The Trump administration has indicated it plans to largely abdicate a U.S. role in Iraq's political future, despite the certainty that driving the Islamic State group from its remaining stronghold in Mosul – months, if not weeks, away – starts the clock on a dangerous new era for a country on the verge of fracturing along rival warring factions.
The prospect of a reduced U.S. role leaves a vacuum in crafting a long-term political solution to reassemble Iraq. Chief among the concerns is that the country's religious and ethnic populations – minority Sunni Muslims who felt victimized by the central government in Baghdad and now fear retribution, ethnic Kurds certain to seek independence for their semiautonomous region, and a majority Shiite population thought to be under the sway of Iran – will turn on each other without a common enemy to unite their efforts.
The Shias are hardly all--or even a majority of them--in thrall to the Iranians. Nor are the Kurds a unified block. And Sunni Arabs have those sympathetic to jihadis and those not.
But is the bottom line that we won't make sure that Iraqi factions--more than the three the article highlights--don't resort to violence to achieve goals outside of a political process within a system that is reasonably close to rule of law democracy?
That is disturbing.
And this is disturbing in the post-ISIL arena:
The United States is no longer making removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power a focus of its policy in the war-torn country, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday, in a departure from the Obama administration's initial stance on Assad's fate.
Of course, the idea that Obama was on anything other than a path to accept Assad even if it was a hope for Assadism without the actual Assad is ridiculous.
But I had hoped that Syria under the Assad clan had a long enough record of killing Americans, from the Iraq War all the way back to the Marines in Lebanon in the 1980s, and otherwise being a thorn in our side--including as a hand puppet of Iran--that deciding that the Assad regime should be destroyed even aside from its bloody record against its own people would be an easy choice to make.
We will regret not trying to shape Iraq and Syria after ISIL is defeated. Let's hope these apparent choices are reconsidered.
UPDATE: Good grief, what part of "when you strike a king, kill him" is unclear?
The White House on Friday backed top aides' comments that the United States is not now focused on making Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leave power, saying the U.S. focus is on defeating Islamic State militants.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Thursday drew criticism for playing down a long-standing U.S. goal of persuading Assad to leave power to help end the six-year-long Syrian civil war.
Assad has been our enemy. He will continue to be our enemy if he survives.
And the idea that under Obama we had a goal of persuading Assad to leave power should not be misinterpreted as having a policy to get rid of him. The Obama administration's policy really was a policy of figuring out how to ask nicely with the right words for Assad to step down while helping enemies of Assad enough to get Assad mad at us but not enough to defeat Assad.
So a Trump policy of accepting Assad is no change in policy given that Assad doesn't want to step down.
Leaving Assad in power is a mistake. What part of Iranian puppet and host for Russian military bases is unclear?
UPDATE: Bonus warnings about threats to Syria and Iraq from our absence in Iraq a year before Mosul fell and 6 months before Anbar fell in Iraq.
Will we make the exact same mistake again?