So whose fault is the implosion of Iraq? Bush? Obama?
Back in the real world, Republicans don’t lose wars and Democrats don’t lose wars; America loses wars – which is how US allies and enemies alike judge what’s happening in Iraq right now, and how it will be recorded in the history books. There is certainly something to Robert Tracinski’s analysis – that this was a wish-fulfilling prophesy for Obama, and that, in some deep primal sense, for the Democrats it was necessary ultimately for the Iraq war to be lost. Undeniably lost. And to be seen to be undeniably lost – even if it took five-and-a-half years after Bush’s departure from office, or about the length of the entire Second World War.
Let it be said that there is more than enough blame to go round. I see Senator Lindsey Graham has been all over the airwaves saying we need to work with Iran to help save Iraq from ISIS. This is the same Lindsey Graham who’s been calling for the US to assist Syrian rebels in trying to overthrow Assad, Iran’s client. The Syrian resistance is dominated by the same guys currently overrunning Iraq – the Sunni jihadists of the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”. Consider the now largely erased Syrian/Iraqi border: On the eastern side of this vanished line, a disaffected Sunni who takes up arms against an Iranian client in Baghdad is an enemy of theUnited States whom we must join with Iran in destroying; but, on the western side of this vanished line, a disaffected Sunni who takes up arms against an Iranian client in Damascus is a plucky Arab Spring freedom fighter entitled to the full support of the United States. Granted that this isn’t the easiest part of the world in which to distinguish friend from foe, the way around this abiding problem is not to locate both of them within, literally, the same person.
So Senator Graham is making even less sense than usual.
Let it also be said that President Obama’s antipathy to meaningful military action undoubtedly commands the support of the American people, who after 13 years of slow-motion unwon wars have had enough. By the way, even we supporters of the Afghan and Iraqi interventions are not in favor only of war. There’s a whole section of America Alone (personally autographed copiesof which are exclusively available, etc, etc), beginning on page 158, on the other elements of national power through which an effective sovereign state prosecutes its interests – diplomatic, economic, legal, informational, cultural… They’re what medium-rank nations call “soft power” and Hillary Clinton calls “smart power”. The problem is simple: As inept as they might think the Republicans’ deployment of hard power is, the Democrats’ use of soft power is even lousier. Effective soft power requires great clarity and cunning, neither of which President Obama, Secretary Kerry or anybody else seems to possess.
Hence the chain of dominoes:
~In 2011, in the Arab Spring, the Obama Administration announced it was “leading from behind”. If you were in Cairo, Teheran, Moscow, Beijing and elsewhere, that told you something about American passivity: The superpower had no interest in shaping events but merely in tagging along with them.
~In 2012, in the wake of a well-planned military assault on sovereign US territory in Benghazi and the first murder of a US ambassador in a third of a century, the Obama Administrationchose to pretend that it was something to do with an obscure YouTube video. The President of Libya blamed the attack on Ansar al-Sharia and linked them to al-Qaeda’s Maghreb affiliate, but Obama, Mrs Clinton, Susan Rice and their court eunuchs in the media covered their ears and said, “Can’t hear you.” So the men who sacked the diplomatic mission and killed its staff are all still walking around, but back in California the maker of the unseen video was tossed in jail where he languishes to this day. Again, if you were in Teheran, Moscow, Kabul, Damascus, this seemingly perverse misdirection told you something more about how committed America was to that passivity: The superpower’s preferred foreign-policy posture, even after a direct, bloody assault on its own territory, was to call “Check, please!” and head for the exit.
