The War in Iraq: Fouad Ajami Replies

 

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,

Fouad

There are 38 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Spin Inactive

    This is going to sound like sucking up, but I’m going to say it anyway. This is why, contrary to other posts that are kicking around, Ricochet is so awesome. Agree or disagree with Fouad, the fact that we can ask a question here and have it so directly answered, because of the time and commitment by you Peter and others, and your connections, is just priceless. And when I say priceless I am in no way saying I want you to raise the price. I am a greedy conservative, after all.

    • #1
    • March 20, 2013, at 10:27 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. drlorentz Member

    I second Spin’s comment, ‘priceless’ part include. Thank you, Mr Robinson.

    • #2
    • March 20, 2013, at 10:39 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author
    drlorentz: I second Spin’s comment, ‘priceless’ part include. Thank you, Mr Robinson. · 5 minutes ago

    Thanks, Spin and drlorentz, but thanks above all to Fouad!

    • #3
    • March 20, 2013, at 10:46 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Daniel Halbach Inactive

    I would have “liked” Spin’s comment twice if I could.

    Corollaries to Ajami’s points:

    1. Intelligence gathering is easier and more effective near the source. Ajami mentions this with respect to Iran, but it is true for all the Gulf states.

    2. If/When direct conflicts like Libya occur again, a local land base independent of a carrier group simplifies the logistics.

    3. When Iran goes nuclear, having Americans in the area will alleviate the perceived necessity of neighboring states to develop nuclear capabilities also.

    Plus, one extra: 4. Much harder for Congress to further hurt the military with more sequestrations and grand bargains when their boots are on the ground.

    • #4
    • March 20, 2013, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. David Williamson Inactive

    I agree that Mr Obama has squandered all that he was given (not only in Iraq). And now he is in Israel – what could possibly go wrong?

    I have been an admirer of Dr Ajami’s writings ever since his piece “The Obama spell is broken” – early in Mr Obama’s first term. Only problem is, he was re-elected, in spite of that.

    Maybe it is the American electorate that has squandered what it was given?

    • #5
    • March 20, 2013, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    The points, all well made and cogent, strike me as being too rearward looking. At the time Obama pulled our troops out most of the advantages we would enjoy today had he not removed them had yet to materialize. Syria’s stability has deteriorated significantly since that time (perhaps in part due to a lack of our presence), and Iran has become more openly hostile (again, probably due to a lack of U.S. troops), but there’s no reason to expect a sissy liberal like Obama would have ever foreseen such an outcome. Sadly, we have to prove a negative in that had we stayed the situations that warrant our presence now may never have arisen.

    • #6
    • March 20, 2013, at 10:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Fricosis Guy Listener

    On the other hand, perhaps Obama’s offer gave the Iraqis an excuse to do what they really wanted all along. Or perhaps this is what they get by not firming up the SOFA long before Bush was gone. Playing hard-to-get is a dangerous game, especially with a leader whose country is sick of your country.

    There’s plenty enough to blame Obama for without dumping Iraq on his plate.

    Peter Robinson: [Fouad Ajami] 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.
    • #7
    • March 20, 2013, at 11:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. tabula rasa Member

    This exchange demonstrates why Fouad Ajami will long be remembered as one of the most prescient and wise men on all things related to the Middle East. And, perhaps more important, why he’ll be remembered as a kind and noble human being.

    This also demonstrates why uninformed wannabes like Conor Friedersdorf (who appears to think that taking random potshots at men far greater than he will ever be passes for thoughtful analysis) will be forgotten long before he qualifies for social security benefits. It also demonstrates why the words “kind” or “noble” will never be used before writing Conor’s name.

    It also demonstrates why The Atlantic has lost readers like me.

    • #8
    • March 20, 2013, at 11:58 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    I have great respect for Dr Ajami having been a fan since reading The Arab Predicament many years ago but disagree with him on this and am with Fricosis Guy. The great benefits in Iraq always seemed just around the next corner. Very glad to have him participating on Ricochet.

    • #9
    • March 21, 2013, at 1:05 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. Profile Photo Member
    tabula rasa:

    This also demonstrates why uninformed wannabes like Conor Friedersdorf (who appears to think that taking random potshots at men far greater than he will ever be passes for thoughtful analysis) will be forgotten long before he qualifies for social security benefits. It also demonstrates why the words “kind” or “noble” will never be used before writing Conor’s name. · 1 hour ago

    Isn’t Friedersdorf a member of Ricochet? Why are you addressing him like this?

