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.

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  1. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Mark Wilson:

    The question is really, is this better than Saddam Hussein?

     This may well be worse than Saddam Hussein.  If the implication is that those who wanted to knock off Saddam Hussein are wholly responsible for this outcome, I think that’s wrong.  A lot of what is happening is the result of America turning against the war and electing Obama, who wanted to get out as fast as he could regardless of the consequences.  I don’t take responsibility for Obama’s election and his rush to bug out.  I supported the war.  I voted for McCain.  This outcome was not inevitable based on the initial invasion, but the result of a lot of bad choices, including Obama’s election.

    • #31
  2. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Mark Wilson:

    Mark Wilson: The question is really, is this better than Saddam Hussein?

    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.

    From what we’ve seen of ISIS so far, they are just as genocidal as Saddam was. They have already crossed one border (Syria), so they are just as dangerous in the “regional stability” regard if they are able to seize Baghdad. I’ve read that the Iraqi soldiers in Mosul and elsewhere left tanks and other military resources behind for ISIS to use. 

    Saddam had developed biological and chemical weapons. Aside from that, and more time to formalize his power in politics, the threats seem similar. The main difference seems to be that Saddam just wanted to be rich and powerful, while ISIS seeks to establish a twisted culture (sharia) and micromanage the lives of its people.

    On the bright side, if you can call it that, Assad hates these fanatics as much as we do. ISIS is surrounded by resistance, assuming that Baghdad puts up a fight. Has Israel weighed in yet?

    • #32
  3. billy Inactive
    billy
    @billy

    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.

     The problem with your question is that no one could have predicted during the debate over the Iraq  invasion that we would get as disastrous a president as Obama.
    In other words when weighing the pros and cons of removing Saddam Hussein by force no one pointed out that a jug-eared fool would rise from the Illinois State Senate to the Oval Office.
    Had we known, I’m sure all of us would have definitely been against the war.

    • #33
  4. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Western Chauvinist: 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.

    We don’t but, as Jamie said, the government they elected was keen to see us out.  If the occupation wasn’t the over-riding issue for the Iraqis at the time they voted, that’s the Iraqis’ fault.

    That said, I agree with you that everyone would have benefited had there been a plebiscite — as Prager suggested — as to whether or not we should stay.  It would have been very clarifying.  Alas.

    • #34
  5. user_1184 Inactive
    user_1184
    @MarkWilson

    billy: The problem with your question is that no one could have predicted during the debate over the Iraq invasion that we would get as disastrous a president as Obama. In other words when weighing the pros and cons of removing Saddam Hussein by force no one pointed out that a jug-eared fool would rise from the Illinois State Senate to the Oval Office. Had we known, I’m sure all of us would have definitely been against the war.

    You’re right.  We couldn’t have known then.  But next time, we have to consider this probability.

    • #35
  6. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Aaron Miller: I’ve read that the Iraqi soldiers in Mosul and elsewhere left tanks and other military resources behind for ISIS to use. 

     And that’s the big issue here. The Iraqi Army and politicians cannot be trusted. This defeat is a reflection of that. The Iraqi Army is relatively large and relatively well equipped. Yet they were driven away by a bunch of guys in pickup trucks because they were unwilling to fight.

    Should the US get into a fight to support a failing regime which has sectarian interests in mind? It just doesn’t sound like a good deal. 

    Can we just admit that we failed in Iraq (and Afghanistan), and move on? Our refusal to admit failure, regardless of who’s fault it was (and yes it was Obama’s) is only going to continue costing us more lives and more money.

    • #36
  7. billy Inactive
    billy
    @billy

    The sad, simple truth is that the United States is now a feckless nation. We lack the will to fight or pursue our long-term strategic interests.

    • #37
  8. FloppyDisk90 Member
    FloppyDisk90
    @FloppyDisk90

    Tom Meyer: We don’t but, as Jamie said, the government they elected was keen to see us out.

     I will third this observation.  Their election, their representatives, their decision, and they own the consequences.

