Some truths about Iraq

Today President Barack Obama issued a statement on the situation in Iraq.

He reiterated that the ISIS/ISIL advance was a threat to US interests. He was receiving regular briefings from his national security team, and was in contact with the Iraqi leadership.

But if the people who got Iraq into the state it is today expected words of comfort, they were in for a rude surprise.

Pres. Obama tore into the Iraqi leadership, castigating it for not working anywhere near hard enough to knit the country’s various ethnicities and religious confessions together into a viable state. He bemoaned that all the money which the US taxpayer has poured into building the Iraqi Army seems to have gone to waste, as a numerically inferior force of terrorists has overrun Iraqi Army posts, brigades just melting away without firing a shot.

This is the state in which Iraq finds itself. A Shi’a elite has replaced a Sunni Arab elite, and has operated along the same lines as the former elite under Saddam Hussein. Sunni Arabs are shut out of any real power. Frustration builds. A civil war which had been somewhat tamped down by the time US troops left has flared up to full force again. There are other Sunni groups fighting the central government besides ISIS. And Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki keeps trying to centralize power and entrench his new elite.

Of course, the mistake was invading Iraq in the first place. Jihadi groups did not exist in the Levant before George W. Bush’s geopolitical disaster. This was a disaster aided and abetted by a feckless media, too shellshocked by 9/11 and Bush’s popularity to ask any real questions. The country and the “coalition of the willing” rushed to war against a country whose major sin was that it stuck in the craw of the PNAC crowd.

Invading was the first mistake. The second, more onerous error was to have no plan for the postwar settlement. It was envisaged that troops would be pulled out after six months, with an Iraqi government airlifted in, already prepared and equipped to take over from its exile in London and Paris. The problem was that these exiles had no power base in the country. They didn’t suffer the decades of oppression under Saddam Hussein. And the Shi’a who were under Saddam’s boot weren’t going to merely roll over and accept an imposed leadership. So, without a government to take over smoothly, the US suddenly found itself as an occupying power, with no plan in place. The postwar settlement went from a comedy of errors to an increasing tragedy, as sectarian war erupted, with US soldiers stuck in the middle, sometimes fighting Shi’a, sometimes Sunnis, at a cost of 4,000 US dead, thousands wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead.

I know it’s not politic among our betters, but ISIS is the direct result of choices made by the former Bush Administration, just as 9/11 was the result of decisions made by the Reagan and Bush I Administrations in the 1980s and 1990s. The science-adverse GOP may not believe in cause and effect, but it still is how reality operates.

Pres. Obama, again, has been handed a mess. Iraq wasn’t Germany, Japan, or South Korea; those countries had no civil wars. The military couldn’t stay indefinitely in a country which no longer wanted it there. Something those braying about the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq may want to remember is that their withdrawal was negotiated by their hero George W. Bush. Pres. Obama honored the agreement with a sovereign state. And the US continued to support Iraq with training and advice—obviously to little effect.

The President spoke a harsh truth which the war party might want to remember: the US cannot and will not become militarily embroiled in a Middle Eastern civil war. Enough US blood and treasure has been spent, and an invasion would only encourage recruitment for the terrorists we’re trying to eradicate.

Land wars in Asia rarely turn out well. We must hope that Pres. Obama can drive that message home to our more bellicose friends.