The Ever-Imploding Iraq, Ctd


The Iraqis are requesting help in recapturing Mosul and other northwestern cities from ISIS, but Ed Morrissey doubts there’s anything we can do:

We pulled out all of our forces three years ago when the Obama administration failed to negotiate for a residual force for this exact scenario. In order to land an effective fighting force to defend Baghdad and retake Mosul, we would need to commit tens of thousands of troops and a large amount of materiel in a big hurry. Logistically speaking, that would be a feat worthy of George S. Patton and the Battle of the Bulge in order for us to get to Baghdad before ISIS does, especially with Iraqi security forces collapsing.

Politically speaking, it’s a dead letter. Obama just coughed up five prizes to the Taliban in his haste to get the US out of Afghanistan. Does Iraq really expect Obama to restart the Iraq War all over again after spending his entire national political career speaking out against it?

Let’s get a few things clear here. The American people – much more than Obama – wanted to get out of Iraq completely; and the Maliki government – much more than Obama – wanted the same.  Since the failure of the surge to create anything like a multi-sectarian government, this unraveling was only a matter of time. I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen as we were pulling out, or a year ago. No doubt the Syrian implosion has had an impact. But this is Iraq: a country created to be divided, and requiring brutal authoritarianism to stay in one piece. The idea that the US can actually do anything about this is fantasy.

But a fantasy that the Bloomberg editors embrace:

Much of what is happening in Iraq now is the fault of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has ruled Iraq in far too sectarian a fashion, alienating the very Sunni leaders who helped to subdue ISIL’s precursor in 2007. That complicates matters, and any deal to rescue him should include a binding commitment from him to bring Sunni leaders into the government: These leaders trust the U.S. more than any other player in Iraq.

U.S. involvement would also be needed to overcome the deep tensions and rivalries between the government in Baghdad on one side and the Kurds and Turks on the other. Crushing ISIL may be the one clear common interest they have, yet cooperation is unlikely without diplomatic grease from an outsider, and the U.S. is the only realistic candidate.

They’re really like Charlie Brown and the football.

Something we were incapable of doing with more than a hundred thousand troops in the country is somehow feasible today? The hegemonic knee jerks. Max Boot blames Obama for all of this, of course:

Islamist militants are now in the process of establishing a fundamentalist caliphate that includes much of northern Syria and western and northern Iraq. And that in turn threatens the U.S. and our regional allies because this new Islamist state is certain to become a training ground for international jihadists who will then strike other countries–including possibly ours.

It is harder to imagine a bigger disaster for American foreign policy–or a more self-inflicted one. There was no compelling reason why the U.S. had to pull our troops out of Iraq; if President Obama had tried harder to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement, he probably could have succeeded. But his heart was in troop withdrawal, not in a long-term commitment.

Boot still actually believes that the US should have stayed in Iraq indefinitely. This is a form of madness. Juan Cole, mercifully, provides the perspective that Morrissey and Boot omit:

Those who will say that the US should have left troops in Iraq do not say how that could have happened. The Iraqi parliament voted against it. There was never any prospect in 2011 of the vote going any other way. Because the US occupation of Iraq was horrible for Iraqis and they resented it. Should the Obama administration have reinvaded and treated the Iraqi parliament the way Gen. Bonaparte treated the French one?

I hasten to say that the difficulty Baghdad is having with keeping Mosul is also an indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime (1979-2003), which pioneered the tactic of sectarian rule, basing itself on a Sunni-heavy Baath Party in the center-north and largely neglecting or excluding the Shiite South. Now the Shiites have reversed that strategy, creating a Baghdad-Najaf-Basra base.

And Nader Uskowi stresses that the primary fault lies with Maliki:

After the U.S. withdrawal, Saudi Arabia and Iran have followed sectarian policies in Iraq that have partly caused the present situation; by supporting Sunni militias in opposition to the government and Shia militias in support of it. But at the end of the day, it is the Iraqi government and its leader, who has been in power for two full terms and is trying to stay on for a third term, that should be held responsible for maintaining security and stability in the country.

But what if the country is so constituted that that is impossible without a dictatorship?

(Photo: A picture taken with a mobile phone shows Iraqi soldiers talking as smoke billows behind them on a road in Hawijah, west of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq on June 11, 2014. Jihadists seized all of Mosul and Nineveh province, long a militant stronghold and one of the most dangerous areas in the country, and also took areas in Kirkuk province, to its east, and Salaheddin to the south. By STR/AFP/Getty Images.)