(Note: This headline is only slightly factitious.)
The problem with George W. Bush’s Middle East policy is that there’s no political gain there, no matter how great the price or resounding the achievement, that Obama can’t throw away through his manifestly gross incompetence. Al Qaeda in Iraq’s successor organization, the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) “consolidated and extended their control over northern Iraq on Wednesday, seizing Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, threatening the strategic oil refining town of Baiji and pushing south toward Baghdad, their ultimate target.”
That’s the same ISIS that captured Mosul, where they seized $429 million worth of Iraqi dinars from the local bank, making them the richest terrorist army in the world.
Remember when Obama declared that “al Qaeda is on the run”?
And remember when Obama pulled out of Iraq and walked away without a status of forces agreement there?
Now two battalions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds forces have deployed to Iraq, ostensibly to support Maliki’s Shiite government. So now, in theory, we’re allied with the Mullahs in Iran in Iraq against the Isalmists we’re supporting in Syria against the Iran-aligned government of Bashar Assad.
About the only good news out of the region is that the Kurds are holding their own. An independent Kurdistan would be far from the worst development in the region, and would probably freak out both Iran and Turkey enough to distract them from further mischief elsewhere.
The current situation highlights the age-old truth that the Middle East is filled with people whose deepest desire appears to be to kill and gain power over members of rival clans/tribes/factions/confessions/etc. This has been true for pretty much all of recorded history save when a strong power (Ottoman, British, Baathist) is able to keep those tendencies in check through heavy policing, military occupation, or a brutal security state apparatus. The presence of our troops there gives the natives a distraction and a target, allowing them to temporarily stop killing each other in preference to killing us. The exceptions to this rule, such as multicultural Lebanon circa 1946-1974, have proven frustratingly ephemeral.
Israel provided a temporary target of unifying hatred, but the Jewish state’s defensive measures have made it increasingly difficult to get close enough to any Jews to kill them, hence back to the old internecine pursuits.
Bush43′s foreign policy in the Middle East and the decision to invade Iraq stems, in large measure, from Bush41′s decision not to let Schwartzkopf take Baghdad in The Gulf War. Whether doing so would have brought all on all our Iraqi troubles two decades earlier is debatable. There is much to say for toppling a totalitarian thug like Saddam, not least of which was liberating the children’s prison, where children as young as 5 were tortured to make their mothers talk. Perhaps the ideal strategy would have been to depose and execute Saddam and his top regime supporters in 1991, then immediately leave and let Iraqi factions kill each other rather than our troops. But I doubt anyone put forward that idea as a serious suggestion at the time.
Bush43 ultimately succeeded in largely pacifying Iraq, but the cost was high and, as recent events proved, the gains were temporary. The problem with interventionist policy in the Middle East is that there is no gain safe from the feckless impulses of surrender and appeasement that dominate the Democratic Party’s thinking today. The Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party is dead, and Obama and Kerry perfectly embody the combination of naivete, hubris, multilateralist, and hostility to the military that dominates today. They love signing treaties and “the peace process,” even though it’s all process and no peace.
It turns out that Ron Paul may be right for the wrong reasons. Because no foreign policy gain in the Middle East is safe from Democratic incompetence, Republicans should not pursue any interventionist foreign policy there, especially in the name of impossible “stability”. No interventionist accomplishment there can endure long past the end of a Republican President’s term, because there is no gain safe from the likes of Kerry and Obama. And since there is no indication the nature of the Democratic Party will be changing any time soon, a military interventionist foreign policy there, no matter how well-intentioned, well-planned, and well-executed, must be doomed to ultimate failure.
In hindsight, the liberation of Iraq turns out to be a tragic mistake, because Bush underestimated how decisively his hard-won gains could be undone by the incompetence of his successor.