    • #10
    • March 21, 2013, at 1:07 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Profile Photo Member

    How good of Fouad Ajami to respond (and thanks to Peter for soliciting the response). He writes that “had we kept the residual presence in Iraq we would have had a listening station on Iran’s border.” I confess that I don’t know what a “listening station” is. We presently have spies inside Iran itself, presumably have access to Israeli intelligence, and conduct our own aerial surveillance. Am I to understand that “listening” from a geographically nearby location proves useful in some additional way?

    I’d like to know what it is. It had better be valuable, because while Ajami believes “the Iranians would have had to think things over if we were so close to them and right on their border,” whatever “think things over” means, it is indisputably true that American troop presence in Iraq gave Iran the ability to thwart and even kill American troops via proxies, which is why the Iraq Study Group counseled negotiating with Iran (and Syria) back in 2006. Put simply, our presence in Iraq gave Iran more leverage over us than it gave us over them.

    • #11
    • March 21, 2013, at 2:46 AM PDT
    • Like
  12. Profile Photo Member

    I don’t know enough about Syria to address that point. Ajami goes on to say, “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.”

    Fighting who with what American doctrine? I am unclear about that. But I see no reason to assume that America’s continued presence (for how long?) would’ve guaranteed that whatever weapons we provided would be used to fight for ends approved by us. There is, after all, a long history of America arming people (including Iraqis) only to see those weapons turned to evil uses, or even against America and its interests.

    “Our position in the Persian Gulf is essential to the oil traffic and to the stability of the international economy,” he concludes. “It doesn’t take much conviction to believe that we would have been better served to stay the course in Iraq.” This is phrased as if staying at any cost was the prudent choice. My argument is that the cost in lives, dollars and opportunity was far higher than the benefits.

    • #12
    • March 21, 2013, at 2:53 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. mm Inactive
    mm

    King Prawn-too much credit to Obama- he poisoned the negotiations on purpose- read The End Game by Trainor & Gordon (NYT correspondent). Obama wanted out so he ensured the Iraqis would say no.

    • #13
    • March 21, 2013, at 3:18 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Larry Koler Inactive
    Conor Friedersdorf

    What has done more damage to our reputation, Larry, leftist rhetoric in the media, or the photographs of Americans abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, drone strikes that inadvertently but undeniably kill innocent people, and the audio of Professor Yoo declaring that the President of the United States may be legally empowered to crush the testicles of a child to elicit information from his father, depending on why he wants to do it? I don’t think behavior like that captures America’s character, but I do think it explains why our reputation has suffered a lot better than observing that leftists sometimes speak ill of the United States. Bush and Obama have done far more to tarnish our reputation than any private citizen. 

    Abu Ghraib was wholly a leftist invention. Benghazi is how they do it for friends. Ridiculous to bring this up — leftist propaganda from start to finish.

    Somehow the media didn’t focus on D-Day’s killing of innocent French people. Now they work with the other side to get this stuff — as long as it damages the U.S.

    Thank God for John Yoo — one of the few who pushed back.

    • #14
    • March 21, 2013, at 5:45 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Larry Koler Inactive

    The leftists in America and the world conspired to lengthen the war in Iraq and to drive up the casualties. Who can doubt it? They gave hope to our enemies during a time when our troops were in the field. They passed on any piece of propaganda that was proffered by our enemies. They helped our enemies in Guantanamo. 

    They got what they wanted: an anti-American president with Marxist and racialist background. As hard left as it is possible to go. This is why Kerry and Hillary lied to the country — for the Democratic Party’s hopes. (Hillary got a surprise, though, didn’t she?) This was traitorous behavior. 

    • #15
    • March 21, 2013, at 5:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. Scott R Member

    Conor’s utopian expectations of proper conduct by the U.S. in wartime effectively preclude the U.S. from ever going to war.

    Abu Ghraib was peanuts compared to the abuses of any country in any war in all of human history. Ditto innocents killed in drone strikes, horrible as they are. And Yoo’s comments were in response to a ridiculous legal hypothetical proposed by a lefty designed to make the U.S. look like it would kinda sorta consider crushing kids’ testicles, which of course it didn’t and never would.

    Lost on Conor is that war is, was, and ever will be a hellish, nasty business, with even the good guys choosing between bad and worse, immoral and inexcusably immoral, x dead innocents and x+1 dead innocents. In the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, waging war and satisfying the millions of Conor Friedersdorfs is impossible. 

    Which means going forward the U.S. will have a devil of a time ever winning a war again. Big problem.

    • #16
    • March 21, 2013, at 6:17 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Cornelius Julius Sebastian Inactive
    Conor Friedersdorf
    Larry Koler: How far will the left in this country go in their attempts to discredit us and damage the reputation of the United States…. 

