots. They are so radical that even al-Qaida -- from whence they arose -- considers them extreme. Enough said.
Matters are so strange that talk arose suggesting the U.S. might team with Iran to help drive ISIS out. It is not something the U.S. should do, but it demonstrates the moment's seriousness.
Honestly, there is much we don't know. Information is conflicting, muddled or tainted. But we are certain on a few things.
The first is obvious: Iraq is a mess. It has been since before we invaded in 2003. It's possible that the huge divide is so deep among Shiites, Sunni and Kurds that it makes modern Iraq ungovernable.
Second, ISIS must be driven back. It is a dangerous group that sees what most of us classify as terror as merely a means to an end.
Third, partisan bickering in this country helps not at all. It is irresponsible to treat this complex circumstance as if it can be resolved with pat, bumper-sticker type solutions.
Fourth, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's actions have favored his Shiite brethren and are at least partly responsible for ISIS' rise. The Obama administration has made it clear they believe he should leave. They may be right. But on Thursday Obama did commit to sending military advisers and hinted the U.S. might employ air strikes, if needed.
Finally, our nation has sacrificed much blood and treasure in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan, with paltry results and it simply doesn't have the stomach or political resolve to send U.S. ground troops back to Iraq.
At this point, that option must be off the table because it only brings American families further heartache without offering a realistic chance of success.