If George W. Bush is to be blamed for the original intervention, Barack Obama shares equal blame for the disastrous nature of the withdrawal he has undertaken. As Filkins puts it, “By 2011, by any reasonable measure, the Americans had made a lot of headway but were not finished with the job.” Barack Obama did not get us into the war in Iraq, and he gained office pledging to get the U.S. out of the engagement. But the U.S. was in, and as a result of his policies, our enemies are emboldened and strengthened. As David Brooks writes today, taking off from Filkins, “the Obama administration took off the training wheels by not seriously negotiating the NATO status of forces agreement that would have maintained some smaller American presence.” The administration expected only minor negative effects from their action. Instead, they ignored all the signs that they were increasing the chances of a full-fledged insurgency led by the most extreme elements among the Sunnis.
Now, as Canon Andrew White, an activist in the Christian community in Iraq, writes on his blog, ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) “has moved into Mosul, which is Nineveh [the main Christian community in Iraq]. It has totally taken control, destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of the prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets. The army and police have fled, so many of the military resources have been captured. Tankers, armed vehicles and even helicopters are now in the hands of ISIS.”
Of course, we know that Iraq is not the only foreign policy disaster Obama has contributed to in the Middle East. He did not act four years ago when he might have been able to give aid to moderate elements in Syria opposed to the Assad regime. Instead, Syria became a staging ground where ISIS has been able to prepare its forces for the fight in Iraq, which is now in danger of spreading to Lebanon and Jordan as well. So Brooks agrees with Filkins, and writes: “By withdrawing too quickly from Iraq, by failing to build upon the surge, the Obama administration has made some similar mistakes made during the early administration of George W. Bush, except in reverse.”
Brooks, I think, is naïve to believe that at this late date, help to Maliki could ease sectarian tensions. The void we left is being filled with Iranian forces. It is fanciful to believe that Maliki would suddenly accept Iraq’s diversity, and balance his administration with substantial Sunni representation. Nor would he be able now, as his army runs in retreat everywhere, to professionalize the army as Brooks thinks possible. It certainly will never happen given the lack of leadership and vision by the current administration.
No wonder John McCain is mad. He has been attacked in the past as one who supposedly is calling for boots on the ground and never-ending war — the charge levied against him by libertarians and paleo-conservatives and non-interventionists. Speaking today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, McCain said — echoing the arguments of Filkins and Brooks: “The fact is, we had the conflict won. The surge had succeeded. And then, the decision was made by the Obama administration to not have a residual force in Iraq.” He pointed out that to this day, the U.S. has troops stationed in South Korea, as it did in other areas of Europe after conflicts came to an end, as in Germany and Japan after World War II, and in Bosnia after the Kosovo crisis ended.
McCain thinks Obama should fire his entire National Security Council — made up largely today of political hacks with no foreign policy experience. He noted after a testy exchange with Mika Brzezinski that during the Bush administration, he argued that Bush should have fired Donald Rumsfeld for the policy he oversaw in Iraq at the time. McCain ended his comments by stating: “We’re talking about a residual force to keep a nation stable, and the American people would support such a thing if it was explained to them.”
I’m afraid that without another team of advisers in place, President Barack Obama will continue to stumble, and the threats facing the United States will only increase. Sometimes, it becomes apparent that “leading from behind” is not a policy.