~In 2013, after Boy Assad in Syria got out his pop’s Hama playbook, Obama found himself hoist on his own rhetorical petard. He’d carelessly wandered off prompter and insisted that, should Assad make the mistake of using chemical weapons, that would be a “red line” for Obama. Assad had a good laugh at that and went ahead and gassed his unfortunate subjects. Obama immediately went around saying that, oh, no, he hadn’t drawn any red line, the international community had drawn a red line. And just to underline the point John Kerry assured the world that, even if it was America’s red line, any military response would be “unbelievably small”. Which was all too believable viewed from Damascus, Teheran and Moscow. Indeed, they believed that Obama’s preferred military response would not be merely “unbelievably small” but undetectably so. As in Benghazi, Washington was looking for the exit. So Vladimir Putin decided to help Obama off his hook by pretending that business about “the world’s red line” was real, and brokering a deal. It was a terrible deal – it left Assad in power, the mullahs as his patron, and put the Kremlin back in the Middle East as a serious player for the first time in two generations. By letting Assad get away with war crimes, it also ensured that no “moderate” opposition would have a chance of unseating him. So effective resistance to the regime fell to the bloodier hardcore jihadists. But Putin and the mullahs correctly understood that Obama would let them erase his red line, and so they did.
~In 2014, hardened and emboldened by their success in Syria, ISIS began annexing Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, and then moved beyond. In Fallujah, on buildings built by the United States, the black flag of al-Qaeda now flies. In Mosul, they helped themselves to half-a-billion dollars, and rode on toward Baghdad in state-of-the-art armored vehicles supplied by the United States. Yesterday they used US Stinger missiles left behind by the fleeing Iraqi forces. The biggest and most expensive embassy in the history of embassies is already being evacuated. The US is presently busy raising LGBTQ flags on its diplomatic missions, but any Baghdad diplomat minded to run it up the Green Zone flagpole is going to have to be quick about it. As before, the United States is at pains to announce that any military response will be “unbelievably small”. Teheran has calculated that at minimum it can get a Shia statelet in southern Iraq, and at maximum the sky’s the limit. That’s to say, at the current P5+1 talks in Geneva, the nuclear negotiations are going nowhere and all the action is in the behind-the-scenes contacts re US-Iranian “cooperation” against ISIS.
You’ll notice that the dominoes are getting bigger. The Arab Spring was a sappy delusion in which sentimentalist pap about the “Facebook Revolution” ran up against the hard, cruel reality of the only viable alternatives to the dictators. In Benghazi, the powder-puff illusions were blown apart, but realpolitik cynics could conclude it’s not an important town, or even an important country, so what’s the big deal? In Syria, we strengthened Russia, Iran and the jihad, but it’s mostly Assad’s hapless citizens who are on the receiving end, so who cares? Between Aleppo and Tikrit, ISIS redrew the map of the Anglo-French Middle East for the first time since 1922 and created a hardcore jihad state, but hey, we can probably blame that on Bush and Cheney, right?
And so the consequences of a shrunken America metastasize – from jihadist gangs in Benghazi to chemical gas attacks in Syria to the world’s wealthiest jihad state in western Iraq to nuclear ayatollahs, the biggest domino of all. Any US-Iranian deal will be like that Bergdahl/Taliban one. The purpose of “cooperation” for the mullahs would be to provide cover for getting them into Iraq, while the purpose of “cooperation” for the Obama Administration would be to provide cover for staying out. So Iranians would be on the ground in the Shia south while a few drones and whatnot would bomb the Sunni Triangle. The bombing raids would end, but the Iranians would remain. And a nuclear Iran would be born not as a global pariah but within the context of a Washington-Teheran rapprochement.
And what of that jihad state straddling the Syrian/Iraqi border? What’s the next 90-year-old Colonial Office line-in-the-sand to get stomped over? What’s the next domino? If you were King Abdullah in Amman, what would you reckon were the chances of your American chums helping you fend off the new pan-Sunni caliphate? What about the Saudis? What about the biggest pool of oil on the planet?
And what of the dominoes beyond? Thousands of nominally “western” citizens – young men from Britain, Canada, Europe and, yes, America – have swarmed to Syria to join the jihad. In Osama’s strong horse/weak horse terms, they’re riding high. But one day they’ll saddle up and return “home” with their western passports, having acquired lots of new and incendiary skills.
The biggest dominoes are yet to fall. But, big or small, all these parties – the ayatollahs, the jihadists, the Russians – have read Washington correctly, and, in the vacuum of American power, all are getting what they want.
Obama has stayed consistently “unbelievably small” from Cairo to Benghazi to Damascus to Mosul, even as the dominoes are getting bigger. America is leaving from behind – going, going, gone.