Everyone knew Iraq would self-destruct at some point after President Obama pulled out our troops in 2011. The military assumed it would have a continuing presence in Iraq with a residual force. They were wrong.
What happened was the result of a perfect storm: two polar opposite, ideologically driven leaders destroyed a fragile Iraq. Both are heads of dysfunctional administrations. Both are divisive leaders. Both had backgrounds in education — Maliki has a graduate degree in Arabic literature. Neither had the training, experience or leadership credentials to be heads of state.
Nouri Maliki is a committed Shiite ideologue, having spent 23 years in exile in Shiite Iran. Similar to the Obama administration, his loyalists run everything and control all the major security agencies. The Sunnis are shut out of government and marginalized. His Sunni vice-president fled the country. Corruption is rampant.
Maliki was known to be anti-American in his early years, so he had no problem with the United States withdrawing from Iraq. He thought he could rule Iraq without American support.
This was OK with Obama, because troop withdrawal was his goal all along. After all, Iraq was the bad war – Afghanistan the good war. Besides, as he said in Fort Bragg in 2011 while referring to “this moment of success … We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable Iraq.” That would sound like a bad joke if it weren’t for the price we paid and will pay in the future. There is no excuse for us to be in this position is Iraq.
Obama’s general attitude about the Iraq war and his goal to lessen America’s footprint around the globe probably motivated him to abandon a Status of Forces Agreement. Initially, he suggested 10,000 troops, and then he mentioned 5,000. The military suggested 20,000 as a residual force. Joe Biden was put in charge of negotiations with Iraq, and he bet his vice-presidency he could cut a deal. We certainly had the leverage, yet it never went anywhere, so we abandoned Iraq. This didn’t need to happen.
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Nature abhors a vacuum. Terrorists love a vacuum. The sad results are unfolding before our very eyes.
This brings us to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) — Levant meaning a region in the Eastern Mediterranean to include Israel, Iraq, Syria, parts of Turkey and three other countries. ISIS is a brutal Sunni jihadist group in Syria and Iraq established in 2004 in Iraq as a part of Al Qaeda. It was thrown out of Al Qaeda because of doctrinal disputes and a belief it was alienating the Syrian population by its brutality.
Unlike Osama Bin Laden, ISIS is making territorial claims, hence its invasion, capture and occupation of Iraqi cities. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, envisages a caliphate stretching across the entire Levant. This means strict adherence to sharia law. Al-Baghdadi was captured by American troops in 2005 and imprisoned at Camp Bucca until he was transferred in 2009 to Iraqi control, which decided to release him in 2010.
There is no question Baghdadi is the world’s premier terrorist, who certainly has eclipsed Bin Laden by going on the move grabbing territory. There is no reason to think that if he is not stopped, he’ll put New York City and other European targets in his sights.
If any good came out of this debacle in Iraq, it has made us realize that the war on terror is hardly over. For these newly minted jihadists it has just begun. (Their stock-in-trade is the suicide vest. They wouldn’t hesitate to risk their lives getting to New York.)
It is hard to believe the U.S. military thought Iraq was ready to stand on its own feet. But it is clear that some of our cadre training Iraqis thought there were some very capable units. My guess is that the U.S. military thought they would have a residual “training” force on the ground in Iraq indefinitely which would take care of any contingencies.
It is estimated that ISIS has about 8,000 fighters in Iraq; hardly enough at some point to either hold ground or take more. In spite of the army’s humiliating defeat in Sunni Mosul, they have about 270,000 troops, with a total of 550,000 adding police and Special Forces.
Simple logic would say that if an army had 550,000 troops facing 8,000 of the enemy, the army could win simply by the enemy tripping over soldiers while fleeing the battlefield. With Ayatollah Sistani’s call for Shiites to fight, they should be able to take the fight to this relatively small group of Islamic extremists, certainly in the south.
With the right leadership, American voters could have been convinced to stick it out to win the peace – particularly given our investment for success in Afghanistan. We have too much invested in lives and money. Yet the president’s legacy requires he abandon Iraq and Afghanistan.
The lesson learned is that ever since Vietnam – unlike WW II – we Americans never will retain the will or have the optimism to win a prolonged conflict and/or occupation. Recall that in 1942, during the dark days of WW II, FDR established the School of Military Government as a division of the Provost Marshall General’s office at the University of Virginia. The army ultimately trained thousands of officers to manage the occupation of Germany and Japan. What chutzpah. We were losing the war in 1942. Roosevelt didn’t tell us.
The invasion of Iraq resulted in a brilliant military victory. The planning for winning the peace was non-existent. It was based on assumptions. Yet we had gotten to the point where an acceptable outcome was probable if the Obama administration had negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement and used our considerable leverage on Maliki. We didn’t.
This is what happened.
John Reiniers is a retired attorney and regular contributor who lives in Spring Hill. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.