Who lost Iraq?

ExceptionalIn their book Exceptional, Dick and Liz Cheney talk about the rise of ISIS. In March 2014, both of them visited an Arab leader in the Middle East. He unfolded a map on his table and drew an arc with his finger from Raqqa in Syria to Anbar Province in Iraq. “The terrorists will control this entire territory if America doesn’t act,” he said. “Why won’t your president act?”

Recently Donald Trump said this about the Iraq war: “We shouldn’t have been there, and once we were there, we probably should have stayed. The Middle East has been totally decapitated. It’s a mess. The balance has been lost between Iraq and Iran.”

Dick Cheney disagrees with the Donald on whether we should have been there to begin with (he thinks yes, Donald thinks no) , but both Cheney and Trump agree we should have stayed. Obama, on the other hand, did not agree with the idea that we should have stayed the course in our “endless wars”.

But Obama was wrong.

Before he withdrew from Iraq, “Al Qaeda in Iraq had largely been defeated. The Shi’a militias had also been routed.”

Cheney describes an interesting scene:

A delegation of Iraqi government officials who visited Washington in early 2009 met with Obama administration officials and attempted to thank them for all America had done to liberate their country. The Iraqis reported that it was as though they were thanking representatives of a government that had nothing to do with their liberation. The officials had no interest in their gratitude, nor, apparently, any interest in their country.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker says that the disengagement from anything Iraqi was so complete that he thought it

brought them [the Iraqis] all back to zero sum thinking.

P.M. Maliki

P.M. Maliki

The day after the last American trops left Iraq, the Shi’ite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, issued an arrest warrant for his Sunni vice president. Maliki also targeted the “Sons of Iraq,” the Sunni fighters who had fought alongside the United States during the surge. In fact he killed some of them.

Meanwhile, in Syria and Iraq, ISIS was creating havoc. In July 2013, ISIS forces attacked prisons outside of Baghdad and freed at least 500 prisoners. In August, ISIS took control in Raqqa, Syria, and made that city its headquarters. By October, the situation had gotten so bad that Maliki visited Washington to ask for assistance. In response Obama provided minimal assistance, but the Obama officials kept saying things like “This isn’t our fight,” “We can’t do it for them.”

Then ISIS took the Iraqi city of Fallujah. That was in the same month that Obama likened them to a “jayvee” team.

In June, ISIS took Mosul. The ISIS leader, Baghdadi, declared the establishment of a caliphate. Since it is an obligation among Muslims of a certain worldview to fight for the Caliphate – tens if not hundreds of thousands of jihadists from around the globe flooded into ISIS territory.

Obama declared that it was U.S. policy to “degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS,” but declined to deploy the resources to accomplish this, and according to the N.Y. Times:

A major constraint on the air campaign’s effectiveness, critics say, has been the White House’s refusal to authorize American troops to act as spotters on the battlefield, designating targets for allied bombing attacks.

Another constraint was the desire to minimize civilian casualties:

In most cases, unless a general officer can look at a video picture from a U.A.V., over a satellite link, I cannot get authority to engage.

an A-10 pilot said, referring to an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, and speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid punishment from his superiors.
Obama did say he would deploy ground forces if ISIL (a later name for ISIS) got a nuclear bomb. Cheney points out that Obama’s job is to prevent that eventuality, not to act after the fact.

Ambassador Crocker warned that “it is hard to overstate the threat that this organization poses.”

And indeed, when the current leader of ISIL was let out of Guantanamo, he issued some chilling final words to reservists from Long Island.
He said, ‘I’ll see you guys in New York,’” recalls Army Col. Kenneth King, then the commanding officer of Camp Bucca.

After reading the Cheney’s book, I am left with questions. First, to make the case that the Iraq war was a valid effort, the Cheneys argue that if we had left Saddam in power, we would have left in power a man who had deep relationships with Al Qaeda and other Jihadists. They write that Saddam provided funding for Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda. They also say that Iraq did have a nuclear program, and Iraq had the scientists and the facilities to recreate it. They write “We know (my emphasis) he intended to reconstitute these programs.” They add that when Saddam attacked his Kurdish areas with poison gas, “babies and children died slow, painful deaths in bomb shelters..[which] became, as Saddam knew they would, gas chambers.”

But my questions are these:
1. Why did the Iraqi army, trained by Americans, and more numerous and better equipped than ISIS, collapse in the face of this determined enemy?

2. Given that in Iran at least, there was a genuine democratic movement that wanted to get rid of the Mullahs, and given that Iran is a country whose public demonstrations begin by chants of “Death to America!”  and also assuming that Iran is close to a WMD (weapons-of-mass-destruction) breakout then — perhaps, if we were going to fight a war after 9/11, Iran would have been a better target than Iraq?

3. Was it wise to start something we could not finish, since the American people eventually voted in Obama, who just wanted to get out of our two “endless wars?”

ObamaAs Richard and Liz Cheney admit, much of the responsibility for what happened in Iraq lies with the Iraqi government.

Nonetheless, the Cheneys also show that whatever chance there was for moderation and sectarian reconciliation in a peaceful Iraq, the nail on the coffin was put there by the policies of Barack Hussein Obama.

Sources:
Exceptional – Richard Cheney and Liz Cheney (2015) Simon and Schuster
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/world/middleeast/with-isis-in-crosshairs-us-holds-back-to-protect-civilians.html?_r=0
http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/07/14/iran-deal-robbins-column/30077637/ (an argument that Iran may get the bomb)


Note: In a recent column Ron Paul says this about the ‘neocons’.  He says that the war that they pushed for destabilized Iraq, because the war led to a pro-Iran government ruling over the Sunnis.  He adds: “…they never explain why the troops were removed from Iraq: the U.S. demanded complete immunity for troops and contractors and the Iraqi government refused.”   Relevant to his second statement,  the book says that Maliki tried to get American forces to stay, and Obama first undercut him by insisting that the number of U.S. troops could be no more than 3,500, and then Obama also insisted that the new ‘status of forces agreement’ must be approved by the Iraqi parliament, as opposed to being an “executive agreement” that Maliki  had asked for.  Since portions of the Iraqi parliament were hostile to the U.S., this would have caused trouble for Maliki and also, even if Maliki had taken a political risk, it would have been for a force that was too small to be effective.

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