Yesterday, as you may recall, I posted a long excerpt from Fouad Ajami’s Wall Street Journal column on the Iraq war, entitling the post “Fouad Ajami’s View–and Mine.” It was no fault of the soldiers who fought this war, or of the leaders who launched it,” Fouad concluded (and I agreed), “that their successors lacked the patience to stick around Iraq and safekeep what had been gained at an incalculable cost in blood and treasure.”
In the very first comment on the post, Conor Friedersdorf, a Ricochet member of longstanding and a staff writer at the Atlantic, issued a challenge. “This post is premised on the notion that President Obama has given up strategic gains by leaving. If you’re going to make that argument, fine, but you have to at least name what the supposed gains that we’re giving up are…”
Fair enough, I thought. Then I got in touch with Fouad, asking if he’d care to reply. Very graciously–and he really is the most gracious of friends–Fouad assented:
I usually never argue the Iraq war–it’s detractors are convinced that it was an utter calamity and beyond redemption–but rules are made to be broken, particularly for friends like Peter.
First, look at the map. To Iraq’s east lies Iran and a border of several hundred miles. Had we kept the residual presence in Iraq we would have had a listening station on Iran’s border. The Iranians knew this, and that was why they were eager to push us out. The Iraqis were more than willing to have us stay without advertising it. We squandered that possible advantage. The Iranians would have had to think things over if we were so close to them and right on their border.
Second, look to the western border of Iraq, and there is Syria. We pulled out our troops from Iraq as Syria was burning. There, too, a residual American presence would have served us well. Mr. Obama didn’t want to commit much to Syria and to the Syrian rebellion, and an American force in Iraq would have severed that corridor that runs from Iran, through Iraq, to Syria–and on to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Three, think of the advantages of having an Iraqi army equipped with American weapons fighting with American doctrine. They wouldn’t have been our client, but they would have distanced themselves from Iran to keep our favor.
Four, our position in the Persian Gulf is essential to the oil traffic and to the stability of the international economy. It doesn’t take much conviction to believe that we would have been better served to stay the course in Iraq.
I reiterate the Iraqis wanted the United States to stay but the offer made to them in the final days of 2011 [President Obama’s offer of a force too small to prove effective] was meant to be turned down. I never thought we aimed for a colony in Iraq. But I did believe that our time there, and a force that would stay on, were in America’s interests.
With best wishes,