I started this blog right before the 2004 election, and for the first few years a large percentage of my posts were about Iraq. That remained true through all the ups and downs of the surge and the Bush administration. There were times I thought all was lost and there were times I thought that country might stay out of the woods.
But I’ve never wavered from the idea that, had the US and our allies had the understanding of how vitally important it was to set up a functioning post-Saddam government there—to keep it from becoming a haven for terrorists or a satellite of Iran, and to give us a base in the region—the venture could have (not would have) been at least a modest success. It was clear early on, however, that we as a country and the west as a whole lacked the determination to do what it would take, which would have involved—among other things—an occupation that lasted a long time.
Even the Bush administration was unwilling to do that, and the American people were not interested either. But it was with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 that it became crystal clear that it was over. Obama signaled that he would abandon Iraq, and the opposition knew it and bided its time, waiting.
Now it’s almost unbearable to read articles like this one describing the situation there and our willful abdication of even the most minimal help:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest deplored ‘despicable’ acts of violence targeting civilians in Mosul. Mr Earnest said the group has gained strength from the situation in neighbouring Syria.
But the White House is not saying what additional military assistance the US might provide Iraq in response to the siege. Mr Earnest said the US is committed to its partnership with Baghdad but is urging Iraq’s government to take steps to be more inclusive of all Iraqis.
The New York Times, of all papers, has described the situation and Obama’s position on it in very stark terms:
As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.
But Iraq’s appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011…
The Obama administration has carried out drone strikes against militants in Yemen and Pakistan, where it fears terrorists have been hatching plans to attack the United States. But despite the fact that Sunni militants have been making steady advances [in Iraq] and may be carving out new havens from which they could carry out attacks against the West, administration spokesmen have insisted that the United States is not actively considering using warplanes or armed drones to strike them.
So there was a chance to have staved off this calamity with drones, and Obama refused. Why allow our drones to attack terrorists in Pakistan and not in Iraq? My guess is that Obama figures that whatever bad stuff happens in Iraq can be blamed on Bush, and he can position himself as the un-Bush. Because even if you think that Obama is secretly rooting for the jihadis, that wouldn’t explain this differential reaction.
The WSJ points out:
Since President Obama likes to describe everything he inherited from his predecessor as a “mess,” it’s worth remembering that when President Bush left office Iraq was largely at peace. Civilian casualties fell from an estimated 31,400 in 2006 to 4,700 in 2009. U.S. military casualties were negligible. Then CIA Director Michael Hayden said, with good reason, that “al Qaeda is on the verge of a strategic defeat in Iraq.”
Fast forward through five years of the Administration’s indifference, and Iraq is close to exceeding the kind of chaos that engulfed it before the U.S. surge….
…[The Obama Administration's] promise of a “diplomatic surge” in Iraq to follow the military surge of the preceding years never materialized as the U.S. washed its hands of the country. Mr. Obama’s offer of a couple thousand troops beyond 2011 was so low that Mr. Maliki didn’t think it was worth the domestic criticism it would engender. An American President more mindful of U.S. interests would have made Mr. Maliki an offer he couldn’t refuse.
All this should serve as a warning to what we can expect in Afghanistan as the Administration replays its Iraq strategy of full withdrawal after 2016. It should also serve as a reminder of the magnitude of the strategic blunder of leaving no U.S. forces in Iraq after the country finally had a chance to serve as a new anchor of stability and U.S. influence in the region. An Iraqi army properly aided by U.S. air power would not have collapsed as it did in Mosul.
In withdrawing from Iraq in toto, Mr. Obama put his desire to have a talking point for his re-election campaign above America’s strategic interests. Now we and the world are facing this reality: A civil war in Iraq and the birth of a terrorist haven that has the confidence, and is fast acquiring the means, to raise a banner for a new generation of jihadists, both in Iraq and beyond.
The WSJ had more faith in the Iraqi troops than I do—I think we would have had to keep some forces there for decades. At any rate, once it became clear there would be no backup, it was all over and just a matter of time.
The fall of Mosul, Iraq, to al Qaeda terrorists this week is as big in its implications as Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But from the Obama presidency, barely a peep.
Barack Obama is fiddling while the world burns. Iraq, Pakistan, Ukraine, Russia, Nigeria, Kenya, Syria. These foreign wildfires, with more surely to come, will burn unabated for two years until the United States has a new president. The one we’ve got can barely notice or doesn’t care…
…[T]he Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) isn’t a bunch of bug-eyed “Mad Max” guys running around firing Kalashnikovs. ISIS is now a trained and organized army.
The seizures of Mosul and Tikrit this week revealed high-level operational skills. ISIS is using vehicles and equipment seized from Iraqi military bases. Normally an army on the move would slow down to establish protective garrisons in towns it takes, but ISIS is doing the opposite, by replenishing itself with fighters from liberated prisons…
One might ask: Didn’t U.S. intelligence know something like Mosul could happen? They did…[cites report]…But to have suggested any mitigating steps to this White House would have been pointless. It won’t listen…
In March, Gen. James Mattis, then head of the U.S. Central Command, told Congress he recommended the U.S. keep 13,600 support troops in Afghanistan; he was known not to want an announced final withdrawal date. On May 27, President Obama said it would be 9,800 troops—for just one year. Which guarantees that the taking of Mosul will be replayed in Afghanistan.
Let us repeat the most quoted passage in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s memoir, “Duty.” It describes the March 2011 meeting with Mr. Obama about Afghanistan in the situation room. “As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates wrote. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”
It’s hard to even read this stuff.
Seen in one of the WSJ comments:
Osama Bin Laden is dead, and Al Qaeda is on the run. Sadly, they are running in force towards Baghdad.
Actually, it’s not al Qaeda, it’s a group that’s supposedly worse.
Denouncing ISIS as ‘one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, Stuart Jones, the nominee to be the next US envoy to Baghdad, told US politicians the United States ‘will continue to monitor the situation closely, and will work with our international partners to try to meet the needs of those who have been displaced’…
The White House National Security Council said only: ‘President Obama promised to responsibly end the war in Iraq and he did’…
That’s the “National Security Council” in the Orwellian sense.
The left no longer counts the bodies in Iraq—that was only of interest when Bush was president. And all of this is, of course, his fault.
Before Obama, no matter who was president, other countries had faith that we would stick with what we started. Except for Vietnam, which was the exception. Now, under Obama, it has become the rule.