The Forever War in Iraq

The editors of the Wall Street Journal urge the president to confront ISIS in Iraq and defeat it:

The Obama Administration was so preoccupied with a grand political solution in Baghdad that for weeks it refused to arm the Kurds for fear of offending Mr. Maliki, even as it was urging Mr. Maliki to resign. How’s that for consistent logic? The result is that ISIS almost overran the Kurds before the emergency weekend bombing.

Limited air attacks alone will not defeat ISIS, however. That will require a more aggressive military and political strategy. Start by arming and assisting the Kurds, who can form a defensive wall in the north and eventually push back. Work with the new Iraqi government to equip and restore the confidence of the Iraqi military. Then assist the Iraqis in retaking lost territory. Invite help from the regional Sunni neighbors and Turkey, all of which are also threatened by ISIS.

ISIS can always retreat to its strongholds in Syria, but a defeat in Iraq would be a major blow to its prestige and morale. If Mr. Obama finally armed a serious non-Islamist opposition in Syria, he could put pressure on ISIS there too.

The main obstacle to doing all, or even any, of this is less in Baghdad than in Washington. Mr. Obama and most Democrats are so invested in their claim to have ended George W. Bush’s Iraq war that they want to do only what is necessary to prevent a disaster like a rout of the Kurds. This is the thinking that produced the blunder of total U.S. withdrawal in 2011 and that ignored ISIS’s advances this year. It will not defeat ISIS now.

characterizing our bomb strikes in Iraq as “the Third Iraq War”. I believe that’s a misperception. I think that with the exception of a brief, illusory hiatus, we have been at war in Iraq for the last 23 years. Once we had engaged in the first Gulf War and driven Saddam Hussein back to his borders we had produced the conditions that were interpreted as requiring the “No Fly Zone” which produced the conditions which were interpreted as requiring our invasion of Iraq in 2003 which brought about the conditions that have impelled President Obama to order the present bomb strikes.

We could debate forever about the conditions and the interpretations but the reality is that we’re at war there and whether we call it that or not we’re likely to be involved there for the foreseeable future.

I do not find fault with President Obama for his most recent actions. I rejoice in the saving of Iraqi lives just as I mourn the deaths of innocent Iraqis. As the president himself emphasized, this situation won’t be resolved in a week. We will be involved for the foreseeable future.

I think he’s mistaken, however, in his emphasis on a political solution among Sunni Arabs, Shi’ite Arabs, and Kurds. In my view our actions in disbanding the Iraqi army and “de-Ba’athification”, along with the demographic and cultural realities in Iraq mean that any foreseeable Iraqi leader will act as Maliki has done. Time will tell.

If we had wanted another outcome in Iraq, we should have insisted on it but that returns us to my opposition to invading in 2003 or for that matter for opposing Saddam Hussein in 1991. We didn’t have the stomach to do what needed to be done in 2003 and we didn’t in 1991. Nor, in my view, should we.

6 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw

    I agree with many of the sentiments of the piece, but find so many particulars frustrating. First, it is not inconsistent for the Administration to seek to work with the lawful head of the Iraq government while working for him to be replaced. Second, what Iraqi head of government would be untroubled by foreign arming of one of its provinces. Third, since the proposed strategy entails working with the Iraqi government to win back territory, what is the benefit of working against the Iraqi government? Fourth, actually the strategy is to work with the “new Iraq government,” so how important is Maliki’s removal, and is it something even in U.S. control? I’m not sure anybody thinks there is a serious non-Islamist opposition in Syria now.

    There appear to be three “wants,” that in a perfect world could work together, but will more likely work against each other. Removing ISIS is the important “want,” which means working with whomever is the Iraqi leader and arming Kurds only with his consent.

  • Andy

    To add to PD’s frustrations, I’ll list my own:

    – ISIS did not “almost overrun” the Kurds – the Kurds were overextended in part because they seized disputed territory left open by the retreating Iraqi Army, like Kirkuk.

    – “Invite help from the regional Sunni neighbors and Turkey, all of which are also threatened by ISIS. ” Ah, regional Sunni neighbors – I see the careful wording which eliminates two of ISIS’s biggest enemies! The WSJ is as dumb as ever – do they really think these “regional Sunni neighbors and Turkey” need an invitation from the US? Never mind those regional Sunni neighbors give at least tacit support to ISIS. I mean really, it’s not much of a secret what the Saudi’s have been up to the last couple of years.

    -“If Mr. Obama finally armed a serious non-Islamist opposition in Syria, he could put pressure on ISIS there too.“ The unicorn strategy, recently adopted by Hillary Clinton, is a great idea – the problem is that it’s about impossible to find non-Islamist Syrian opposition outside of European cafes.

    I can’t comment on the rest, don’t have access to the entire op-ed.

  • TastyBits

    ISIS are ruthless terrorists. They are so dangerous that they threaten the US, but they are so weak that a few good rebels can destroy them. Do the delusional hawks even understand the nonsense they are spouting?

    The ruthless rebels would slowly saw off the heads of the good rebels until they got what they wanted. The ruthless do not have any upper limit on their ruthlessness.

  • steve

    I would add that it was not a blunder to leave. Maybe we should have stayed if they begged us to stay, gave us immunity and paid us. Maybe.


  • steve

    Only slightly OT. Famous pundit supports US decision to leave Iraq.

  • Sure. For, among others, the reasons outlined in this post.

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