Intervention and Nation Building: Bugging Out of Iraq the Obama Way.
Whenever one makes a big decision, it is worthwhile to create a decision tree:
I have put in more detail than is really needed since I just want to
discuss the assertion that the USA should never have gone into Iraq. If
we had not gone into war, then things might have improved enough over
time that Iraq no longer was a cause for concern. However, the course
of Iraq's development might have led it to more and more problematical
conditions and eventually another decision on whether to go to war
would have to be made. The main concern with delaying action would be
whether Iraq might develop nuclear weapons capabilities in the interim.
On the other hand, other Muslim states might beneficially intervene in
the absence of US interference.
The administration of George W. Bush saw the danger of not going to war
and acted on bad intelligence to say yes to war. It quickly
defeated those military forces of Saddam Hussein that were not routed.
It captured Saddam Hussein. At that point, the US could have been
consistent with its earlier disdain for nation building and withdrawn
its troops. It did not do so.
For whatever reason, having said yes to war, the US then said yes to
staying to build after the initial victory. Now the US is seeing a bad
outcome and is back at the top of the chart, debating whether to fight
or to get out. At the beginning of 2015, Senator John McCain et al. wanted to reintroduce ground
troops into Iraq and expand their mandate to include Syria, which had already
become an integral part of the struggle.
Returning to the top of the decision flow chart, President Obama had
chosen to say no to invasion and war at the beginning of 2015. He had
seen that if the US stays
involved on the ground, then Iraqi politicians and government figures
in neighboring nations would prefer that American lives be lost. They
would not commit to fighting, often even if they were members of the
Iraqi military. By the end of that year more and more strident calls
for direct military revenge against ISIS were heard as the fight
against ISIS through local surrogates waxed and waned. ISIS was
settling in and many observers thought it would be for the long term.
President Obama has made an unspoken argument to Iraqis with the
of forming a silent contract. He has not spoken in the American
imperative case and said, "You must do such and so!" He has simply
created a situation in which those in power in Iraq can choose to push
the US response in two different directions. He has indicated two
courses they might take, and two courses that the US will take in
response. If the Iraqi factions decide to put their differences aside
and cooperate in fending off ISIS, the the US will continue to handle
that part of the military response to ISIS for which Iraq currently
lacks resources: air support. If the Iraqi factions seek to dominate
each other, attack each other, etc., then even if the US were patient
enough to continue its air support measures Iraq would still fall to
ISIS. President Karzai of Afghanistan was right to be openly defiant of
the USA, but he fell into the other pitfall, being the leader and
servant only of his own ethnic and tribal interests, permitting
corruption, etc. Whether the current President of Afghanistan can do
better remains to be seen.
As of the beginning of 2016, many observers feel that ISIS has the
zeitgeist on its side, and that the spirit of revolution against
western interference will motivate anti-Western fighters to sacrifice
their lives for the joy of killing enemies and the reward of furthering
the cause of ISIS.
The strategic problem, in this phase of the fight, is that anti-ISIS
leaders (regardless of their true motivations) can be tarred with the
traitors stripe, identified as mere toadies of their Western masters.
Another implicit message to Sunni and Shia contestants in Iraq has been
if they cannot stand together and instead show interest in thwarting
each other, then there are still the Kurds. The Kurds have thus far
been amenable to remaining in Iraq if Iraq is viable, but if Iraq is
not viable then the US may be able to help the Kurds survive as an
independent entity. The status of the old national boundaries imposed a
century ago is already under threat by transnational groups such as
ISIS, and more and more Western observers are betting that the whole
region will be reshaped by war. Doing so brings Sunni-Shia conflicts to
a higher war pitch. In early 2016, Saudi Arabia and Iran are coming
more and more into conflict.
Many of the ruling elites in the Middle East have been irresponsible
and even potentially self-destructive. It should be clear that any
system that does not respond adaptively to its environment has a high
probability to fail. Saudi Arabia, for one, seems to think it can
maintain a static monarchy forever. It cannot see in Syria a
foreshadowing of what may soon happen to itself. It cannot see Jordan
as a model for how it might preserve its royal house from death or
exile and its people from fratricidal warfare. Iran is showing some
awareness of the need to adapt to world conditions and has postponed
its hopes for nuclear weapons even as it pushes ahead with its goal to
For the hopes of some in Islam to rise to a position of regional or
world dominance, the deep well of vengeful feelings between Sunni and
Shia is a great stumbling block.
Last revised 9 January 2016