Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Now Have a Record of Alternate Strategies to Judge the Iraq War

The idea that President Bush caused the current ISIL surge in Iraq by invading in 2003 is ludicrous.

Let's remember that it was President Clinton who signed the law that made regime change and democracy promotion in Iraq our national policy.

Let's remember that even if the charge against Bush is true, the alternative is to say that the brutal and aggressive Saddam regime would have been a better course of action.

Or you can say that we and an alliance should have actively supported rebels in Iraq to overthrow Saddam. See Libya, which is a jihadi playground spreading jihadi unrest to neighboring states.

Or you can say that we should have kept our support for Iraqi rebels minimal and low-level, counting on the majority to overwhelm the government supporters. See Syria, which is at 200,000+ dead already--and counting. And hosting lots of jihadis who conquered large swathes of Iraq and threaten neighbors of Syria

Or you could say that we should have just stayed out of Iraq except for using words. See Egypt, where the old autocratic power structure regained power after Islamists took control for a time. And for a bonus, jihadis are now very active in Sinai.

You can even say that we should have come to another agreement with Saddam that this time--for sure--got rid of his WMD since only that is a real issue for us. See pre-2011 Libya which started to revert to a troublemaker under Khadaffi and still had some WMD at the time of the revolution. Or see Syria under Assad in 2012 when Assad agreed to get rid of his chemical weapons yet still managed to kill civilians with chemical weapons after the agreement was put into effect.

What about the templates that President Obama cites?

In Yemen, a war between north and south is conflated with al Qaeda's presence. We support the government's ground forces with drone strikes and the place is at best a mess that doesn't make our evening news. Is that really a model for Iraq?

Somalia is where we simply try to keep the chaos at bay with special forces direct action, air and missile strikes, and support for outside intervention to keep the jihadis in check. This could be worse without our actions, but is it really the model for the heart of the Arab world?

And why not mention Pakistan where a state with a powerful military allows us to strike jihadis with drones--while denouncing us for doing so and only letting us attack certain jihadis while allowing others a sanctuary?

At best, you have the Tunisia model, which is a small country that lacks a major Islamist presence and lacks major internal divisions. Tunisia is so far an Arab Spring success story. Iraq is not Tunisia.

So the alternative strategies for Iraq don't seem very good.

We had our actual strategy for Iraq, which we invaded in accordance with our national policy and in recognition that 9/11 means that terror-supporting regimes (as Saddam's was) are too dangerous to allow to live when they prove they have not given up on gaining WMD.

We won that actual Iraq War, yet immediately faced an Iranian and Syrian invasion along with a fight against al Qaeda, which made Iraq their main front. This complicated our war, to say the least.

In time, we defeated all these enemies and gave Iraq a fighting chance to build the democracy of different groups (Sunni Arab, Sunni Kurd, and Shia Arab, among others) within a single state that we hoped would be a visible alternative in the Islamic world to rule by autocrats or Islamists.

But then we left Iraq alone. You can insist that it is Maliki's fault we did not stay after 2011. But you are wrong.

Sure, Maliki shares some blame. But we failed to offer enough troops to make pissing off the Iranians seem wise to Maliki. And we failed to find ways to get to yes.

To argue that President Obama is the victim of Iraqi failure in 2011 is to believe that President Obama tried very hard to get the opposite of what he long said he wanted and what he still boasts he achieved--"responsibly ending" the Iraq War by getting all our troops out as he promised.

And blaming it on Bush's three-years SOFA in 2008, as if that was all that was intended, ignores the fire storm that even that interim agreement created. Many Obama supporters insisted that was illegal and would tie soon-to-be-President Obama's hands.

Come on, the president still thinks this way in regard to Afghanistan, which he insists we will leave before 2017, "responsibly ending" that war, too.

Despite everything, we achieved an Iraq in pretty good shape in 2011 that was far superior to the condition of states where we tried alternate strategies and non-strategies to shape chaotic events.