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Decisions and Consequences in Iraq
Following the apparent capture of Mosul, rumor has it that the Iraqi government is quietly asking for American air support against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Rumor further has it that President Obama has denied this request.
I don’t know what we should do about Iraq’s apparent slide into al-Qaeda-dominated anarchy (I lean toward doing nothing, but am open to persuasion). In their different ways, all the options seem terrible, be they leaving the Iraqis to their fate or re-involving ourselves in their country. There’s likely no good solution, only a series of bad ones, some of which may be marginally less awful than others.
One point, though, warrants repeating: while America and its allies bear ultimate responsibility for the decision to leave Iraq, it’s not as if we did so under protest. For all the talk of American imperialism and British and Australian toadying, we left as promised — more or less on schedule — leaving the Iraqis free to make their own way in the world. What dissenting voices there were at the time were drowned out by sighs of relief.
Well, the world wanted us out and — albeit for our own reasons — we left. Now, the world is seeing the consequences.
Regardless of what the United States and its allies do (or don’t do) in response to the current crisis, all nations should learn from their previous experience in this matter. If we determine it is in our interest to join the fight, we should demand public and explicit entreaties from the Iraqis as the cost of doing business; no accusations of imperialist cowboys this time. If we determine it’s not in our interests, we should say so with regret for leaving for political expediency, while reminding the world that this is what they wanted and that they might recall it next time.Published in General
Many people who wanted us to get out could also disclaim responsibility for the consequences of that action by claiming they didn’t support the invasion in the first place, couldn’t they?
The question is really, is this better than Saddam Hussein?
No. We should not get involved. I wouldn’t trust the current civilian or top uniformed leadership to take care of a dog I didn’t like. I’m glad my kids are either out of the military, or on their way out. The Iraqis wanted us out, the world wanted us out, the Left wanted us out. Anyone who wants us back in should send their kids, not mine or someone else’s.
I’m not sure we’re in the position to do much more than minimal air cover anyway. The only thing worse than not helping the Iraqis would be to try to help them and fail. Are we going to be able to do anything? That’s a military assessment to be made by knowledgeable military authorities, but I seriously doubt we have the same strike capabilities that we had when we were in relative control of the country.
The terrorist enemies of the United States have long argued that the Americans don’t have the stomach for a prolonged fight. You know what? They may be right – with the wrong people in charge.
Hindsight is 20/20. But there were certainly plenty of people saying that the culture, or at least the political culture, was the core problem and would not die with Hussein. Even so, Hussein invaded a neighboring country. If maintaining “regional stability” is a greater priority than preventing genocides, as it seems to be to our representatives, then Hussein needed to be taken out of the picture. If a dog growls, be wary. If it bites, put it down.
The greater lesson is that you can’t politely coax a society into fundamental social changes by simply building infrastructure and leaving them to their own wills. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground between empire and impotence.
Bottom line, we can’t save foreign peoples without a forceful presence in their territories (without assuming sovereignty). Anything else is a temporary solution, like feeding a starving man and then leaving him without food for tomorrow.
I agree 100% with Aaron Miller’s thoughts on this.
I would also add that having a Sunni militia take over Iraq is not necessarily a bad thing. By removing Saddam Hussein we inadvertently helped the Shiites in Iran by eliminating an enemy on their border. Sunnis and Shiites have been adversaries for a very long time. Any force that will help keep Iran in check is not all bad.
We should stay out of Iraq on this one. This is a civil war and is not posing a threat to any of its neighbors (yet). It is a shame we lost American lives fighting in Iraq and spent billions of dollars for what seems to be very little gain, but throwing good money after bad will not help matters.
That could alleviate some responsibility, yes; how much depends on one’s reasons for opposing the war.
If what’s happened this week ends up being our ultimate legacy in Iraq, then the occupation certainly wasn’t worth it (though I’d still say that knocking off Saddam was worthwhile). I don’t have any great insight into what’s going on there now, but it’s possible things improve; al-Qaeda tends to ruin everything it touches.
I’d agree that that’s likely necessary, though I’d add that it won’t always work even with a full commitment. Not every American-occupied country is a nascent Japan or South Korea.
It’s a shame, a reasonably sized force left in country would have stopped this, but then a reasonable amount of assistance to the rebels in Syria would have prevented the ISIL from gaining the kind of power we are seeing . There is no reason or logic involved in the administration on this question, only retreat and loss and neglect.
Yes, do nothing. That’s the perfect strategy to counter the advancement of an organized army on a liberated city.
Mark Wilson: The question is really, is this better than Saddam Hussein?
That’s right, Saddam never would have put gas atop those scuds he liked to fire at Israel. He never would enable an operation to assassinate an American president. He would never execute an assault on his own embassy in London in a false flag operation. He would never provide bombs third parties to kill American ambassadors. He would never write checks to the families of suicide bombers who detonated themselves aboard an Israeli bus. He would never permit attacks on Doctors without Borders and Handicap International.
No, Saddam wasn’t a monster — he was a complete sweetheart.
None of us should forget what an inhuman monster Saddam truly was. He has few equals in history as far as tyrants go.
