“Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”
, vice president in the Bush Administration)
According to Bob Woodward in Plan of Attack
, soon after the election former president George H.W. Bush, father of the president-elect asked his former national security adviser Bent Scocroft to try to discourage his son from invading Iraq. Admiral Scocroft failed and, likely at request of the the elder Bush, went public against an Iraq invasion in an August, 2001 article in the Wall Street Journal
. Not that the admiral and his past president disagreed Sadam was “evil.” Just that there were more important strategic issues involved. Also, Scocroft noted,
“there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks… There is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression.
“The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam''s regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive -- with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy -- and could as well be bloody.” (emphasis added)
Since the idea, as described by Woodward, was floated even before Bush took office it is safe to assume that Iranian intelligence regarding fictitious WMD’s did not affect decision-making in the new Bush white House. And Israeli and Saudi intelligence warnings against invading Iraq similarly failed to persuade. Replacing the Sunni Baathist regime protecting America’s oil interests in the Arabian Peninsula with Shiite “democracy” sharing religion and culture with Iran planted the seeds of Iraq-s civil war, and what would emerge as the “Arab Spring” continuing engulf the region from Libya to Egypt to Syria and now again, Iraq.
Obama: If Bush believed Sadam’s Baathist Iraq would easily fall he was correct. If he believed that installing a Shiite government in its place would provide the US a quick exit he was tragically mistaken. The war would last a decade at the cost of four thousand US dead and an estimated three trillion dollars, at least one-trillion invisible to the budget in off-the-books loans. The American electorate replaced the hyperactive Republican with an overly-cautious academic. And, at least in terms of consequences, the result turned out the same: regional chaos, war and the continuing slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Facing defeat in Iraq Bush negotiated the complete withdrawal of American forces in 2011. President Obama, who voted against the war inherited Bush’s exit date and promised to leave behind a stable and prosperous Iraq. Except Bush-installed Prime Minister Maliki, likely encouraged by Iran, chose not to allow American forces to remain even as advisers to police and military. Iraq’s Sunnis, politically excluded and socially alienated, proved fertile ground and willing allies to the few hundred Sunni fighters, formerly al Qaeda in Iraq, now battle-hardened in Syria and renamed ISIL or al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel).
The invasion and total collapse of the US-trained and equipped Iraqi Army clearly caught the Obama Administration unawares. Within days one-third of Iraq was under the black banner of ISIL and the Maliki government was in panic: ISIL and its Sunni allies now sits forty miles from Baghdad.
News reports over the week described President Obama as “studying” his options, a trial balloon floated, and confirmed by State secretary Kerry, to provide air support for Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards already on the ground in Iraq. Iran baited the US into Iraq in 2003, then supported the insurgency against the “invaders.” After eight years, having achieved most of its goals in the war Iran provided the exhausted and defeated American’s what Bush desdcribed a “dignified” retreat: Ahmadinejad ordered Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army to withdraw from the Baghdad battlefield. This is the “Iran” that Bush’s successor, also desperate to leave, is hoping to be provided a “respectable” exit not, this time just from Iraq but from the Middle East. The difference between the two US presidents is that Bush at least attempted to conceal his relationship with the ayatollahs.
As I put final touches to this article Muqhtada al-Sadr supporters are swarming the streets of Baghdad reportedly to fight the Sunni forces at Baghdad’s gates; prepared also those 300 American Special Forces promised two days ago by President Obama.
One wonders if anybody in the nation’s capital, whether elected, appointed or their advisers drawn from Washington’s academic “brain trust” has any idea of “national interests” or its place in the world. Iran is a proven state sponsor of terrorism; a rogue nation in the least stable region of the world. Yet in our haste to withdraw from the chaos we created in the Middle East two successive administrations, one Republican “hawk,” one Democrat “dove” have meekly stood by and allowed the Islamic Republic to achieve the threshold of a nuclear weapon. Turned a blind eye to Iran’s development of missiles, including IBM’s capable of delivering a nuclear warhead anywhere in the world. Among President Obama’s promises as candidate were “world peace” and an end to nuclear proliferation. When Iran crosses that nuclear threshold Sunni nations bordering Iraq have promised a nuclear defense. And the Saudis, at least, are not waiting for the Iranian announcement and are reported to have purchased their own nuclear weapons from Pakistan months ago. Egypt, Turkey and the Saudis have all announced their intention to develop their own nuclear weapons program to counter the Islamic Republic threat.
