It is certainly understandable that after thousands of lost lives and hundreds of billions of wasted dollars, veterans of the war in Iraq are incensed to see the triumphant march of an al-Qaeda offshoot — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (greater Syria or “the Levant”) — through cities they once heroically wrested from terrorist control. After all the American sacrifice, it is infuriating to watch jihadists triumph while Obama idles.
But is it fair to blame these developments on our overmatched commander-in-chief?
Many of us on the right supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein. He was a terror supporter. In those post-9/11 days, there was reason to believe our government was serious about dealing with terror-supporting regimes as if they were terrorists. If Saddam was the next domino to fall after the Taliban, all to the good — it didn’t seem like he’d be the last.
But then the Bush doctrine morphed from a crackdown on the jihad into a reimagining of the Middle East. When democracy predictably didn’t take, the dreamers decided to define democracy down rather than admit failure. “Democracy” somehow became fully compatible with repressive sharia, and we fantasized that anti-Western Islamic supremacists were democratic allies and that Iran would play a constructive regional role.
It was absurd. Yet it was the unquestioned premise for concluding, in 2008, that a sharia state gravitating ever further into Iran’s orbit — an Iraqi state that was dependent on the loyalty of Shiite militias and was already in a simmering conflict with its restive Sunni minority — could be trusted in the imminent draw-down, then complete absence, of American troops to preserve the security gains hard won by American bravery and know-how.
Our troops did astonishing work given the severe limitations placed on them. It was not within their capabilities, though, to democratize Iraq — not unless we were willing to occupy that country for generations with a firm purpose to stamp out its sharia culture. And while our troops demolished al-Qaeda in Iraq, it was not within their capabilities to conclusively defeat a global enemy by demolishing it in one country.
In 2008, we announced we were leaving and provided a timeline for our departure under circumstances where a new American president, bitterly opposed to the war in Iraq, was about to assume power. From that point on, al-Qaeda’s return was inevitable.
Has President Obama been a disaster in Iraq — as in every other place? Sure he has. The security situation in Iraq steadily deteriorated as American forces departed. Maliki was sufficiently desperate that he’d surely have renegotiated the SOFA if Obama had been interested in preserving what our troops had fought for. Obama, however, is all about Obama: He wanted to run for reelection as the president who “ended” the war in Iraq, just as he is now legacy-chasing to be the president who “ended” the war in Afghanistan — even if “ending” really means al-Qaeda and its allies win.
Let’s not pretend, though, that America’s Middle East mess is strictly an Obama production. Today, a Sunni jihadist in Iraq might be killed by an American drone in support, incredibly, of the Iranian military intervention to prop up Iraq’s Shiite government. But if that same Sunni jihadist instead crosses the border into Syria, he will be given American-supplied weapons to fight against the Iranian military intervention that props up Syria’s Shiite government.
That kind of insanity does not happen overnight. It happens after more than 20 years of willful blindness to the ideology of our enemies, and more than 20 years without a strategic vision of the global jihadist challenge.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, was released by Encounter Books on June 3.