    What has done more damage to our reputation, Larry, leftist rhetoric in the media, or the photographs of Americans abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, drone strikes that inadvertently but undeniably kill innocent people, and the audio of Professor Yoo declaring that the President of the United States may be legally empowered to crush the testicles of a child to elicit information from his father, depending on why he wants to do it?

    Mr. Friedersdorf, Abu Ghraib pissed virtually all of us in the military off, because it undermined the goodwill that we were building by aid to orphans, rebuilding schools and infrastructure. I don’t deny that bad things happened and that they were newsworthy, but as a percentage of all that was going on in that theater, the media coverage created a perception far, far out of touch with reality. We helped more people than we hurt by orders of magnitiude. Larry is right and you are wrong. Had the coverage been balanced, public opinion would have been much different. 

    • #17
    • March 21, 2013, at 6:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. Profile Photo Member

    Following is what I posted on the Member Article. I will add it doesn’t hurt the world to see Americans come awake once in awhile. It may avert bigger problems.

    I thought Iraq was a good idea. A show of force causing respect and future wariness to act, which is what an aggressor will understand. It had the added bonuses of getting rid of Hussein (who killed 3 million people-too bad the same didn’t happen to Hitler at only 3 million) and putting us in the theater where the aggression was coming from (the terrorists were Saudis afterall- what were going to do, blow them up?).

    Unfortunately, we didn’t get out so that Obama could completely blow up the Middle East. I bring this fact up to Leftists I know often. I saw the following article this morning: http://pjmedia.com/spengler/2013/03/19/the-russians-think-were-wrecking-the-world-on-purpose/

    He is still arguing that Obama is simply incompetent. I guess I am a rubebecause I believe he definitely has Muslim sympathies and purposefully likes crises. Talk about denial.

    • #18
    • March 21, 2013, at 7:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Conor Friedersdorf

    What has done more damage to our reputation, Larry, leftist rhetoric in the media, or the photographs of Americans abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, drone strikes that inadvertently but undeniably kill innocent people, and the audio of Professor Yoo declaring that the President of the United States may be legally empowered to crush the testicles of a child to elicit information from his father, depending on why he wants to do it?

    Bush and Obama have done far more to tarnish our reputation than any private citizen. · 8 hours ago

    Reputation with whom? If you mean our reputation in the Moslem world which is pretty bad, the things we would need to do to turn that into a good reputation would make us ashamed to be Americans. With European elites? Ditto. Rest of the world – we’re doing pretty well.

    Do you mean opinion within the US? Every poll shows drone strikes are pretty popular as, for that matter, were enhanced interrogation techniques (not addressing merits of the policies here).

    Abu Gharib was a combo of Administration mismanagement (lack of MPs in Iraq due to Rumsfeld’s desire for small footprint) and coordinated leftist propagandizing which was effective.

    • #19
    • March 21, 2013, at 7:32 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Conor Friedersdorf

    What has done more damage to our reputation, Larry, leftist rhetoric in the media, or the photographs of Americans abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, drone strikes that inadvertently but undeniably kill innocent people, and the audio of Professor Yoo declaring that the President of the United States may be legally empowered to crush the testicles of a child to elicit information from his father, depending on why he wants to do it?

    Bush and Obama have done far more to tarnish our reputation than any private citizen. · 9 hours ago

    And to answer your question directly, more damage is done by leftist propaganda in the media. By historical standards there is nothing particularly unusual about the American mistakes and policies in the War on Terror. Judged by today’s media and leftist standards the most immoral and unjustified act in American history was our participation in WWII.

    Given the practical issues raised by this I think you will see more (not less) reliance on drone strikes and on swift, and very violent, assaults on our enemies without long-term boots on the ground in order to minimize propaganda opportunities for our enemies.

    • #20
    • March 21, 2013, at 7:45 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Duane Oyen Member

    Reading Dr. Ajami’s response makes me feel very good about this post:

    https://ricochet.com/main-feed/Considering-Iraq-Another-View/(comment)/649028#comment-649028

    • #21
    • March 21, 2013, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. Neolibertarian Inactive

    While I agree with every one of Ajami’s points 1000%, I think it would have been a mistake to remain without a continuing rock ribbed commitment on the part of the United States.

    Even considering all that was spent and lost in Iraq, there’s no way any American should believe for a nano second that what we did there was in vain.

    • #22
    • March 21, 2013, at 8:08 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Cornelius Julius Sebastian Inactive

    I found Dr. Ajami’s optimism about the Arab Spring wishful thinking, but I am pleased to largely agree with him here. Having spent a year in Iraq early in OIF, and known some fellows who paid the highest sacrifice there, it has been a slow bleeding disillusionment to watch it all turn to dust. But there is a lot of dust in Iraq, so maybe I should have expected it. Granted, we never really got both the COIN and the reconstruction effort rocking simultaneously, and granted, the benefits of winning may not seem immediately appreciable or, arguably, worth the cost; but nothing is more disheartening to me when I think of all the effort and sacrifice made by every soldier, sailor, airman and marine on the ground to know that it was all for naught.

