Iraq: We Are All to Blame…pt 2…Barack Obama

Now that we’ve given proper attention to how this whole sordid mess got started we can move on because there is no one whose hands are clean when it comes to Iraq. This might be why President Obama has wisely avoided finger pointing and is instead consumed with addressing the issues as they stand today. I think it’s obvious that President Obama was given a bad hand in Iraq. When he took office American troops were stationed there, but the situation was untenable. President Obama ran on a platform that called for ending both the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Many experts commented that telling your enemy the specific timeline of your withdrawal is not a great war strategy. However, the situation in Iraq was simply one that was not going to be sustainable for America. Americans wanted our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and the situation on the ground in Iraq was bound to deteriorate once America left.

To this end President Obama engaged in some halfhearted talks with Iraqi President Nouri Al- Maliki. Al Maliki was under pressure from Iran not to harbor any American troops and President Obama was under pressure from the American public to end American engagement in Iraq. Both men unwisely bent to the pressure.

As President Obama sought to find diplomatic common ground with Iran and pivot his attention to a surging China, he put Iraq on the back burner. As far as I can see he sat idly by, while Al- Maliki undermined democracy in Iraq by crushing his political opposition and denying the minority Sunnis and Kurds a proper role in government. He did little to address the rising influence of Iran on Iraqi politics and single mindedly focused on American national security priorities. In other words, President Obama focused on situations he could guarantee some results from such as hunting down terrorists with drone strikes, and turned his attention from the more thorny issues of how to respond to the Arab Spring, Iraq, and Syria.

With America out of the picture It was only a matter of time before the situation would deteriorate. President Obama should have pushed harder to secure a military agreement in Iraq. Would it have put American troops in harms way? Yes. Was it unpopular politically? Yes, but sometimes a president needs to make hard and tough decisions which are not backed by public demand or even square with the president’s assumptions about the situation. American military boots were needed on the ground to make it clear that America was present and still focused on Iraq after the war. When we left it sent a message to Iran and other actors in the Middle East that the area was no longer a priority for America. This created a vacuum of power which Iran and President Nouri Al-Maliki exploited to the advantage of Shiite Muslims, which inflamed religious differences across the region.

President Obama further aggravated this situation by hesitating to act in Syria while ISIS and other revolutionary groups were gaining power. He has since tried to rectify this by requesting military supplies to more moderate revolutionary groups which have been fighting against ISIS and the Syrian government (I don’t know how this will fare because those groups are now essentially fighting a two front war). He and other Western Powers mistakenly assumed that the revolutionary groups engaged in Syria would recognize national borders and refrain from spreading their war across the Middle East. President Obama assumed that he could ensure American National Security interests by focusing narrowly on terrorist threats without engaging directly engaging the radical forces that are destabilizing countries throughout the Middle East. This is proving to be more of a stop gap measure than an actual solution to the problem. It seems that by removing American troops from Iraq, President Obama was only able to reduce American involvement in the short term while beginning a countdown to Iraq’s disintegration. As with any speculative activity we can’t be certain that Iraq would actually be better off if American troops had stayed. We can say it couldn’t be worse though. Perhaps it would only have postponed what seems to be the inevitable disintegration of Iraq in the aftermath of the American invasion.