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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Iraq: I hate to say "I told you so", but...

I'm going to take time out from working on the book and professional obligations to say something that does not come out of any sense of pride or gloating.  There is nothing at all to crow about regarding this.

That said, it has been a long-time contention of this blogger that our getting involved with Iraq was a mistake of unimaginably severe proportions.  For as long as this blog has been active I have written on many, many occasions (like here and here and here and here) that the United States should never have set out to topple Saddam Hussein from power.  And why is that?

Because as evil as Saddam was, he was the only thing keeping Iraq from imploding and making the situation worse than it already was.  My line of thinking was that Iraq is (or was) like Yugoslavia under Tito: a strong ruler who keeps all those otherwise-warring factions in line, under penalty of death and destruction.  When Tito died it was just a matter of time before Yugoslavia came apart at the seams and began eating each other alive.

Iraq, divided between Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, as well as what used to be populations of Christians and Jews (before they had to flee) was like that.  It was held together by a strongman figure.  That strongman being Saddam Hussein.  Without that strongman, Iraq as a stable presence in the Middle East was not possible.

That is the biggest reason why the United States should never have become involved with Iraq, why we never should have made it our mission to remove Saddam Hussein.  History argued against such a thing.  No, worse: history raged against such a thing.

But at the time we had a president and an administration that wasn't very keen on history, were they?

And now we've got a president who, whether he wanted to or not, inherited the responsibilities that came with that mistake.

What responsibilities?  Only the ones that came with removing Saddam Hussein from the equation.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  Worldly politics far more so.

The United States removed Saddam Hussein from being the strongman in Iraq.  And when it did, it was the United States itself that became the strongman.  We bought it.  We owned it.  We paid for it with the blood of thousands of soldiers, marines and other service personnel.  We committed ourselves to Iraq.  When we took out Saddam Hussein, we effectively became the power that Saddam Hussein was.  Albeit we saw ourselves as the more benevolent.

We thought that same benevolence would transform Iraq into a bastion of democracy in the Mid-East.  We thought that doing so would absolve ourselves of any future responsibility.  We thought that all of our sacrifices had been worth it.

The past several days have proven that they were not.  And that in all likelihood they will not.

We should have never gone into Iraq to begin with.  We should have not left Iraq, ever.

The two most recent Presidents of the United States have together perpetrated the most massive affront to wisdom, to humanitarianism, and to responsibility in the entire history of this country.

What we are seeing now in Iraq, with the takeover of that country by ISIS and now the threat of civil war, would in every likelihood not be happening had the United States veered completely away from involving itself more than eleven years ago.

We are witnessing what could only be described as the beginning of a caliphate which may stretch from Syria through Iraq into Iran and beyond.  A stable Iraq was the bulwark against that happening.  The United States these past several years was the bulwark against it.

We never should have gone into Iraq.  But we did.  And when we did, we could not afford to leave Iraq.

This is a call that I made more than ten years ago.  I have no reason to celebrate it.  This is an instance where I absolutely hate it that I was right.

What we are seeing in Iraq today is going to only get worse.  A lot of people are going to die.  People who don't have to.

If anyone wonders why I don't write as much about politics as I used to, I can only say this: that I'm thoroughly disgusted with the ways and means of this world, if this is the best that our "wisdom" can accomplish.


Unknown said...

Not only was previous administration not keen on history, they also were ignorant of the vast chasm between differences in Eastern and Western cultures. The worldview of the Middle East is completely different from that of the US. Democracy isn't always the best option, because if it was it would "work" universally.

Matt LaCoe said...

There were multiple reasons to go into Iraq in 2003. Some were classified and some were not. I will only cover what wasn't classified. Saddam's regime was a training hub and safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. We know this, it was also a great location for them to strike other areas of the Gulf States causing problems with our closest Arabian Allies. You also had the issue of a country that owned vast stores and chemical weapons training future terrorists. This marriage of two could have been horrid if they ever brought their plans to fruition.

Now to address the reasons that Iraq did not function as a diplomatic government. This cause boils down to one main cause. The prime minister....he was told prior to our departure that he must incorporate the Sunni's in the economic development of the country. He failed to do this and in doing so created additional despair. The Sunni were the first to rise up against Al Qaeda and helped to make large forward strides that allowed us to stabilize the country. They did this with the understanding that they would not be left from the dinner table so to speak. The reality is that they were. Iraq is broken into three main areas that Chris already hit on. However, to understand the tensions you have to understand the geography of the country. The Sunni's are dominant in the Western portion of the country which has almost nothing of economic value on it's lands. The Oil and Seagoing trade routes are in Shia controlled areas of the Southern & Eastern areas. The Kurdish have control of other oil fields in the North and access to vehicle routes into turkey for trade. Hussein took over the country with the Sunni so they could have a chance to thrive as the economy of the Western area wasn't there to sustain them. Once they were left from the table they got all fired up again.
Now let's look at the ISIS faction from Syria. These guys are the ones that Obama armed with modern U.S weapons to fight in Syria. They used this plight to acquire arms and then fight back through Iraq and simply outgunning the Iraqi Army with more modern weaponry. The Sunni in the West welcomed them as they recognize this may be the best chance for them to survive economically. There are multiple issues and all could have been avoided if the proper steps were taken at the right times. If you have any questions of me feel free to find me on face book and message me there, or contact Chris and he can give you my info...but, I hope the provides a bit of light on the current situation.

Chris Knight said...

Matt, that is a very strong lesson you have provided about the current situation in Iraq and how ISIS has become such a strong force there. You also touched upon something that I am seeing very, VERY little admission of in the mainstream press: that ISIS is using weaponry that we gave the Syrian resistance fighters (who are far worse than the existing ruling regime in that country). We are already announcing that we are sending armed forces to Iraq. It would be horrible, horrible irony if U.S. soldiers were fired upon by, literally, our own weapons.

I do question the issue of Saddam's Iraq with Al Qaeda, however. Even during the run-up to the war there was considerable evidence that Saddam and Bin Laden's organization had no relationship. Was Al Qaeda at work in Iraq? No doubt some from that country were recruited into Al Qaeda but to the best of my knowledge there was not any contact or communication whatsoever between Saddam and Al Qaeda and in fact apparently Saddam went out of his way to shut Al Qaeda out of Iraq completely. The U.S. intelligence community eventually conceded that there was no connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam's Iraq.

That said, you touch upon something also that is gonna be REALLY interesting to watch: how Sunni ISIS is going to play out across the region. If Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was bad, ISIS left unchecked will throw the Mid-East into far wilder chaos.

Good thoughts Matt.