Ruthless persistence is required to successfully pursue national interests in the Middle East. To often western policymaking toward this region has been marked by short-term secularist idealism. This is particularly true in the case of Iraq. President Bush was right to lead an international coalition to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s expansionist and tyrannical regime. Yes, there was a bloody sectarian war after the liberation which claimed thousands of lives, including American lives. However, by the time U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011, Iraq had the chance to be a relatively normal state in that turbulent global region. Sadly, this has not turned out to be the case.
The Obama Administration forgot the lessons of the post-World War II era and failed to realize that sustaining relative peace and stability in Iraq would require a sustained U.S. military presence and liberalized rules of engagement for those troops as occurred in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. It also required crushed and annihilated Islamist enemies which did not occur despite the heroic efforts of U.S., coalition, and Iraqi troops who were limited by the foolish belief that westernized conceptions of the rule of law could be applied to the lex talonis environment of Iraq. This administration is also culpable for failing to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq which would have allowed the continuing presence of U.S. forces to train Iraq’s military and conduct military operations against Islamist insurgents without fear of litigation or restrictive rules of engagement by the Iraqi Government.
Iraq’s recovery also depended on President Nuri al-Maliki’s government reaching out to non-Shias in Iraq and governing on a competent, honest, and nonsectarian basis. Unfortunately, this has not happened has he has advanced this interests of his coreligionist cronies, produced a corrupt and incompetent army that has, with a few exceptions, turned and run tail with the advances of the Sunni Islamist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is so nasty that it has been denounced by Al Qaida. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Consequently, ISIS controls significant portions of Syria and Iraq and may be capable of capturing Baghdad although expert military analysts differ in their assessments of whether this will occur.
This horrific situation has been exacerbated by mass executions imposed by ISIS in captured territory, their desire to impose Sharia law, and by the even more bizarre possibility that Iranian and U.S. interests could align. We should not forget that Iran is a mortal enemy of the U.S. and and our regional interests thanks to their nuclear weapons program and their long-term support of anti-American terrorism. We should abandon any childish notion that we can reach a “grand bargain” with Tehran just because we share a common enemy in ISIS.
It’s stunning to see the Obama Administration’s desire to cut and run from Iraq, based on its animosity toward the Bush 43 Administration, come full circle and bite it in the face. The Obama Administration claimed that Al Qaida was defeated and that Islamist terrorism was no longer a concern for us. The shortsighted folly and stupidity of that belief is breathtaking and dangerous. If ISIS becomes entrenched in that part of the Mideast, and it has the money and weapons to do so, it will be a dagger at the throat of countries such as Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, Jordan, Israel, and the U.S. The likely presence of foreign fighters in ISIS ranks, as reports from the Syrian civil war demonstrate, means that many ISIS participants are from countries such as the U.S. and UK. Don’t think for a moment that these individuals won’t take their battlefield training and skills and export them to their home countries if they get the chance to. We continue forget that militant Islam is a universalist ideology seeking to impose its despotic evil on all corners of the world instead of restricting it to the Middle East. This reality also has relevance for our ongoing debate over immigration as Islamist terrorists may use our porous southern border as a means of infiltrating jihadists into the U.S. In addition, the fact that fighting is occurring at Iraq’s largest oil refinery north of Baghdad has already increased oil prices affecting Americans pocketbooks. This development should signal the Obama Administration to immediately approve the Keystone Pipeline and open up additional federal lands for oil exploration lands for oil exploration and drilling. This is a significant opportunity to enhance North American energy independence and free ourselves from being entangled by Mideast oil.
We will have to engage in sustained air strikes against ISIS targets to stabilize the situation and increase our leverage with the Maliki Government to get its act together to try and build a broader based political coalition that will provide honest and nonsectarian government and be able to resist further Islamist assaults from ISIS and encroachments from Iran. Americans may be tired of Mideast wars but we should not forget that Mideast wars are not tired of us. While the capture of one of the Benghazi consulate bombings is welcome news, this is just one step in a protracted brutal war that must be resolved through intelligence gathering and analysis and battlefield combat instead of naively believing that justice can be administered to terrorists in western legal proceedings. The Iraqi conflict is part of a sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunni Islam lasting over a millennium and the only chance of it being stopped is when participants in this conflict get tired of blowing each other to hell generation after generation and century after century. The stench of Islamic ideology must be removed from the region for that to have any chance of occurring.