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Violence In Iraq Is Not Obama’s Fault, And The Future Of Iraq Is Not Our Responsibility

US Iraqi Flags

As James Joyner noted just a few days ago, the Iraqi city of Fallujah has, at least temporarily, fallen to a group of militants with at least some kind of lose links to al Qaeda in Iraq, one of the primary militant groups that American troops were fight just a few years ago before our final withdrawal at the end of 2011. Fallujah, of course, is a name that should be familiar to most Americans as it was the sight of more than one intense battle between Americans and militant groups, and a place for which much American blood an treasure was shed. Another such city, Ramadi, is also reportedly the site of intense battles between Iraqi forces and the al Qaeda linked groups that have taken control in Fallujah. None of this is entirely surprising, of course. Ever since the run-up to the most recent round of elections, the sectarian violence that had gripped Iraq ever since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, and which seemed to have died down to some degree in recent years, has returned with a vengeance. Car bombings and other forms of violence have become an almost daily occurrence yet again. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki apparently decided to look the other way as his nation’s air space was used to transport supplies to the Assad regime in Syria, while the western region of the country became an area where the militants fighting with Syrian rebels would often escape into in order to seek safety from Syrian forces. To some degree at least, this cross-border activity appears to be at least part of the cause for the resurgence of the al Qaeda linked offensive that has now taken hold of two cities that were so key to the Iraq War itself.

We haven’t heard very much from the United States Government on the events in Iraq yet, Secretary of State Kerry did make clear that the events in Fallujah and Ramadi are not going to lead to the return of U.S. troops to Iraq:

BEIRUT — Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that the United States is ready to help Iraq in any way possible as that country began a major offensive to wrest control of two cities from al-Qaeda-linked militants. But he made it clear that no American troops would be sent in.

Kerry described the militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, as “the most dangerous players” in the region. But as Iraqi forces launched airstrikes and clashed with the militants in western Anbar province on Sunday, Kerry said it was Iraq’s battle to fight.

ISIS, formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq but renamed to reflect the group’s growing ambitions, has been extending its influence across Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. It is suffering a backlash in Syria, where it lost ground to rival rebel fighters on Sunday. But the Sunni militants’ gains in Iraq present a critical test for the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

They also leave the Obama administration worried about the renewed force of a militant movement once declared all but vanquished in Iraq.

(…)

“This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis,” Kerry said toward the end of a visit to Jerusalem. “We are not, obviously, contemplating returning. We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.”

Kerry didn’t give details of what assistance the United States might provide but said it would do “everything that is possible.” After Maliki appealed in November for more U.S. support in fighting extremists, Washington sent 75 Hellfire missiles and promised to dispatch drones.

Not surprisingly,many on the right to lay the blame for the current violence in Iraq on President Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq at the end of 2011. What such criticism forgets, of course, is the fact that President Obama was merely following the very timetable that had been laid out by his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush. Bush, of course, had entered into an agreement with the Iraqi Government several years previously that provided that the United States would gradually hand over security in the nation to Iraqi forces and, then, to leave the country at the end of 2011. As that deadline approached, there were discussions between the United States and the al-Maliki Government about the possibility of the United States leaving behind a garrison force of some size, the primary purpose of which would be to continue training of Iraqi forces and to supplement security as requested by Iraqi authorities. Negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement that would have accomplished something like that went forward, but ultimately collapsed when al-Maliki was unable to get his own governing coalition to agree to the idea that American forces accused of crimes would be processed via the military justice system rather than Iraqi courts. This is, by and large, a standard part of every Status of Forces Agreement that the United States has in nations where troops are based and  which then Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen called an absolute necessity during an early stage of the negotiations. Without such an agreement, the United States had no legal right to keep troops in the country, so we left Iraq, with the last U.S. troops leaving just about two weeks before the December 31, 2011 deadline.