    • #38
  9. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    There’s good news in this mess as well. The Kurds have taken over Kirkuk. Good news, I say, because they seem to be the only force in the ME worthy of support, and who have been loyal allies. Lets focus on making them an independent and stronger ally. Forget all these other looser.

    • #39
  10. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    We used to say that it was a foolish and selfish decision to publicly declare that we were leaving Iraq or Afghanistan (or anywhere else) on a specific date regardless of whether we had achieved our goals … because that would simply alert the terrorists to wait us out.

    But that turned out to be optimistic. They realized that they didn’t need to wait that long. As soon as Obama decided that we were tired of war and wanted out, that’s all they needed.

    • #40
  11. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    KC Mulville:

    We used to say that it was a foolish and selfish decision to publicly declare that we were leaving Iraq or Afghanistan (or anywhere else) on a specific date regardless of whether we had achieved our goals … because that would simply alert the terrorists to wait us out.

    But that turned out to be optimistic. They realized that they didn’t need to wait that long. As soon as Obama decided that we were tired of war and wanted out, that’s all they needed.

     That, KC, should be in the arsenal of every national politician for the next two cycles. Pithy and dead on.

    • #41
  12. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    At the risk of losing whatever good faith I my have on Ricochet:

    Blaming Obama for this is ridiculous.

    If ever there was a decision with near unanimous support, it was our withdrawal from Iraq over the last few years. A majority of Americans wanted it (why? because our occupation was a nightmare), many conservatives back in 2008 wanted it (remember all those op eds talking about focusing on the “real war” in Afghanistan?), the elected government in Iraq wanted it, and George Bush signed a SOFA agreeing to it. 

    If ever there was a policy I would expect a US president elected in 2008 to observe, it would be withdrawing from Iraq.

    • #42
  13. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Why I am upset about Obama bashing? Because everyone is using it to distract from the fact that we have no idea how to restabilize a country which we (collectively) helped destabilize.

    For once, I agree with Colin Powell: we broke Iraq, we need to react. At the least, we should provide as much air, ground, and armament support as we can to keep more cities from falling and bring in a temporary cease fire.

    And after that, it is time to seriously consider Iraq’s fate. If the country cannot find a way to allow its ethnic minorities to be equitably represented – as appears to be the case – perhaps it is time for partition.

    • #43
  14. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    billy:

    The problem with your question is that no one could have predicted during the debate over the Iraq invasion that we would get as disastrous a president as Obama. …Had we known, I’m sure all of us would have definitely been against the war.

     It’s worth remembering that Obama’s perceived hard line against the Iraq War was one of the main positions that catapulted him past the flip-flopping Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democrat primaries.

    In other words, the Iraq war (and the backlash to the Bush administration’s handling of it) is a major reason why we have Obama in the first place. 

    • #44
  15. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Tom Meyer:

    Western Chauvinist: 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.

    That said, I agree with you that everyone would have benefited had there been a plebiscite — as Prager suggested — as to whether or not we should stay. It would have been very clarifying. Alas.

     I also agree with Dennis we can blame Bush for the war, but as the Middle East is turned to rubble and set afire — that is completely Obama’s fault (and that of the shortsighted, unrealistic people who voted for him). There is no doubt in my mind Iraq and Afghanistan would be stable if we had maintained a strong, long-term military presence.

    It’s true that many Bushies were equally unrealistic about Iraq’s prospects, but Obama has never been willing to adapt to conditions. Just like his stupid goal of emptying out and closing Guantanamo.  He owns this.

    • #45
  16. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mark Wilson:

    Tom Meyer: 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.

    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?

     They’re separate issues. There were people who thoughtfully and reasonably opposed the Vietnam War who also opposed rendering the South Vietnamese vulnerable under Ford. There were people who thoughtfully and reasonably supported the Vietnam War who felt the same way. Neither position required the abdication of morality, the decade long loss of American power, still felt today, and the deluge of blood that followed. 

    Similarly, you can feel either way about the initial invasion of Iraq without feeling that a relatively trivial effort in Syria that would have saved enormous numbers of lives, kept Iraq stable, killed many Al Qaida operatives, and stopped vastly more from being recruited would clearly have been a terrible idea. 

