The editors of the Wall Street Journal have a scathing editorial on the fall of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS—the last word is al Sham, not Syria):
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 city of Fallujah, taken from insurgents by the Marines at a cost of 95 dead and nearly 600 wounded in November 2004, fell again to al Qaeda in January. The Iraqi government has not been able to reclaim the entire city—just 40 miles from Baghdad. More than 1,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in May alone, according to the Iraq Body Count web site.
In my view we have botched practically every foreign policy move made since 9/11 in two consecutive administrations (maybe much longer). I find the position that so many seem to be espousing these days, that the only lives that count are American military ones, to be inadequate if not downright opposed to our interests.
We should value stability much, much more than we do. That’s a difficult path with politicians and people as impatient as ours. We are not a radical power like the post-Revolution France or the early Soviet Union. Ours is a long game and stability fosters our interests. Overthrowing or conniving at the overthrow of dictators who put down more radical elements even more opposed to our interests is not a prudent move.
I suspect that the next move in Iraq will be by the Kurds. Much depends on how much they’re willing to tolerate a group largely composed of radical Islamist Sunni Arabs on their doorstep or even in a city they might possibly covet as their capital.
As we prepare to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan we might want to reflect on how well a war waged everywhere between the Bosporus and the Hindu Kush will serve our interests because that’s the direction in which events are heading. I don’t think we’ll be able to stave that off with armed drones.