Would it have been better to have gone the rest of the way and taken out Saddam during Gulf War 1 and then walked away? We would have saved tons of $$$ and also thousands of American servicemen’s lives. The final result (where we are now) would have been the same from Iraq’s vantage point..
I am at a point, in all honestly, where I don’t care what happens in Iraq.
If some militant Islamic group (an lets face it, one is as good as the next) wants to run the show, and subjugate women, and behead Christians, and stop everyone from eating pulled pork sandwiches, how can we stop them? Are we going to keep a force in Iraq forever? The people of Iraq are unable, or unwilling, to govern themselves. Let’s turn our attention to simply containing the threat of terrorism sponsored from those countries, and call it good.
Amen! Saddam was a vicious sociopath, this is nothing compared to what he had done and could have done given more time and a loose leash.
As to what do do here. This is much like the Syria debate. We can have an argument about what should be done, but we all know that no matter how good the plan Obama is not up to the task of execution. The ISIS is a direct cause of our inaction in Syria. We let that mess brew because of inaction, and now it is spilling over. I think if the Iraqi government asks for help we should give it. Certainly in the form of air and drone strikes. Furthermore we should see if we can muster the Kurds to help us put down this threat on the ground. I hear ISIS isn’t going anywhere near their areas and we have a good working relationship with them.
I don’t know what the options are for saving Iraq, but we cannot let it get into Al Qaeda’s hands. This S-O-B in the White lost it by pulling out prematurely and not keeping our military base there. Add that to his horrific legacy. I’m angrily venting right now, but this should not have happened.
Exactly, Billy. As much as we dislike the idea, having a major presence in a troubled part of the world that won’t leave us alone even if we leave them alone would sure be better than what we’re seeing now.
Whatever the speculated benefits of having stayed for the long-haul (or the speculated costs), from a chess-game-in-development point of view it sure seems like having a major presence in these two countries, in particular, would have been generally strategically advantageous geographically at the very least.
I think, though, that Tom’s more focused on what to do now regardless of what came before. Where do we go from here? I’m inclined to give everyone what they’ve been claiming to want – do nothing, but I think that will end up hurting us in the mid to long run.
Not to alleviate Obama of his responsibility, but he ran very explicitly on doing that in 2008 and won.
Much like the Ukraine, Obama has left the U.S. without any good options. Any hope of having a stable, Western-friendly nation in the heart of the Mideast is pretty much lost
My last comment sounds too defeatist. We just have to put our faith in John Kerry, Susan Rice, and Chuck Hagel. They’ll figure something out.
I do know this – if I were the ambassador in Iraq I would leave the country immediately and desert my post as Obama cares much more about deserters than he does about people who stay and do their duty.
A bizarre standard given we aren’t currently invading North Korea, or Cuba, or China or Iran.
I think the point is that we should not feel bad about removing people like that from power. It isn’t the only factor of course to consider, but it is certainly a very large positive to have ended his reign.
I shall add back the comment I was responding to for context, as your criticism makes no sense once it is included.
I meant it as a sincere question, not a rhetorical one. I supported the original invasion and the occupation. We can’t minimize what Saddam did and had the potential to do. It’s hard to project what will happen with al Qaeda in charge, and it is at least possible it will be worse. I honestly don’t know. As Rumsfeld would probably say, you can only act on the best information you have.
Of course, still the idea that the situation is better now for Iraqi’s is really immaterial. What should matter is whether the current or previous situation is better for Americans.
But it turns out that what potential Saddam had was rather limited – he was a regional power. Now there is a case to be made that he threatened allies like Israel, and that he was a destabilizing force to the oil trade, but at most that would call for removal of the dictator and an immediate return of our soldiers. The mistake made was in nation building – something conservatives used to be against.
We should do nothing, I think.
Let it serve as a lesson to the region of what happens when they decide to follow sectarian lines, and oppose the US.
This situation is the direct result of Syria, of course, and the so-called “Arab Spring”. Let them realize the hard way that their only choice is to adopt to the Western world, and abandon their primitive Medieval ways. This is Medieval Islam at its finest.
Plus, we cannot fight ISIS/AQ in Iraq, while at the same time passively support them in Syria.
Sure, it pains me to think of the sacrifices US soldiers made in Iraq to turn that place around, only to see it fall back into a worst chaos. But we also need to learn to stay away from these sort of places. We don’t want nor need to be engaged in nation building in those places, because we will never succeed.
If they want to buy weapons from us, we should sell it to them. Otherwise, I think we should only be directly supporting Kurdistan, as that seems to be the only semi-sane place in the Arab world.
Really? Was there a referendum asking the Iraqi people? Which group has the loudest voice here? Let’s see, there’s the “Bush’s War” administration. There’s the media, from which we hear constantly how the world resents us and our meddling. And there’s the pacifist (except when aggression suits them) Left. But I repeat myself.
We will never know if the Iraqi people wanted us to stay (I’m guessing those who’ve fled Mosul wish we had) because we never asked them. We only heard from people whose “end the war” politics was suited by this, imo, moral failure.
Their representatives asked us to leave – isn’t that how Representative Democracy works?