We are seeing in Iraq the inevitable fruition of the Bush-Cheney ordered invasion of Iraq in 2003 – the dismemberment of the country.
We expended 4,500 American and over 100,000 Iraqi lives, and more than a trillion and a half dollars on one of the greatest strategic blunders in United States history. About $20 billion was spent on training the Iraqi army only to see it dissolve on contact with an irregular force it massively outnumbered and outgunned.
The Iraqi army and its Shia militia allies seem able to hold Baghdad and the south against the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its allies, but there is little chance they can recover the ground lost in Anbar and in provinces to the north, unless the Sunni tribes once again turn on the Islamists and support the government. Thanks to the sectarian antics of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of a governing Shiite majority government who first came to power during the Bush years, that outcome appears highly unlikely.
Laying this mess on Obama is like blaming the captain of the Lusitania for not bringing enough buckets. The Iraqi ship of state was torpedoed and taking on water the moment we overthrew the old order. We convinced ourselves that training and equipping the Iraqi military and establishing a democratic system would mean a new and brighter future for Iraq. Now we see clearly how doomed our hopes were by that nation’s sectarian divisions and the inability of our guy Maliki to rise above the petty games and maneuvers that have maintained his power but at the expense of national unity.
Yet this crowd has the unmitigated gall to blame Obama for not leaving a residual force of US soldiers behind, as if doing so could possibly have prevented the collapse of the Iraqi army, which was rotten from within. They also seek to rewrite history by ignoring the fact that Maliki’s government and the Iraqi people wanted all US troops gone in 2011, and gloss over the fact that it was Bush who signed, however reluctantly, the original agreement for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq in 2008.
There is an emerging narrative, particularly among those who excoriate Obama for not supporting the moderate rebels in Syria sooner and more substantively, that we should have bombed ISIS whilst it was building in eastern Syria before it started tearing through Iraq; as if bombing alone could achieve anything useful. In fact, following the absurd logic of those who see ISIS as the biggest threat to civilization, we should be supporting the Assad regime in Syria since it has far more military power with which to take on ISIS than do the moderate rebel groups.
There were sound reasons for not intervening militarily in Syria. It’s unlikely that we could have done anything to mitigate the awful bloodshed of the Syrian civil war as opposed to simply adding to it. And Obama’s detractors need to get their stories straight: Should we have been bombing Assad (who is actually fighting the Islamists) or ISIS which is now attacking Iraq? Or should we simply have been bombing everybody in Syria?
Obama has so far refrained from rushing back into the Iraq imbroglio. Acting in haste would be a mistake. We have time to sort out an appropriate strategy.
ISIS cannot take all of Iraq and is not a short-term threat to the US no matter the hyperbole of conservatives. Taking vast areas of Iraq is one thing; holding them is another. And the longer they rule, the more likely they will resort to their murderous ways, thereby alienating Sunni tribes.
One thing we must do, though, is ignore the ravings of the idiots who got us into this mess in the first place.