President Obama, champion of “world peace” and “nuclear non-proliferation” may instead be remembered as midwife to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Regarding a response to the Sunni invasion of Iraq Obama is correct to “study” and not act since doing anything, including sending those Special Forces to protect our Baghdad embassy, will only alienate one or another ethnic group and make things worse. Ten years after its liberation Iraq, in the modern political vernacular, is a failed state at the threshold of becoming another Somalia. Ten years avoiding even the mention of military force as threat to support America’s regional interest emboldened America’s regional enemies, distanced her allies, including Egypt and the Saudis and laid the ground for a regional nuclear arms race. Just one decade since Bush invaded Iraq encouraged into a trap by an enthusiastic Iran and the US is considering an alliance with the Islamic Republic? Clearly lacking in diplomatic and military ability, has America no dignity as well?
Bush negotiated a fig leaf from Iran 2007, a “dignity” Iran gladly provided. In 2014 America under Obama asks even less from Iran: take Iraq and Syria. We just want to go home.
Whether the result of willfulness, naïveté, ignorance, stupidity, self-delusion and/or hubris the single material outcome of US (non-) Middle East policy is an Arab Spring spawned regional instability. Bush overthrew Sadam, Obama Mubarak and the same Islamist terrorists America declared war on following 9-11 are today at the gates of Baghdad and declaring Jordan and Israel next in line. When Obama decided he really didn’t mean it when he promised to attack Syria for crossing his “red line” turned to Putin for rescue. Had any more thought been given the strategic consequences empowering Russia than Bush gave the consequences Iraq would create? It took three decades of Cold War brinkmanship to evict Russia from the Middle East. That the United States is now considering turning to Iran, the same Islamic Republic that has enjoyed Russian military aid and diplomatic cover in its clandestine war against American interest in Iraq and the Levant: does US policy history begin anew with each successor president? Is there no awareness in Washington that Russia ascendant in the Middle East is a Mediterranean threat to America’s relationship with Europe? Flanked north by the Russian army and south by the Russian navy and an indecisive and war-weary America withdrawing from the world stage: How can American policy-makers not see world-wide red lights flashing?
Withdrawal from the Middle East means abandonment of Europe. How secure then Isolationist America?
Postscript, 23 June: For two weeks, as repeated above, trial balloons have hinted at a possible rapprochement between the US and Iran dealing with Iraq. That Grand Ayatollah Khameini denies any such possibility seems not to faze the Obama-Kerrey initiative and the day before his arrival in Baghdad to seek Maliki’s reform or resignation Khameini announced full support for the Shiite prime minister’s government and policies in Iraq. But even these public indicators of distance between the US and Iran regarding Iraq fail to describe the real depth of difference regarding Iraq, and its implications for the region.
Two days ago the Associated Press
followed up President Obama’s hope that Iran would,
“send the same message to the Iraqi government that we are sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if its inclusive…”
A little later the AP story notes that,
“[t]he two countries have cooperated before, notably when Washington twice invaded Sadam Hussein’s Iraq.”
Over the years and in paragraphs above I described how Iran’s primary interest in Iraq was and continues to be to neutralize any possible threat a strong and unified Iraq would pose. The less cohesive the better. Alternatively Iran could live with the breakup of Iraq into Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish “states.” Neither outcome resembles America’s stated objective of a stable Baghdad inclusive of the other religious blocks. Where in this picture is there possibility for US-Iran cooperation? So long as the US was promoting Iran’s interests Iran cooperated: with Bush, SR in 1990; with Bush, JR from 2001-3. And the result is Iraq, 2014, de facto divided into Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish mini-states with Shi’ite Iraq holding most of the oil wells. And Sunni Iraq by far the worst off economically of the three. Not a prescription for peace in our time.
This article is about US Middle East policy and the harm its failure to grasp reality has cause not just Iraq, but Syria, Egypt and Libya, to name our most egregious failures. Since 2003 American leaders have had one overriding goal, to escape from the region. Yet all efforts towards this end only embroil us deeper in the sand. Overthrowing Libya’s Qadafi and chaos ensued; depose Egypt’s Mubarak and chaos ensued; stand aside in Syria and chaos ensued; ten years a carrot and no stick approach to the Iranian bomb, and a nuclear arms race is afoot.
At this point America is all but powerless to effect events on the ground and perhaps Obama should follow his predecessor’s example and declare “victory” and just leave. Not very dignified but where everything we do only makes things worse, may the most beneficial to all concerned.
Leave the region to our successor waiting at the gate, Vladimir Putin. He at least has little trouble making decisions, and acting resolutely.