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Why Americans cannot detach from what's happening in Iraq

“The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him” -- Sun Tzu

When it comes to warfare, our president is not gifted.

It is clear that Al Qaeda is not “on the run” as put forth by the White House, and the entirety of the Obama administration, in the months and days leading up to the November 2012 election.  

It was not true then and the evidence of the falsehood is now more evident than ever. Our allies don’t understand it; and our adversaries benefit from it.

We now have proof that the bulk Obama administration’s foreign policy is failing – badly.

We now have proof that the bulk Obama administration’s foreign policy is failing – badly.  The Chinese are willing to take aggressive, destabilizing actions by insinuating new “security zones” in the Pacific and fear no negative reaction from the U.S. 

The Russians continue to increase their dominance over the former states of the Warsaw Pac and the Middle East and have no concern about our response.  

The Libya conflict was neither “quick nor kinetic” military conflict (taking nearly a year to oust Mummar Qaddafi), and instead we witness the murder of a sitting U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in an Al Qaeda attack. 

Egypt and its people remain completely baffled by the Obama administration’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood – an entity (the Egyptians) has deemed a “terrorist organization”.  We have a complete chaos in Syria where the Obama White House has supported Al Qaeda linked militia – which brings me to Iraq.

Let me be clear – I am in the camp that judged our 2003 invasion of Iraq to be unjustified and ill-conceived.  But, as General Colin Powell famously said “you break it, you own it” – well – we broke it and we were in the process of helping fix it when President Obama decided to abandon the mission of helping Iraq transition into a representative democracy in August 2010.

We now have Al Qaeda-backed militia take control of Fallujah -- this is a major setback to both Iraq’s continued stability and prosperity as well as a signal that the region is moving toward expanded civil and international unrest.  

While the Iraqi government claims it will re-take Fallujah “in a matter of days” the situation will not improve and we’ll see more Al Qaeda  elements taking control of parts of Iraq.

The expanded instability of Iraq is based on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s support  for the Iranians (and the Shia Muslims) and continued isolation and marginalization of Sunni Muslim groups has resulted in the continued destabilization of Iraq.  

What we, the U.S. left, in 2010, as a nascent democracy is slowly devolving into a religious theocracy, and in doing so moving more and more toward civil war.

The situation in Iraq mirrors  that of Egypt before the removal of President Morsi. 

During Morsi’s year in office he went about instilling his political allies in all offices of government, and marginalizing all others for the purpose of a permanent Muslim Brotherhood controlled government – this is what Maliki now seeks: to instill permanently Shia Muslim control of Iraq. 

This White House has supported both of these leaders – and in doing so gone against our own American values of defending democracy.  Further, the support for these leaders has resulted in a demonstrative destabilization of both nations.

But unlike Egypt, in Iraq we had the option to have and maintain a military and diplomatic presence  – we had the option to remain involved in helping that nation move into a tradition of democracy. 

However, our premature departure from Iraq, driven by this White House, has allowed for President Maliki to become radicalized to the point that his own actions supporting the Iranians (Shia) have embolden pro-Al Qaeda militants and given them the upper hand and left President Obama with zero influence or options; in other words, there is no way for President Obama to “impose his will”  on our enemies.

Had we remained, at least for a few more election cycles, it is likely that the Iraqi democracy would have matured and become more robust  (I will not say stable – as any democracy, done well, will maintain a degree of friction between parties and groups).

There is no doubt that had we had a close relationship – and continued military presence, that Iraq would not have been allowed to allow Iran to use its airspace, and therefore become the key rallying point for the Shia uprising (and pro-Al Qaeda success):

Ok – you ask – why does this matter to us? Most Iraqis did not want us there to begin with.  While I feel the original invasion was not justified, we cannot now, after we created the situation, afford to be disengaged and detached from these actions for two reasons.  

First – for better or worse: oil.  While we as a nation are becoming more and more energy independent, our allies and competitors depend on Middle Eastern oil – we must be aware, and involved in this, to defend our own interest, even if we don’t need the oil.

Second – terrorist groups will continue to re-generate and seek to attack the homeland.  The Global War on Terror is not done – it has transitioned.  And it is al Qaeda’s franchises (such as this example in Iraq) are growing strong – with the intent to subvert our allies, and, eventually, be able to project attacks back into the U.S. homeland.

This is not a new problem – but it is getting worse.  

Instead of dealing realistically with threats we face, White House and Pentagon leadership spend time on “science fictionalized” threats.  

In military institutions, even with the Syria crisis at hand, they were not permitted to conduct military exercises regarding Syria – having to “invent” scenarios as to not offend politicians and their bizarre sensibilities.  

We are not even permitted to look directly at the adversaries we face – and the result of which is the chaos we now see as the product of our foreign policy; we no longer have a “reality” based threat understanding.  

There are real issues we need to examine and develop strategies to face them directly – at this point, the Obama administration has not, and there is no indication that it will have a cohesive foreign policy anytime soon.  

This has to be fixed – and it is in our interest to work directly to support those nations who are attempting to transition and establish a tradition of democracy is something we must do.  

Iraq may be too far gone – due to neglect by this White House – that does not mean we can afford to sit on the sidelines and simply “lead from behind” as we watch our friends and allies slide into chaos.  

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a CIA trained former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation "Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan – And The Path to Victory."  His latest book is The Last Line. He is a senior fellow with both the London Center for Policy Research and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. The opinions reflected here are those solely of Lt. Col. Shaffer -- and are not the opinion of the London Center for Policy Research (LCPR), the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) or of any other group or organization with which Lt. Col. Shaffer is affiliated.