Obama continues Bush strategies in Iraq and we are in a costly “no win” situation.
President Barack Obama was elected on a platform that emphasized getting out soldiers out of Iraq. Through much controversy he managed to get most of our combat forces back home, but the serious question remains whether by doing so he contributed to the ISIS growth in Iraq. Similar concerns have been voiced over his caution in supporting the hodge-podge of anti-Assad groups in Syria. Some of these are friendly to the United States, some very much problematic, some downright hostile and potentially dangerous to both our interests in the region and to peace in the area in general. Not that those who are hostile to the U.S. are at all shy about asking us for weapons and air support.
Whatever moves we make in Iraq or Syria seem to be fraught with traps and incredibly costly tabs. We have spent so much in this war to date that for those monies we could have provided free college tuition and medical care for years to come. Each “grand strategy” that we have employed from the day George Bush undertook the task of regime change in Iraq through Barack Obama’s continuation results in seemingly insoluble conundrums.
Make no mistake, both Bush and Obama had worthy goals in supporting these “grand strategies,” if we can forget for the moment the errors the Bush administration made some say, not without some evidentiary basis deliberate lies, in justifying our actions in Iraq in terms of weapons of mass destruction. After all, both Iraq and Syria were ruled by vicious dictators, whose very presence made our allies in the region fear disastrous threats from them—some of which may have been exaggerated to encourage our action.
The next time you hear some unthinking individual respond to some annoying leader or group in terms that we have all heard: “Let’s bomb them back to cave man days,” remind them of the complex mess we have gotten ourselves into in Iraq, and many urge, Syria.
Face it. At the core of both crises, we have a sectarian conflict that goes back to the seventh century. And we are asked to take sides in that conflict, either Shia or Sunni.
Ironically, we have supported the Shia in overthrowing the Sunni Hussein, and in Syria we are asked to help overthrow the Shia backed Assad government. Believe me there is no winning the hearts and minds of the peoples involved no matter whatever course we take.
Forgetting hearts and minds for a moment, the hard geopolitical considerations present equal “no win” choices. Consider the group of Arab neighbors in that region, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The only allies of ours going into this mess were Jordan and the monarchical dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. Now that latter description alone suggests a whole set of other potential problems that are obvious and we won’t go into, at this time. Oil rich Saudi Arabia is basically Sunni and has good reason to fear Shia Iran. Iraq was a buffer of sorts when Sunni Saddam Hussein (not a very religiously oriented Sunni,—which must be pointed out in this age of Islamic fundamentalist militants) ruled Iraq. By overthrowing him by definition we were allying ourselves with the Shia, in the absurd hope that they would rule an integrated Iraq sharing their assets and power with the Kurds, in the North (who have their own ambitions of a Kurdistan created from parts of Iraq, Iran and Turkey), and their mortal enemies, the Sunni. The Shia of Iraq have familial and religious ties to Iran. The Iraqi militias that this government is now relying upon to liberate territories taken by ISIS are even more connected to Iran. Naturally, our ally Saudi Arabia, is not very happy with this state of affairs. But wait! On the western border of Iraq lies Syria, now ruled by the dictator Assad, an Alewite,(an offshoot of Shi’ism). This religious tie insured the support of Iran. And, Iran’s surrogate in Lebanon, the terrorist group Hamas, has now sent forces into Syria to support Assad. Naturally, Sunni Jordan is unhappy with this and our non Arab ally Israel, who border the area oof Syria being taken over by Hamas, is alarmed.
Next week I’ll explain how “peace candidate” Obama embraced this Bush era policy that has backfired so badly.