When they're in power, Republicans are very good at decrying what they call the "Blame America First" crowd. When they don't hold the presidency ... not so much. For much of the last two years, the GOP has been blaming President Obama and, by extension, the United States itself, for Iraq's descent into chaos.
That makes this an ideal time to review the actual history.
The 2011 "hard out" wasn't an invention of the Obama White House; it was written into the September 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that President Bush negotiated with then Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki. The "surge" had already been completed and its forces rotated out, largely to Afghanistan, which had collapsed from almost five years of neglect.
As the head of a democratically elected parliament, Maliki had his own political interests to consider. His party, Islamic Dawa, was part of the State of Law Coalition. It was not a majority, and most of Maliki's State of Law partners were even closer to Tehran than he was, a remarkable fact, given that Maliki was largely installed by Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force.
Contrary to popular opinion, Iraq did not become an Iranian puppet state in 2011. That happened after the 2005 elections, which is something that the Bush White House should have foreseen. It was predictable that the Shiite majority would want to be represented by a Shiite government. But most of the Shiite governing class had spent the previous 25 years in Iran, having been exiled or forced to flee by Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war.
Iraqis, particularly the Shiite majority, was fed up with the continuing American presence in their country after the Surge. As the 2011 "hard-out" approached, the Iraqis had the perfect tool to force a U.S exit - immunity from local laws. The United States military will not operate in any country without such immunity, and Maliki either couldn't or wouldn't grant it.
This is most likely because Maliki and State of Law very much wanted a mass purge of Sunnis from both the government and, more importantly, the military. The results of the military purge were seen last year, when it ran away from ISIS in Mosul, and last week, when they fled Ramadi without a fight. The Sunnis were the traditional officer class in Iraq, going back to the British colonial mandate. Once they were purged, $25 billion in American military training made no difference at all. It just became a very expensive army that didn't know how to fight.
Obama might have been able to sign a SOFA without legal immunity, but there would have been Republican calls for his impeachment the second a serviceman was arrested by the Iraqis. And it's entirely possible that Baghdad wouldn't have signed a SOFA, even then. The Maliki government had no interest in a continuing American presence. Settling scores with the Sunnis was far, far higher on its list of priorities.
The fantasy narrative is that the Surge "destroyed" al-Qaeda in Iraq, which we now know isn't true. It simply went into hibernation until Syria exploded into civil war, and there is no reason to believe that U.S troops in Iraq would have stopped that. Even at the height of the occupation, the United States did not have sufficient forces to control Iraq's borders, especially those with Syria. There is no reason to believe that a small stabilization force could have prevented Iraqi jihadis from joining the fight in Syria, or returning to expand its conquests. Iraq's sovereign security forces couldn't or wouldn't.
The Iraqis, in their uniquely Iraqi way, are joining Republicans in refusing to accept responsibility for any of this. In fact, they've taken to blaming the United States, as well.
The Iraqis want the Iranian-dominated Shia militias to do the bulk of the ground fighting, whereas the GOP is arguing that the Iranians already have too much of a combat role. The Iraqi Army can't fight ISIS, and Iraq's Sunni neighbours, those with the most directly at stake, refuse to commit ground troops. And air power, in and of itself, has a terrible record at destroying insurgent opposition forces on their territory. If you don't believe me, ask the Vietnamese.
More interestingly still, it was reported this past weekend that the Baghdad government is - through a stunning level of incompetence - indirectly funding ISIS. When ISIS takes a city, Baghdad continues to pay government employees there, the proceeds of which are immediately extorted by the terrorists.
The Iraqis are the authors of their own destruction. They can’t or won’t fight their own insurgents, preferring the politically unacceptable alternative of having Iran do it for them. Not only has Iraq been incapable of controlling its own borders for a decade, they can’t even cut off what might be hundreds of millions of dollars going from its treasury to ISIS.
In the end, Iraq is primarily the fault of the Iraqi government. Yes, there were a stunning number of American missteps along the way, but Baghdad has done less than nothing to protect or defend its own sovereignty. And no president of the United States is going to be able to change that.
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