On a narrow technical matter, President Obama has not "lost" Iraq since he is in the process of trying to save Iraq. Properly speaking, President Obama allowed Iraq to deteriorate. Whether President Obama loses Iraq is still up in the air--and no, delaying the loss until after our president leaves office in 2017 doesn't save the president's reputation if we lose then.
Still, let's enjoy the Korbian spectacle of self-beclownment, shall we?
First, Korb claims that President Obama did not fail in an effort to negotiate a deal with Iraq to remain after 2011:
Obama’s hands were tied by the agreement President Bush signed. Obama withdrew American troops from Iraq in 2011 according to the timetable that President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki had agreed to in December 2008, when the UN mandate that allowed the United States to occupy Iraq after the 2003 invasion expired. And even though President Obama was willing to leave between 5,000 and 10,000 American troops in Iraq, the Iraqi Parliament was not willing to modify Bush’s withdrawal agreement to allow this residual force.
So there are two arguments deployed. One, Bush negotiated a withdrawal by 2011; and two, Iraq refused our offers to keep troops there.
The 2008 agreement under Bush was the best he could have gotten given the climate of the day. And everyone expected it to be replaced by a longer term agreement. If not, why did the Obama administration even negotiate at all with Iraq on a new agreement? That seems to be a major flaw of the "Bush is to blame in 2008" argument, isn't it?
On the second, talk of up to 10,000 troops is nonsense. We dropped to an offer of 3,000, which wasn't enough for Maliki to risk angering Iran. It was too much to appease Iran and too little to resist Iran. So Maliki said no as he was supposed to.
Yet still I gamely tried to figure out if we could work with this number. Even though I wanted 25,000.
We could have gotten to "yes" if it had been a priority of the Obama administration. Remember, to believe that President Obama tried very hard to stay in Iraq after 2011, you have to believe that he tried very, very hard to get something that is the opposite of his campaign pledge to get us out of Iraq and which was the opposite of his post-withdrawal boast that he got us out of Iraq and responsibly ended the war.
You'd really need Korbian levels of idiocy to believe this, in fact.
Let's move on.
This is confusing. Korb says that it is a false charge that the poor showing of Iraq's security forces is the fault of President Obama. Yet the argument he sets forth is pretty much the argument I'd use to lay the blame on the president's desk:
By the time U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011, the Iraqi military was in pretty good shape. Not perfect, but over $25 billion in training and eight years of U.S. training had done a lot to build up a credible, functional armed force.
Even before the American forces left, Prime Minister Maliki had begun to systematically undermine the Iraqi military, by placing his Shiite cronies in key leadership positions. Salaries have gone unpaid while “ghost” soldiers collect salaries, maintenance has been neglected, weapons sold off, and Sunnis have been pushed out. Over the past three years, the Iraqi army has unraveled. Witness the comments made by soldiers who are now on their second or third round of training the Iraqi Security Forces—they have been shocked at its current state.
While we remained, Iraq's military was in pretty good shape. And now they are at least half crappy. In between we withdrew. I'm thinking there's a link.
As for Maliki's role, I accept that. But in 2008, Maliki was good enough and took on Iran's hand puppets in the Charge of the Knights operation at Basra against Shia militias.
And if you want to blame Maliki, you have to remember that in spring 2010, when the Sunni Arab Allawi [CORRECTION: While Sunni Arabs backed Allawi, he is a Shia. My memories faded ...] won the most seats in parliament, which should have given him first crack at organizing a government, the Obama administration sent our people to Iraq to support Maliki in remaining in power on the theory that we'd better have a Shia strongman to keep "stability" in Iraq rather than let elections stand in the way of getting out of Iraq and thus "responsibly ending" the war. I wrote several posts in that time lamenting the failure to push for rule of law.
So basically, Korb is denying Obama had a role in the determination of the Iraqi ground forces because some of the seeds of deterioration began because of Obama policies prior to the withdrawal.
That's quite a defense.