    • #46
  17. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mendel: For once, I agree with Colin Powell: we broke Iraq, we need to react. At the least, we should provide as much air, ground, and armament support as we can to keep more cities from falling and bring in a temporary cease fire.

     Mendel, please, don’t bring up moments when Powell says sensible things. When I discover he thinks that the Sun is hot on a hot day, I question whether the Sun is really hot. After a while pondering it, I come to the conclusion that it’s hard to deny that there’s a very good chance that it might be, and then I feel absolutely filthy. 

    • #47
  18. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    James Of England:

    Mendel: For once, I agree with Colin Powell: we broke Iraq, we need to react. At the least, we should provide as much air, ground, and armament support as we can to keep more cities from falling and bring in a temporary cease fire.

    Mendel, please, don’t bring up moments when Powell says sensible things. When I discover he thinks that the Sun is hot on a hot day, I question whether the Sun is really hot. After a while pondering it, I come to the conclusion that it’s hard to deny that there’s a very good chance that it might be, and then I feel absolutely filthy.

     Sorry, sir. Won’t happen again.

    • #48
  19. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Valiuth: 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 don’t know that. This is why I partly agree with Mendel about blaming Obama. I don’t think it’s ridiculous; I think Obama could have done more. He could, for instance, have followed through on commitments he did make to supply arms and such. 
    But it was people like Rand Paul, seizing on sentiments like this, that has driven Christians out of Iraq and that threatens to doom America’s legacy. If Republicans had had some faith in the military to carry out the supply of arms to the FSA and perhaps have helped them with some drone surveillance, but only a minority did. 

    Obama hasn’t been terrible on every WoT front. He’s supported the Ethiopians in Somalia, where things have been going well. He’s done OK in Yemen. Maybe he’d have messed up Syria, but we can’t know it. 

    • #49
  20. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Mendel:

    James Of England:

    Mendel: For once, I agree with Colin Powell: we broke Iraq, we need to react. At the least, we should provide as much air, ground, and armament support as we can to keep more cities from falling and bring in a temporary cease fire.

    Mendel, please, don’t bring up moments when Powell says sensible things. When I discover he thinks that the Sun is hot on a hot day, I question whether the Sun is really hot. After a while pondering it, I come to the conclusion that it’s hard to deny that there’s a very good chance that it might be, and then I feel absolutely filthy.

    Sorry, sir. Won’t happen again.

     Powell is pretty helpful in limiting the opportunities to suffer that particular harm. 

    • #50
  21. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Western Chauvinist:

    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.

    For what it’s worth, the Iraqis I knew were split on the subject, with a strong majority favoring a slower withdrawal. I don’t recall anyone wanting a South Korea or German style deployment, but it would have been nice to have had a little longer to build institutions. A better relationship between Anbar and the Central government, in particular, was being formed, but too late.

    • #51
  22. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Jamie Lockett:

    Frank Soto: None of us should forget what an inhuman monster Saddam truly was. He has few equals in history as far as tyrants go.

    A bizarre standard given we aren’t currently invading North Korea, or Cuba, or China or Iran.

     We can’t invade North Korea. We probably can’t invade Iran and Iran is considerably less evil than Saddam (no genocide, less support for terrorism, although in Saddam’s absence they have obviously taken pole position, no equivalent to the marsh draining and earth salting, no closing of schools, no US President assassinating, no conquests of neighbors, etc. etc. etc.). 

    It’s simply offensive to put the modern Chinese and Cuban governments in the same list, like when people justify support for the Muslim Brotherhood seizing absolute power after the elections on the basis that Obama violates the Constitution, too. 

    • #52
  23. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    And as an aside, does anyone else find it nauseatingly typical that “VP Biden has spoken to al-Maliki to reassure him?” What? The decimation of the “democratically elected” Iraqi government doesn’t warrant a reassuring call from the President?

    Why? Why Biden? Because the Obama team knows they’re going to do nothing effectual and want to keep Obama from having his hands bloodied by what’s happening in Iraq.

    Disgusting. And Biden is even more repulsive than usual for going along with it.

