I have praised President Obama’s willingness to kill our enemies but his refusal to support our friends may be the undoing of the Middle East. I have spent a few days reading articles and cogitating on the announcement that we are leaving Iraq at the end of the year.
There are a few strains of thought on this. One is that it is a diplomatic failure that is a mark of losing the peace. Another is to wait and see. Of course Democrats and Paulites are thrilled.
I am betwixt and between the “wait and see” and those who think it is losing the peace. When we toppled Saddam and the Taliban I was hopeful that they would be platforms for destabilizing the Iranian and Syrian regimes. Inexplicably the Bush administration after 2005 and the Obama administration always failed to use our presence in either country to put pressure on these two rogue regimes. Instead, Iran was able to target our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan without retaliation. Syria is vulnerable yet we exert no pressure.
The Iraqi public is ambivalent about our presence there. What they really want is for us to stay but to vilify any pro-U.S. political parties. I think the Obama administration is absolutely right that we can’t stay without immunity from Iraqi law for our troops. They would simply stay as pawns for the worst sort of politicians without it. Whether more skillful diplomacy could do that I’m not sure, but it would be more doable for a more committed administration.
Those troops would likely have helped to stabilize Iraq. Now she will be vulnerable and more easily influenced by Iran. We will lose the possible pressure of troops on Iran’s flank, but as far as I know we were not using that pressure. Moreover, ground troops are the least of Iraq’s military troubles. It needs credible air and sea power to contest with Iran and hold its territory and influence. Those will have to be provided by the U.S. so some deal will likely be worked out in that area.
Which comes to the last point. President Obama may believe that ex-military “contractors” who act as privatized advisors to Iraq can take the place of ground troops for most duties. After all, with a weak economy President Obama can not survive Iraqi “boat people” or the like. No matter what you think of the President he will not want Iraq imploding during his term.
Therefore he may very well have a “contractor plus” strategy in the works. I think we should have stayed in Iraq another five years as its civil institutions took hold, but given that our troops are an expensive target and we were not using them to pressure our main enemies in the region, the argument for removing them is not trivial.
In the end no one knows what will happen in Iraq. But we do know that in Iraq, Americans lead and the dictator was found, tried and executed. In Libya Americans followed and the dictator was killed like a mad dog by a baying mob. I’m indifferent to how dictators die but those who are applauding the American pull out ought to reflect on how messy and violent even welcomed outcomes are likely to be without a U.S. presence.