While the situation in Iraq appears dire, with the army of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria sweeping towards Baghdad, the reaction from most Americans has been non-committal, to say the least. Most of us are war weary and don’t want to see any more of our fighting men and women coming home physically or psychically scarred, or worse.
As is to be expected however, the loudmouths in the GOP who were so quick to beat the war drums after September 11, 2001, are criticizing everything about our recent involvement in Iraq. Well, everything except of course, the fabricated reasons why we invaded Iraq in 2003.
"We had it won," McCain said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. "Gen. (David) Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge. And if we had left a residual force behind, we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are facts. Those are fundamental facts. But President (Obama) wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price."
Did someone forget to remind McCain that the withdrawal of forces was negotiated by Republican President George W. Bush, and that Obama was attempting to keep some troops in Iraq but was preempted by a failure to reach a Status of Forces Agreement?
"It appears to me that the chickens are coming home to roost for our policy of not leaving anybody there to be a stabilizing force," said Sen. Roy Blunt.
No, Sen. Blunt, the chickens are coming home to roost from our ill-advised and illegal invasion of Iraq.
"We’ve got another Benghazi in the making here," Sen. Lindsay Graham said.
Yes, Sen. Graham, let’s bring Benghazi into the discussion. And maybe while you’re at it, you can explain why your party is so intent on investigating the tragic deaths of four Americans but not so concerned about investigating the lies that led to the deaths of 4,400 Americans and countless Iraqis.
New York Times pundit David Brooks called for "a more forward-leaning American posture around the world, an awareness that sometimes a U.S.-created vacuum can be ruinous. The president says his doctrine is don’t do stupid stuff. Sometimes withdrawal is the stupidest thing of all."
But, as Ian Reifowitz, writing for Daily Kos, notes, "The stupidest thing of all is invading a country that hadn’t attacked us, posed no real threat to us, had no weapons capable of reaching us, or any capability to produce such weapons for the foreseeable future."
Despite all the sound and fury coming out of the GOP, the threat posed by ISIS is real and its attempt to establish a caliphate in the Middle East must be dealt with. In the territories it controls, it has already instituted Sharia Law with all of its barbaric punishments, including beheadings, amputations, floggings, crucifixions and stonings. It has implemented a ban on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and an edict on women to wear only all-covering, shapeless clothing and reports have been trickling out of ISIS-controlled areas of summary executions of Iraqi soldiers, police officers and civilians.
President Barack Obama was at first hesitant to get American firepower involved, but on Thursday, he threatened military strikes against ISIS, and in a perfect example of strange bedfellows, Iran has indicated it is willing to work with the United States to defeat ISIS.
"The idea is being discussed internally among the Islamic Republic’s leadership," a senior Iranian official told Reuters. "We can work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East."
Don’t expect the Iraqi army to be much help, though.
"The million-strong Iraqi army, trained by the United States at a cost of nearly $25 billion, is floundering amid poor morale and corruption," notes Reuters.
In fact, there have been reports that some Iraqi soldiers have been showing up for duty wearing civilian clothes under their military uniforms. That’s probably not a sign that they plan to stand and fight against ISIS.
But military force alone will not solve the problem.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s Shi’ite prime minister has done little to heal sectarian rifts that have marginalized many non-Shi’ites, who are easy game for radical elements espousing the overthrow of the current government. ISIS now has joined forces with former Baathist officers who were loyal to Saddam Hussein (you know, the ones the Bush administration fired when it took over Iraq?) and disaffected armed groups and tribes who want to oust Maliki.
Writing for CNN, Derek Harvey and Michael Pregent note that more than 90,000 Sunnis, known as the "Sons of Iraq," were enlisted by America in the battle against Al-Qaeda and al-Maliki agreed, at least in principle, to integrating them into the Iraqi army.
"But this integration never happened," write Harvey and Pregent. "In areas with (or near) Shiite populations, al-Maliki saw the U.S.-backed Sons of Iraq as a threat, and he systematically set out to dismantle the program over the next four years. By 2013, the Sons of Iraq were virtually nonexistent, with thousands of their sidelined former members either neutral or aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in its war against the Iraqi government."
They note that al-Maliki might need to go before the situation can even begin to be resolved.
"In the end, the solution to the ISIS threat is a fundamental change in Iraq’s political discourse, which has become dominated by one sect and one man, and the inclusion of mainstream Sunni Arabs and Kurds as full partners in the state."
It’s been more than a decade since the United States took it upon itself to bring democracy to the region and so far, it’s not been very pretty and the cost to get us where we are now has been incalculable. We will be living with the ramifications of the neo-cons’ grand vision for the time being, as if we’ve fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole. There is no easy way out of this mess, but we just wish the GOP would think about how it got us into this mess before it continues to wail on about how everyone else is to blame except themselves.
~ Brattleboro Reformer