I published this on HuffPo on Saturday:
Laughing From His Grave
Nearly 12 years ago, the United States Congress, representing the American people, provided President George W. Bush with the authorization to invade Iraq. Friday, seemingly under this same authorization, American bombs fell again on Iraq.
This is not, however, the Bush Whitehouse. After coming into office and adopting a proto-Bush approach to foreign policy by escalating the war in Afghanistan, participating in Libya’s civil war, and enlarging America’s targeted assassination and drone bombing campaign, the Obama White House has appeared, recently, more reticent in its use of military force.
With the current emergency in Iraq, so far the most apt and discerning quote, and the course of action most likely to bring about some form of peace and stability in Iraq, has come from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest:
“There are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq… These problems can only be solved with Iraqi political solutions.”
This was reinforced by the President himself late Thursday evening: “There’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”
I pray their words are sincere. Certainly the experience of our Nation overseas militarily over the last 13 years supports no other narrative.
If American bombs and bullets were the answer to the civil wars and political disorder in the Muslim world, then the situation would have been resolved in Iraq in 2003. The Obama Administration’s surge of nearly 70,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 would have produced reconciliation among the Afghans and not the bloodshed of the last five years. The American bombs that fell on Libya in 2011 would have created peace rather than the civil war that is still ravaging Libya’s countryside and cities.
Getting re-involved militarily in Iraq’s ongoing civil war would be a mistake. Yes, the current civil war is a result of our 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation, and yes, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is horrid and barbarous. It would be a feel-good, guilt-assuaging, self-justifying exercise to drop bombs, particularly with the images of desperate and dying refugees haunting our television and computer screens. Neoconservatives and liberal interventionists in both parties could applaud this exercise of American “leadership”, regardless of how ineffective or counter-productive the results are. But any help our bombs would provide would be short-lived, completely one-sided and would serve to exacerbate Iraq’s civil war. Sure, we can bomb and we can kill, but then what?
In the North of Iraq, many of Iraq’s Sunnis have aligned themselves with ISIS out of political necessity. This alignment has given ISIS the manpower and popular support needed to conquer territory and continue their campaign of terror against non-Sunni Iraqis. This alignment comes as Iraq’s Sunnis find themselves disenfranchised and marginalized by Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia dominated, and horribly corrupt and cruel, government in Baghdad. Excluded from the government and security forces, as well as large shares of revenue from oil exports, Iraq’s Sunni minority finds themselves, as many Sunnis see it, not just as losing in a contest for relevance, representation and resources, but in an existential fight for survival.
Re-entering the Iraqi civil war, whether by backing Maliki’s Shia dominated forces or the forces of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region, will put the United States back in a position of supporting one side against the Sunnis, just as occurred from 2003-2006 when the Sunnis, with similarly no other choice, sided with ISIS’ predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq. Further marginalization of an already desperate Sunni population will push them closer to ISIS.
Any goal we have in Iraq, and I say that fully recognizing how much we have already overstepped any reasonable bounds in that country with our previous invasion and occupation, should be to re-integrate the Sunni population back into the government, the security forces and revenue. Bombing the Sunnis will force them closer to ISIS, while strengthening an exclusive government in Baghdad. Similar to the mistakes made in Afghanistan by backing Hamid Karzai’s corrupt and exclusionary government with military force, continuing to do the same in Iraq will only provide incentive to al-Maliki’s government not to reform. Answering the political grievances of the Sunni population is the only way to peace and stability in Iraq. Such a path is not available through 500-pound bombs or depleted uranium shells.
I am confident of only a few things. I believe the future holds more terror and bloodshed for the Iraqi people and I am confident of our culpability in that death and destruction. However, I am also confident that, as President Obama rightly stated, America’s military will not fix an Iraqi political problem.
I am also confident, that 11.5 years after we deposed him from power, Saddam Hussein is laughing from his grave.
Just as public pressure stopped the United States from getting involved in the middle of Syria’s Civil War in 2013, calls to Congress will have a similar effect on any potential American entry into the Iraqi Civil War. Please call your senators and representative and tell them to keep American soldiers out of Iraq.