President Obama said Friday the United States will not be sending American troops back into Iraq. That was firmer than his earlier comment that every possible response to the sectarian war was on the table. The difference is a important. Insanity, we are told, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Earlier that day, Fourth district Congressman Joe Kennedy, who sits on the Subcommittee on the Middle East of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told a gathering of business people at Friday’s New England Council that “We paid a pretty dear price to get out of Falujah the first time; we shouldn’t have to pay another premium price to get out of Falujah a second time.”
Obama’s language was a little squirrely however. Warning of the “enormous interest” we have in the region, he said any American military action would be contingent upon the government of Iraq being inclusive, the different factions learning to work together and the American-trained and funded Iraqi security forces’ ability to defend their posts not cut and run. The President’s conditional language seemed to me to leave open the question of whether, if those (albeit highly unlikely) conditions were met, the U.S. would indeed go back into Iraq. The President repeated “we can’t do it for them.” But I worry that at some point we’ll try to do it with them.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki brought this chaos on himself. He consistently failed to articulate a compelling national vision and worse failed to lead even modest efforts to bring minority Sunnis into the Shiite-led government, exacerbating sectarian divisions among Sunni, Shiite, Kurds. Far from acting as a national president, he’s closer to being a Shiite thug version of Saddam Hussein, perhaps tolerating a higher level of corruption than did the dictator.
I ache to read the reactions of surviving soldiers of the Iraq wars and listen to the comments of family members who lost loved ones. Veterans who stormed the beaches at Normandy and those who admired their efforts can return after 70 years ago and take pride in what was achieved because of their sacrifices. It’s hard to accept that all that carnage in the Iraqi desert may have been in vain. Or made matters worse. Remember, ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (which translates as the Levant or Greater Syria) was created in the wake of our 2003 invasion, to protect the interests of Wahhabi Sunnis aligned with al Qaeda.
It’s sad to think that just a few years ago, Vice President Joe Biden was calling Iraq one of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements. He was more on target back in 2007, when then-presidential candidate Biden urged a three-region solution for Iraq, separate regions run by Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, under a weak central government in Baghdad. He got the Senate to approve the idea as a policy change for the United States. Naturally it wasn’t binding on Iraq or, for that matter, on Turkey, which, given its restive Kurdish minority, would surely not have gone along.
We definitely don’t want ISIS to develop a safe haven for Al Qaeda activities and revert to the dangers of 9/11. But there is no way the United States can (or should) fashion a democracy there in its own image, certainly no way to resolve permanently the longstanding sectarian differences. The national borders were drawn by colonial powers long ago with little regard for the peoples involved. Maybe it really is time for three separate regions. Even better, how about three separate states? I fear it is too late. Now ISIS is a factor that would not settle for a Iraqi Sunni segment. It wants to reestablish a Sunni caliphate in the region. It’s territorial control now extends from western Iraq to eastern Syria and by definition its name includes at least also Lebanon.
I don’t know what the solution is to getting out of this quagmire. I’m opposed to having the US embrace Iran and its Revolutionary Guards as a way to prop up al-Maliki and his toxic Shiite administration. Serious changes are needed. One start is not to listen again to those like the John McCains, Dick Cheneys, Bill Kristols and Tom Friedmans who led W and his team to destroy the lives of thousands of Americans and countless Iraqis. Anything but getting drawn into the Iraqi quagmire again.
I welcome your comments in the section below.