Sunday, June 22, 2014

Iraq: Who’s Ultimately Responsible?

 Al-Maliki: A big share of the blame
“It is hard to imagine a bigger disaster for American foreign policy,” said Max Boot in CommentaryMagazine.com, “or a more self-inflicted one.” Iraq is now crumbling, as the black-clad jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have seized control of the Sunni regions of the country, and are headed toward Shiite-held Baghdad. This Sunni-Shiite civil war—which threatens to engulf the entire region—is vivid proof of the folly of President Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. If Obama had tried harder to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, “he probably could have succeeded.” Then al-Maliki would not have been left to his worst, autocratic impulses, which led him to marginalize the Sunni minority. That oppression led directly to the current backlash from the Sunnis and ISIS. Obama grandiosely bragged in 2011 that we were “leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” said Kori Schake in ForeignPolicy.com, and that he’d fulfilled his campaign promise to “end the war.” The truth, as we’re now seeing in savage detail, was that the war in Iraq hadn’t ended at all. “We just quit fighting it.”

You’re blaming the wrong president, said Steve Chapman in ChicagoTribune.com. It was George W. Bush who in 2008 signed the pledge to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011, not Barack Obama, and Bush did so at the insistence of the Iraqi government. Al-Maliki knew that most Iraqis were sick of U.S. soldiers in their streets, and that telling us to get out would enhance his popularity. And if we’re assigning blame for the ugliness we’ve unleashed, it was Bush and Dick Cheney who charged into Iraq in pursuit of Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, with “no understanding” of Iraq’s internal politics and sectarian divisions, “or the immense difficulty of constructing a stable order in an alien land.” From that one fateful, terrible decision, more than a decade of carnage and chaos has flowed. Ultimately, “Nouri al-Maliki lost Iraq,” said Fareed Zakaria in WashingtonPost.com, but “with an assist from George W. Bush.” If Bush and his team hadn’t foolishly decided in 2003 to disband the Iraqi army, and purge Sunni Baathists from the government, al-Maliki would have found it much harder to pursue his anti-Sunni agenda.

Invading Iraq was indeed “a grave mistake,” said Reihan Salam in Slate.com, but leaving as abruptly as we did was another one. Obama and al-Maliki did discuss leaving a small contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq to ensure stability, but al-Maliki could tell that Obama’s heart wasn’t in it. So he just walked away from the deal. “What Americans left behind was a state that could not stand on its own,” said Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker. As a result, everything “we built is now coming apart.”

It’s naïve to think the U.S. military could have prevented this crack-up, said Gordon Adams in ForeignPolicy.com. In the Philippines, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Haiti, and many other nations, the U.S. has failed time and again with both military force and billions in aid to transform troubled corners of the world into peaceful gardens of democracy. Yet some hawks still cling to “the blithe American assumption that the U.S. is omnipotent.” After eight bloody and costly years in Iraq, how much longer did we need to stay to work a miracle? Five years? Twenty? Fifty? We “should’ve known better” than to try in the first place.
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