Thursday, October 23, 2014

John Nagl's hard truth on Iraq

Over at FP, John Nagl rolls up what is going on in Iraq about as good as anyone else.

I'm just nodd'n my head in agreement.
The United States is now at war in Iraq for the third time in my lifetime, and after being in the middle of the first two I'm planning to sit this one out.
We seized defeat from the jaws of not-quite victory by not leaving behind a force of some 20,000 American advisors to stiffen the spine of the Iraqi Army and, perhaps more importantly, moderate the anti-Sunni tendencies of the Shiite politicians. But once he came into office, U.S. President Barack Obama overruled the advice of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Petraeus, who had since become director of the CIA. Obama's advisors urged him to keep troops in Iraq. Instead, the president chose to fulfill a campaign promise that he would end the war in Iraq during his first term. He abandoned a country in which Americans had been working and fighting continuously for more than 20 years in an effort to build a stable state.

In our absence, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave in to his worst sectarian tendencies, firing Sunni leaders of the Iraqi Army and replacing them with incompetent Shiite cronies. Al Qaeda in Iraq staged a comeback across the border in Syria, where another civil war raged without American involvement to moderate it. And this year, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham came roaring to life, seizing most of the Sunni territory in Iraq. Maliki's stooges abandoned their units under fire, and the Iraqi Army, built with billions of U.S. dollars and at the cost of many American soldiers' lives and limbs, crumbled in the absence of American air power and advisory support. Two years without Americans engaged in combat in Iraq ended in tragedy, and last month the president announced that U.S. combat troops were returning to Iraq to fight yet another war there, this time against the Islamic State.

With luck, we have learned a few things from these decades of war in Iraq: that the enemy has a say about when wars end, that in the absence of American leadership such evil forces will rise to power that we get dragged back in to fix things again, that wars are messy and slow and last a long, long time. Unless we finally get it right, I expect a fourth war in Iraq. I'm not optimistic.

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