    • #23
    • March 21, 2013, at 8:23 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. Duane Oyen Member
    Mark

    ……

    Reputation with whom? If you mean our reputation in the Moslem world which is pretty bad, the things we would need to do to turn that into a good reputation would make us ashamed to be Americans. With European elites? Ditto. Rest of the world – we’re doing pretty well.

    Do you mean opinion within the US? Every poll shows drone strikes are pretty popular as, for that matter, were enhanced interrogation techniques (not addressing merits of the policies here).

    Abu Gharib was a combo of Administration mismanagement (lack of MPs in Iraq due to Rumsfeld’s desire for small footprint) and coordinated leftist propagandizing which was effective. · 29 minutes ago

    Edited 27 minutes ago

    There is no indication whatever that this statement is true. In fact, the offenders were MPs, and the MP brigadier general responsible was relieved of her post for failure to do her job. If you want to assign blame, it could be the fact that it was a reserve call-up unit involved rather than professional soldiers.

    • #24
    • March 21, 2013, at 8:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Larry Koler Inactive

    It wasn’t for all for naught, CJS. 

    What’s most important for me is how the Iraq war was shoehorned into the left’s version (lies, mostly) of Vietnam. How far will the left in this country go in their attempts to discredit us and damage the reputation of the United States. Our actual character and actions over the last 70 years are almost all good but our reputation is slowly being stolen from us. Everything noble about this country is being attacked and trashed. 

    Isn’t it interesting how far the left will go to do the work that was started by the Soviet Union? The Cold War caused a lot of damage in this country. Every time that we are in a vulnerable position, the left exploits it against us and drives home the Soviet anti-American narrative. We are losing confidence person by person, event by event. We are losing what is exceptional about this country. 

    I was truly shocked to see Hillary Clinton and John Kerry go from supporting ousting Hussein to spreading deep and hard left lies about Bush’s “lies.” And it was all so transparently a lie by them — that’s remarkable.

    • #25
    • March 21, 2013, at 9:48 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. Profile Photo Member
    Larry Koler: How far will the left in this country go in their attempts to discredit us and damage the reputation of the United States. Our actual character and actions over the last 70 years are almost all good but our reputation is slowly being stolen from us. Everything noble about this country is being attacked and trashed. 

    What has done more damage to our reputation, Larry, leftist rhetoric in the media, or the photographs of Americans abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, drone strikes that inadvertently but undeniably kill innocent people, and the audio of Professor Yoo declaring that the President of the United States may be legally empowered to crush the testicles of a child to elicit information from his father, depending on why he wants to do it? I don’t think behavior like that captures America’s character, but I do think it explains why our reputation has suffered a lot better than observing that leftists sometimes speak ill of the United States. Bush and Obama have done far more to tarnish our reputation than any private citizen.

    • #26
    • March 21, 2013, at 10:31 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. Larry Koler Inactive

    Duane, does it deserve 46 days on the front page of the NYT?

    • #27
    • March 21, 2013, at 10:56 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. Profile Photo Member

    And the Romans conquered and kept a military presence in the Levant to check the Parthians. There are advantages and disadvantages of having imperial policies. Personally, I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

    • #28
    • March 21, 2013, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • Like
  29. Spin Inactive

    Aren’t Hedge Hogs supposed to be blue?

    Mao Zehedgehog: And the Romans conquered and kept a military presence in the Levant to check the Parthians. There are advantages and disadvantages of having imperial policies. Personally, I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. · 9 minutes ago
    • #29
    • March 21, 2013, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • Like
  30. Fricosis Guy Listener

    I find Ajami good company, but per my comments his tale is too much of a “just so” story. Sure, those are all great benefits but what really needed to happen to make them come to pass?

    Agree with you on Friedersdorf…don’t get him at all. If it’s any consolation, he’s young enough that he’ll never see any Social Security.

    tabula rasa: This exchange demonstrates why Fouad Ajami will long be remembered as one of the most prescient and wise men on all things related to the Middle East. And, perhaps more important, why he’ll be remembered as a kind and noble human being.

    This also demonstrates why uninformed wannabes like Conor Friedersdorf (who appears to think that taking random potshots at men far greater than he will ever be passes for thoughtful analysis) will be forgotten long before he qualifies for social security benefits. 

    • #30
    • March 21, 2013, at 12:48 PM PDT
    • Like
  1. 1
  2. 2