    • #53
  24. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Mendel:

    ….everyone is using it to distract from the fact that we have no idea how to restabilize a country which we (collectively) helped destabilize.

      

    Something that is too infrequently acknowledged.

    Wrt the break up of Iraq – I think it’s a de facto done deal, at least as far as the North is concerned.

    • #54
  25. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Zafar:

    Mendel:

    ….everyone is using it to distract from the fact that we have no idea how to restabilize a country which we (collectively) helped destabilize.

    Something that is too infrequently acknowledged.

    Wrt the break up of Iraq – I think it’s a de facto done deal, at least as far as the North is concerned.

    This is something we have got a referendum on. Iraq literally just had an election. No one other than the Kurds supported a breakup (admittedly, if Biden had voted, there’d be at least one non-Kurdish vote for it). The central government still controls close to as much of Iraq as Saddam did before the invasion (somewhat less of the West, but more of the North East). 

    Iraq achieved a level of violence lower than Mexico’s despite the fact that, unlike Mexico, large numbers of foreigners were entering the country with the specific intent of engaging in terrorism. It’s been destabilized by a country with which it has extremely intimate ties (family, cultural, political, economic, the works) descending into one of the largest bloodbaths in recent decades, but the achievement still demonstrates that the relative unity could be found. 

    About the “North” thing…. You know where Mosul is, right? 

    • #55
  26. billy Inactive
    billy
    @billy

    James Of England:

     

    We don’t know that. This is why I partly agree with Mendel about blaming Obama. I don’t think it’s ridiculous; I think Obama could have done more. He could, for instance, have followed through on commitments he did make to supply arms and such. But it was people like Rand Paul, seizing on sentiments like this, that has driven Christians out of Iraq and that threatens to doom America’s legacy. If Republicans had had some faith in the military to carry out the supply of arms to the FSA and perhaps have helped them with some drone surveillance, but only a minority did.

    But we should blame Obama for this mess, His failure to reach a SOFA with the Iraqis directly led to the current situation.

    • #56
  27. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    James Of England:

    Zafar:

    About the “North” thing…. You know where Mosul is, right?

     I thought the Kurds were North?

    • #57
  28. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Zafar:

    James Of England:

    Zafar:

    About the “North” thing…. You know where Mosul is, right?

    I thought the Kurds were North?

    Mosul is in Nineveh, which is one of the disputed provinces that the Kurds argue they should run. Most Kurdish territory is South of Mosul, and to the East, towards the Iranian border. Erbil, the capital, isn’t far South (or particularly far in any direction, being about fifty miles away), but it is South of Mosul.

    • #58
  29. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    I agree with Mendel on this. The US should have and would have pulled out no matter what. It was what the American people wanted. I cringed every time a Republican opened his/her mouth and said something about Iraq, as I’m sure did the majority of Americans. We don’t want to be the police of the ME, or the rest of the world for that matter. 

    Doesn’t matter whether we broke it or not. Those are all sunk costs at this point. Moving forward, no one wants to get involved in another nightmare like that again. 

    Thousands of Americans died…painfully to say…for nothing. Time we admit that, and move on.

    My biggest fear is that the Republicans will once again start beating the war drums, for another ME war, and the electorate will cringe once again like they did in 2008 and in 2012.

    • #59
  30. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    James Of England:

    Zafar:

    James Of England:

    Zafar:

    About the “North” thing…. You know where Mosul is, right?

    I thought the Kurds were North?

    Mosul is in Nineveh, which is one of the disputed provinces that the Kurds argue they should run. Most Kurdish territory is South of Mosul, and to the East, towards the Iranian border. Erbil, the capital, isn’t far South (or particularly far in any direction, being about fifty miles away), but it is South of Mosul.

    And I used to be good at geography.  But I found a map.

    Wrt the Kurdish controlled area (including now…Kirkuk?) – do you think they’ll willingly give up what independence they’ve wangled so far, or do you think they’ll try and go the other way with Turkey’s connivance?  They seem to be doing relatively better on their own (less violence, more economic growth) than the rest of Iraq, which is a great motivator for more separation.

    • #60
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