Iraq: It’s All George W. Bush’s Fault

(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.

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One Response to “Iraq: It’s All George W. Bush’s Fault”

  1. ThomasF says:

    Despite being someone who supported Bush, and the Iraq War (at least until it became clear what a moronic idea it was), I can’t help but call out the fuzzy thinking I am seeing here.

    First of all, the “gains” which were won on the battlefield were in no way worth the cost. With almost $800 billion in direct war costs just through the DOD, and likely hundreds of billions in additional future benefits as a result (an impact that is becoming clearer with the current VA scandal and response), and additional hundreds of billions in interest costs, the war could well have cost us upwards of $2 trillion. Combine that with nearly 4,500 war dead and tens of thousands of wounded (just from the U.S.) the cost was steep by any definition.

    And what exactly would our “gains” have been if we would have kept up the fight? Even assuming no more combat deaths it would have cost us tens of billions per year to maintain our presence and to prop up the government, and what exactly would that have gotten us?

    The Iraqi government was a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran, over which we had very little influence even when we had 100k+ troops in country. In fact, many of them were hand in glove with the Quds guys who were killing our troops while talking out of both sides of their mouth to us.

    What would our influence have been with 10k troops? If our reason to go into Iraq was to get strategic leverage over our enemies by building a new ally from the ground up, we had already failed even at the height of our “success”.

    The truth of this is shown by the very fact that we did not leave Iraq. We were forced out by the Iraqi government, who first forced Bush to sign an agreement to reduce our presence to zero, then refused to change their stance when Obama came back to try and fix what Bush had screwed up.

    Your casual dismissal of Obama about his “refusal” to get a SOF with Iraq just elides the fact that Bush himself tried and failed to get exactly that. And after his failure his administration went into full scale CYA mode by making completely unfounded claims that a SOF agreement would be negotiated before the U.S. left.

    Perhaps Bush hoped that new leadership would be voted in before the U.S. was forced to leave, but ultimately that did not occur. Maliki kept power, and his position on the SOF did not budge, and so we were forced to leave. Obama might well be incompetent, but it seems a bit disingenuous to blame him for domestic political forces in Iraq that had already proven strong enough to prevent Bush from getting his SOF to keep us there.

    But back to our supposed “gains,” what exactly are you talking about? No insurgency? No terrorist stronghold? Is that really all that we wanted out of Iraq? Isn’t that what we had before we went? Seems like if we were really concerned we could have droned the crap out of Anwar al-Awlaki’s little group in 2003 and come out way ahead of any of our best case scenarios post surge, at a trivial cost to us in terms of money and U.S. lives.

    The fact is that going into Iraq was a world historic mistake. The costs we paid outweighed any possible gains, and once Allawi failed to turn back Maliki there was basically no hope of salvaging a situation that would have allowed us to stay in Iraq and minimize our losses.

    The rest of this is just ass covering by folks who are claiming that pixie dust would have fixed all of the problems that resulted from the original sin that we as a people undertook when we willingly went into Iraq for no good reason whatsoever. I can deal with the fact that I was personally a moron for thinking this clusterf*ck was a good idea, but it’s well past time for the rest of the country to stop pointing fingers and just own up to how stupid we all were.

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