Let's move on to self-beclownment the third. It isn't Obama's fault that ISIL rose up in Iraq:
The real blame for the rise of ISIS in Iraq falls both on Malaki and on President Bush. Even aside from the original sin of invading Iraq under false pretense, there were a number of early mistakes whose impacts are still being felt. After the initial overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government, President Bush did not send in enough troops to stabilize the country after overthrowing the government. Notably, he fired then Chief-of-Staff or the Army General Shinseki, who when pressed, said in testimony that the United States would need to have hundreds of thousands of soldiers on the ground. Bush compounded the problem by disbanding the Iraqi government and the military through a misguided attempt at de-Baathification, leading thousands of newly-jobless Sunnis. Finally, the selection of Maliki, who had spent his exile years in Iran, as the country’s first prime minister, ensured that sectarianism would play a dominant role in Iraqi politics.
That's a lot of ignorance in one paragraph.
One, there were no false pretenses in invading Iraq. We had lots of reasons as the declaration of war laid out. The reasons were so strong that it was official policy of the United States, as signed by President Clinton, to promote regime change in Iraq to remove Saddam and replace his regime with democracy. [UPDATE: See here for more.]
And while we did not find newly manufactured chemical arms in Iraq after invading, Saddam never did prove he disarmed--as was required--and he in fact had every intention to restart chemical weapons production in relatively short order. If Saddam was bluffing, that was a violation of the 1991 ceasefire that required him to prove he had no chemical weapons programs; and possession of chemical weapons was a bluff that Saddam had every intention of covering as soon as he could.
The idea that we needed 300,000 American troops to pacify Iraq is false given that even Korb admits that we did in fact leave Iraq with a decent security environment in fewer than five years of serious fighting despite never having even 180,000 US troops in Iraq at the height of the surge.
As my tediously repetitive posts during that time showed, we had enough troops--American, coalition, contractor, and Iraqi--to win the military campaign. And we did win. If not, we couldn't have the sight of people like Korb arguing that the unraveling from a previous level of success (which Obama and Biden boasted about) is not President Obama's fault.
Also, General Shinseki was not fired by Bush (by Obama, yes, at the VA). He served a full 4-year term and his retirement was announced a full year before his statement on troop levels.
Korb also insists that but for de-Baathification and disbanding Iraq's army, Iraq's Sunni Arab minority would not have waged an insurgency and terrorism campaign.
This is nonsense. Disbanding the Iraqi army was a legal formality long after the Iraqi army self-disbanded during the war. And consider that the Shias--already a bit suspicious of us for encouraging their revolt in 1991 yet letting Saddam stomp them down when they did rise up--would not have sided with us if we'd kept their torturing Sunni Arab overlords in positions of power.
The real problem is that we allowed Syria and Iran to support insurgents and terrorists. Even so, we ground down our enemies in the period 2003-2006 while building up the Iraqis (and then in the 2007 surge and Awakening) in what is a remarkable accomplishment against what so many war opponents insisted was a "national resistance" to our "occupation."
Finally, while Maliki had a role in Iraq's post-2011 failure, he did well in 2008 when we were firmly in place fighting enemies of Iraq. And President Obama put our weight behind Maliki in 2010 despite his second place finish in a mistaken belief that Maliki would provide stability to justify withdrawal in 2011:
Campaigning on a nonsectarian platform, with Sunni and secular Shia candidates, the coalition won two more seats than did Maliki’s State of Law coalition. Maliki refused to stand down, however, or to concede to the INM the right to attempt to put together a governing coalition. Choosing not to weigh in, the Obama team eventually tired of the stalemate, conveniently concluding that Iraq needed a “Shia strongman,” convinced by elements within the government (presumably the CIA) that Maliki was “our man.” They sent Joseph Biden to deliver, in his ham-handed way, the message to the INM leadership. And with that, according to Sky, the chance for Iraqis “to break the Lebanon model of cementing sectarianism within institutions” went out the window.
So throwing Maliki under the bus to excuse President Obama is a bit too brazen for me.
Also, to blame Bush for the rise of ISIL is to argue that Saddam was superior despite being a brutal, chemical weapons using, terror-sponsoring, aggressive state if he could keep "tame" jihadis in Iraq rather than the feral strain of al Qaeda. Assad thought he could do that, too, when he funneled jihadis into Iraq and then found that the channels he built to do that could simply stop at Damascus to be used against him. Assad did not provide stability and Saddam was not capable of doing that, either.
