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Opinion: Columnists

Everything Obama says about Iraq is wrong

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Opinion,Columnists,Barack Obama,Iraq,George W. Bush,Foreign Policy,Charles Hoskinson,Islam,John Brennan,ISIS

President Obama on Monday squeezed another statement on Iraq into his Martha's Vineyard vacation schedule, between a trip to the beach and a fundraiser.

This time it was to congratulate Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi and urge him to form a more inclusive cabinet, while showing the back of his hand to current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has vowed not to step down.

Thus, the president's Iraq policy has come full circle, from denouncing President George W. Bush's policy of regime change to endorsing his own version of it.

Obama has channeled Bush a lot in the past few weeks since the Islamic State became too great a threat for him to ignore. First, it was the "limited" return of several hundred U.S. ground troops beginning in June, then airstrikes starting Friday after the Islamist militant group's fighters got too close to U.S. personnel for comfort.

Amid grumblings from his Democratic base, the president even asked Americans for patience on Saturday, saying, "I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks. ... I think this is gonna take some time.”

But what you won't hear out of him is an apology to Bush. That's because, even though he has been wrong about Iraq all along, Obama still thinks his bumbling approach toward a pale imitation of Bush's Iraq strategy is completely different from what he has been criticizing for more than seven years.

Even as Obama channels Bush, he continues to insist that the United States will not get dragged into "another" war in Iraq, and that there is "no American military solution" to the country's current crisis.

And that's the key to why he's been wrong about it all along: The war in Iraq never ended. Obama just walked away from it and ignored warning signs that it was flaring out of control until he could ignore them no longer. Now he's trying to pretend he can keep a lid on it with a token display of U.S. power.

Meanwhile, Democrats are focused on reviving the nearly 12-year-old debate over Bush's decision to invade Iraq in the first place.



Sure, you can argue that the Bush administration initially mismanaged the effort to replace Saddam Hussein with a friendly government in Baghdad.

(Example: L. Paul Bremer, who had all the arrogance of Gen. Douglas MacArthur without his diplomatic skill, military experience or mass of troops.)

But Obama inherited an Iraq that had been stabilized by the 2007 troop surge and the Sunni Awakening, and he immediately screwed it up.

The United States wouldn't be worrying about whether Maliki will go quietly today if Obama hadn't sat on his hands while Iran negotiated Maliki's return to the prime minister's office after the 2010 election, in which his party finished second — and in the process betrayed Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who had finally been persuaded to participate meaningfully in the political process.

As Dexter Filkins notes in an April 28 New Yorker piece:

The greatest share of votes went to a secular, pro-Western coalition called Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi, a persistent enemy of the Iranians. "These were election results we could only have dreamed of," a former American diplomat told me. "The surge had worked. The war was winding down. And, for the first time in the history of the Arab world, a secular, Western-leaning alliance won a free and fair election."

But, even though Allawi’s group had won the most votes, it had not captured a majority, leaving both him and Maliki scrambling for coalition partners. And despite the gratifying election results, American officials said, the Obama Administration concluded that backing Allawi would be too difficult if he was opposed by Shiites and by their supporters in Iran. "There was no way that the Shia were not going to provide the next Prime Minister," James Jeffrey, the American Ambassador at the time, told me. "Iraq will not work if they don’t. Allawi was a goner."

And the White House, under the influence of Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan (who is now CIA director!), has become a black hole of willful ignorance of the threat posed by Islamist extremism.

Consider this: A militant group that experts believe is more dangerous than al Qaeda ever was managed to set up an Islamic caliphate that controls a large chunk of both Syria and Iraq, along with water, oil, money looted from local banks and tons of the latest U.S. weaponry left behind by the fleeing Iraqi army while the administration clung to the delusion that such an event was impossible and refused even to prepare a response.

Here is what Brennan said on June 29, 2011, while laying out the administration's counterterrorism strategy:

"Our strategy is also shaped by a deeper understanding of al Qaeda’s goals, strategy, and tactics. I’m not talking about al Qaeda’s grandiose vision of global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate. That vision is absurd, and we are not going to organize our counterterrorism policies against a feckless delusion that is never going to happen."

Think about that for a minute: Never. Going. To. Happen. What was that they said about not doing stupid stuff?

Obama's Iraq policy has gone way beyond stupid. It's dangerously incompetent.

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