Nice analysis from Mario Loyola writing at NRO about Obama’s real culpability in what’s happening today in Iraq.
Obama came into office promising to end the war in Iraq. As Loyola points out, the war was already over. What he was really trying to do was prove the war was a mistake and that the exertion of American power led to the error.
To that end, he left Iraq far too early and the consequences were predictable.
This novel conception of when wars end suggests Obama may yet pull our forces out of Europe and the Far East in order to “end” World War II. It also helps to explain how he came to equate “responsibly ending the war in Iraq” with throwing away everything we had gained from it. Obama made it plain from the start that he saw no reason to keep investing in a mistake. He let our military presence in Iraq lapse, and left the Iraqi government to fend for itself when it was still far too fragile. There is a reason we stayed in Germany and Japan and South Korea for decades after the fighting stopped: We didn’t want our sacrifices to be for nothing, and we didn’t want to have to fight again.
Now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS — the very al-Qaeda forces we defeated in Iraq in 2007 — have come back and taken over huge swaths of the country, including most of the Sunni heartland to the west and north of Baghdad. Meanwhile, over in next-door Syria, Obama stood by while the rebels fighting Bashar Assad came under the dominance of extreme Islamist forces, and then sold them all out with the chemical-weapons deal in September 2013. Consequently, we have thrown the Iraqi government into a de facto alliance with the murderous Baathist regime in Syria — a feat that not even common enemies and a common ideology could achieve during Saddam’s rule — and now both governments find themselves increasingly dependent on Iran.
With Iran’s power and prestige thus enhanced, and rapidly filling the vacuum left behind by the U.S., the mullahs now see the possibility at long last of extending the Islamic Revolution across the Fertile Crescent. With our impending agreement to let Iran keep its nuclear-weapons programs, we can now settle comfortably into the role of a de facto subordinate ally of Iran, whose forces we may soon be helping with air strikes in Iraq. If you’re wondering where that leaves our actual allies among the Gulf kingdoms and Israel, they are wondering the same thing.
Foreign-policy mistakes are inevitable, and should generally be expected, if not always forgiven. But in its approach to Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, the Obama administration has been criminally negligent. It could be years and maybe decades before we see a situation as good as the one Obama found when he got to office — and things are almost certainly going to get far worse before they get better.
When a politician invests so much in trying to prove failure, what are we to expect but failure? ISIS was nearly dead and buried in 2008 following the surge. The fact that they were able to reconstitute themselves is due to two factors; the Syrian civil war where they first went to fight and recruit; and the policies of Prime Minister Maliki that angered Sunnis and fed Sunni paranoia about Shiite dominance. Both factors existed because Barack Obama failed to back the secular opposition (or, at least, the non-jihadist opposition) in Syria and because there was no restraining influence of American troops in Iraq, Maliki brought down the hammer on Sunnis.
In a very real sense, Loyola is right. It is decisions made by the president that has led directly to the situation Iraq finds itself in today. Restarting the war? He practically encouraged it with his policies.