Jihadis were not created by Bush. Bush simply fought them where we found them--even if they inconveniently fought us in Iraq.
You also have to consider that al Qaeda didn't flee to Iraq until after we destroyed their safe haven in Afghanistan under the Taliban government's protection. Was the "good" war a mistake when we could have kept al Qaeda in Afghanistan (where they plotted 9/11, recall)?
And given the failure to complete the fight in Afghanistan which was supposedly the "good" war against al Qaeda, I don't want to hear this farcical notion.
Seriously. Korb is a joke.
Let's move on to number 4. Korb says it is "hypocritically wrong" to blame Obama for the rise of ISIL in Syria:
In the summer of 2013, towards the beginning of the Syrian civil war, President Obama asked Congress to approve U.S. bombing in Syria. In the midst of the chaotic civil war, it was already apparent that ISIS—then one of several Islamist rebel groups in Syria—was more ruthless, systematic, and disciplined than any of them. Congress, as has become typical, dithered and delayed.
One, this is long after the Obama administration refused to help non-jihadi rebels on the theory that we didn't want to "militarize" the conflict. That was 220,000 dead ago. So jumping to 2013 as Korb does glosses over a lot of missed opportunities after our president declared that Assad had to go.
Two, the bombing campaign against Syria was to be "unbelievably small" as Secretary of State Kerry stated. That is not a commitment to overthrowing Assad. That was Concern Theater that few in Congress wanted to go along with.
Three, the bombing was in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons rather than a regime change step by supporting rebels.
And four, President Obama--who does have primacy in foreign policy and as commander-in-chief of the military--chose to ask Congress--whose role is more advice and consent--for permission in the knowledge that they'd save him from having to act. Please note that we are bombing ISIL in Syria and Iraq right now without Congressional permission as Korb says President Obama needed in 2013.
Jesus Christ, I'm still on the first page of this nonsense.
For his fifth point (I feel like a fifth of something at this point), Korb says sending more American troops is historically wrong as a solution. The explanation is on the second page and I'm almost giddy in anticipation of this! Let's click on "Next"!
There is already a robust U.S. presence in the Gulf—35,000 troops in the region—and in Iraq, where some 3,000 service members are on the ground, re-training the crippled Iraqi army. U.S. forces have conducted over 4,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The real issue is whether the Iraqi forces are willing—and able—to fight for their country. Adding more U.S. troops without real Iraqi commitments to both defeating ISIS and working to heal the sectarian rifts in the country would be as foolish as sending more U.S. troops into South Vietnam in 1975.
I hate to be picky, but 35,000 troops in the Gulf region is not the same as troops in Iraq.
Our air strikes are too cautious, not directed by forward observers, and haven't stopped ISIL. And that is different from forces on the ground, too, I hasten to add.
And that real issue of Iraqi forces fighting ignores the fact that the Obama administration did have a role in their failure in this regard. Yes, Iraq must fight. And our commitment of a relatively small number of troops to directly support Iraqi units we train to enable the army we have is not the same as adding several tens of thousands as we did in the 2007 surge--which worked (historically)--or even 300,000 as Shinseki wrongly insisted we had to commit to win that military campaign.
Yet Korb is insisting that Iraq demonstrate that they don't need our help to defeat ISIL before we help them?
As for the Vietnam in 1975 comment, that says a lot. Yes, after ignoring North Vietnamese overt aggression and failing to provide Saigon with the expected logistics and air power support for two years, direct intervention in 1975 as South Vietnam fell would have been futile. Korb sounds like he is just eager for Iraq to get to the boat people stage so he can move on to arguing for our defeat in another theater of war.
And on that point, mercifully, the article ends.
Yes indeed, national security analysis with Korb is like going deer hunting with an accordion. I have nothing but disgusted contempt for his analysis and frustration that anybody would take his analysis seriously. The man couldn't pour water out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.
As a side note, shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on Korb noting that he worked in the Reagan administration when Korb is so awful on defense issues that he is considered appropriate for the Center for American Progress?
And his presence in The National Interest is another reason I don't take this publication seriously.