Washington, D.C. -- Nine years ago this week, President George W. Bush ordered more than 250,000 troops in a U.S.-led coalition to cross the "berm" on the border of Kuwait and head into Iraq. Weeks later, Saddam Hussein's brutal regime was finished and the despot was in hiding. It was a stunning victory for the force of American arms and leadership. Though it took until December 13 to find the former dictator hiding in a "spider hole" near his hometown of Tikrit, Saddam was eventually tried by his own people, convicted inter alia of crimes against humanity and executed by hanging on December 30, 2006. But Saddam's demise and the installation of a democratically elected government didn't quell the vicious insurgency that began shortly after the liberation of Baghdad.
In November 2008, American voters hired a previously obscure U.S. senator as commander in chief. During his campaign, Barack Obama pledged to "get us out of Iraq" and he made good on his promise. On October 21, 2011, he precipitously ordered all remaining U.S. troops to leave Mesopotamia. The ill-advised decision had three profoundly important unintended consequences:
Unlike the victors of Gulf War I in 1991, none of the 2.2 million American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines who fought and won every battle in Operation Iraqi Freedom -- including nearly 4,500 U.S. personnel killed in combat and more than 32,000 wounded in action -- received a "Welcome Home Parade." Though administration and Pentagon officials won't admit it, the deleterious effect of the hasty pullout and lack of public acclaim has adversely affected military morale and contributed to a spate of damaging incidents involving American personnel in Afghanistan.
The hurried U.S. withdrawal from Iraq emboldened radical Islamists throughout the Middle East, who now claim their jihad succeeded in "driving the American invaders (or crusaders) out of Iraq." This oft-repeated theme is now part of radical Islamist rhetoric in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Lebanon and is disseminated in propaganda organs supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and even al-Shabab.
The rush to "get out" of Iraq, and now from Afghanistan, coupled with major cuts in the U.S. defense budget, has discouraged America's allies and emboldened our adversaries. The most pernicious consequence of our retrenchment is evident in Syria where Bashar Assad's brutal regime is perpetrating a bloodbath.
U.S. influence in the region is now so diminished that our government has been reduced to the role of bystander in a year-long atrocity that has claimed at least 9,000 lives. The Obama administration refuses to offer anything but rhetorical encouragement for the Syrian opposition. But Iran -- supposedly smarting under "severe U.N. economic and diplomatic sanctions" -- continues to provide a full-range of economic, military and intelligence support to buttress Assad's grip on power.
According to refugees arriving in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, thousands of Iranian "volunteers" and members of Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force are now killing Syrians using small arms, artillery and tank ammunition delivered by Iranian vessels and aircraft. The ayatollahs have also sent land mines for emplacement on Syria's borders, dispatched intelligence officers to "assist" in locating, interrogating and torturing captured rebels and sent "technicians" to enhance Syria's air defenses.
Tehran isn't Assad's only ally in the war he is waging against his own people. Until Saudi Arabia threatened to boycott next week's Arab League summit in Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki allowed uninspected Iranian aircraft unfettered over-flight rights to and from Damascus. Both Russia and China have consistently used their veto power in the United Nations Security Council to stymie harsh sanctions against Damascus. And the Russian navy's port facility at Tartus is widely suspected of being used to import banned military hardware and materiel for Assad's army.
On March 21, the day after a Russian ship reportedly delivered special operations troops to the port, the U.N. Security Council issued a "Statement of Support" for a "Syrian peace plan" being advanced by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Since the measure is meaningless, the Russians and Chinese didn't object. The Obama administration considers this to be a great sign of progress. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "This is a positive step. The Council has now spoken with one voice. It has demanded a U.N.-supervised cessation of violenceâ€¦."
Apparently Bashar Assad wasn't listening. Human rights organizations report that another 500 Syrian civilians were killed this week in government-initiated, Russian and Iranian supported military violence furthered by the Obama administration's naĂ¯ve incompetence.
For Americans, the consequence of this ineptness is most visible at the pump. The Syrian catastrophe helps push up the cost of motor fuel and threaten our fragile economic recovery. Gasoline prices this week -- averaging $3.86 per gallon -- are nearly 10 percent higher than a year ago. Independent experts tell us we should expect prices as high as $4.50 or more per gallon by midsummer. All of this because the Mideast mess precipitated by the Nobel Laureate in the White House is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel, the author of the "American Heroes" book series and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.