This philosophical conundrum was popular for a while in academic circles: "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?"
Some women, members of a certain club, rewrote the query as follows: "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, is the man still wrong?"
The Republicans have their own version: "If a mistake was made in drawing national boundary lines in the Middle East after World War I without due regard for tribal groupings and religious differences, is it still President Obama's fault?"
For that is the root problem we face in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, Great Britain and France drew up a map that still troubles us today. Iraq has three main ethnic and religious groupings, Sunni, Shia and Kurds.
The Kurds are a special case. They are not Arabs, but are descended from the Medes, related to the Persians. They are now mostly Muslims but insist that all religions be treated equally in law and in the schools. They are neither Sunni nor Shia.
When the state of Israel was established and many Jews left the Kurdish territory to go to Israel, their neighbors wept, and maintained the abandoned synagogues for decades in the hope that their Jewish neighbors would someday return.
So how were these wonderful people rewarded in 1918 and following? Their territory was split three ways: part in Turkey, part in Persia (modern Iran) and part in Iraq. More recently they have been subject to mistreatment by all three host nations, from ethnic suppression in Turkey to gassing by Saddam Hussein.
We withdrew our troops from Iraq per a schedule set up by the administration of President George W. Bush. When Obama offered to maintain a residual force in Iraq the freely elected Iraqi president refused. Recently a Sunni offshoot of al-Qaida, known as ISIL, formed in Syria. They were and are so vicious that al-Qaida cut off relations. They spread into Sunni areas of Iraq and took over. The Iraqi Army that we spent so much time and money establishing turned tail and ran, even though it had better weaponry and much greater numbers. Many Sunni soldiers actually changed sides. Somehow this is all Obama's fault, according to the Republicans.
Now why did we have to build a new Iraqi army from scratch? Because we did not have the good sense after defeating Hussein to keep the existing army in being. The genius who enforced that policy was Bush appointee Paul Bremer.
Many of the insurgents we fought in Iraq during our long occupancy were unemployed members of the former Iraqi army.
Bremer and other members of the failed Bush administration have come out of hiding and presume to tell Obama how to handle the current crisis.
The mess that they created is somehow Obama's fault.
In 2006, our current vice president, Joe Biden, proposed that Iraq be partitioned into its three ethnic components. He was widely ridiculed by the Republicans.
I first proposed such a partition in a column on Jan. 6, 2005, along the lines of Swiss Cantons. Today it is reported that there is at the moment a de facto division of Iraq into those three components.
In 1950, when I was a senior in high school, a slightly older man ridiculed me by accusing me of having, "a firm grasp of the obvious." It appears that I still had such a grasp in January 2005. It is indeed a shame that no one in the George W. Bush administration ever had even that degree of insight.