Despite these facts. and despite the fact that it was the Iraqis who balked at the idea of a further U.S. presence in the country, many on the right seem to think that it was the President’s unilateral decision to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq that is responsible for what is happening in Iraq today. The absurdity of that position is further revealed by the garrison force that the U.S. and Iraqis were talking about two and a half or three years ago would have been so small that it’s unlikely it would  have been able to do anything to stop the uptick in violence we’ve seen since the summer elections. Additional, it’s quite probable that such a force would itself have become a target for militants looking at something to strike at, and that we’d be bringing dead and wounded Americans home from Iraq to this day. What good any of that would have done is beyond me. At some point, U.S. involvement in Iraq was going to come to an end and the Iraqis were going to have to sink or swim on their own. It doesn’t really matter whether that day came two years ago or two weeks ago. The United States had done everything it could in Iraq to create a civil society. Indeed, one could argue that we did more to destroy civil society in Iraq than anything else that the war accomplished. In either case, the future of Iraq was not, and is not, eternally in our hands, and while selling them weapons they need to defend themselves from forces tied to al Qaeda does seem like a good idea, we’re under no obligation to do anything further than that. Indeed, considering what we’ve already done to Iraq over the past two decades, I’m not sure why they’d want us to get any further involved.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Whatever the eventual outcomes end up being in Iraq may not be our responsibility, but I think we can all agree that they will be our fault.

    You break it; you bought it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 2

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    But the Republicans claim George W Bush WON the Iraq war, and then Obama came along and LOST it.

    Ponderous . . . . .

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 4

  3. Mark Ivey says:

    “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”

    ISIS? Archer respect……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  4. Stonetools says:

    The fighting is now a long way from the Iraqi oil fields or the Straits of Hormuz If the fighting gets near any of these, then can start thinking of any intervention.
    I agree with Doug , though, there is no duty to intervene at all. But Iraq is still a huge oil producer. That didn’t go away when we left.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    So the critics’ argument is, essentially, “Those should be OUR boys dying in Fallujah!”??

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 51 Thumb down 5

  6. C. Clavin says:

    This current problem can be traced back to 1996 and the Project for a New American Century (PNAC)…when such intelligent luminaries as Rumsfeld, Perle, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Kagan, Libby, Cheney, Abrams, Bolton, Armitage, and Podhoretz just to name a few…thought getting rid of Saddam would be a brilliant idea.
    If anyone has a problem with what’s going on today…I suggest you talk to those folks.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 6

  7. al-Ameda says:

    The 2003 decision to “break” Iraq was a colossal mistake. Unfortunately, the “pottery barn” analogy holds true. We certainly own the mistake, and we created the circumstances by which Iran and al-Qaeda affiliated groups now hold the balance of power in that region.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 5

  8. rudderpedals says:

    And I went off to find Isis just to tell her I love her (?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. lol says:

    it’s completely your fault. Ever watch a movie about time travel? You must’ve seen the butterfly effect. To say your INVASION AND OCCUPTATION of a country has no effect on their security and stability is impossibly stupid. Only a fool would believe you war criminals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5

  10. MBunge says:

    The future of Iraq certainly is our responsiblity. The best way we can fulfill that responsiblity, however, is by staying the hell out of whatever happens in that country. I don’t believe there’s ANYTHING we could do in Iraq that would make things better.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  11. The fault remains with those who lied America into two costly wars, gave the orders to torture, thereby abrogating treaties, and pocketed wealth untold as the nation teetered on bankruptcy, from which is has not recovered, and the jury remains out that it ever will.

    The executive who gave the orders to torture currently resides in Dallas, TX. His continued freedom makes war criminals out of all Americans.

    The country cannot heal until consequences are realized.

    Seat grand juries today.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 7

  12. Mikey says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:

    Seat grand juries today.

    Never gonna happen. No President will ever authorize the prosecution of his predecessor for actions taken while in office. I’m not sure it’s even Constitutional, and even if it were, no President would limit his own options and those of his successors by doing so.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  13. Scott says:

    Of course , if we support the Maliki and Assad against the Sunnis we would defacto be on the same side as Iran. The complexities of the region make my head hurt. BTW, I have argued here before that Iran would be a more natural ally than the Sunnis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    I just watched the documentary No End In Sight. It takes us up to 2007 of the Iraq war. Nothing really new but it puts everything in one place. The incompetence is truly amazing. They effectively lost the war in the first 3 months.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement that would have accomplished something like that went forward, but ultimately collapsed when al-Maliki was unable to get his own governing coalition to agree to the idea that American forces accused of crimes would be processed via the military justice system rather than Iraqi courts.

    And really, who can blame them for not wanting foreign forces on their land not subject to their laws? Who can blame us, not wanting our forces subject to their kangaroo courts? It was an untenable situation. We had long since worn out our welcome and needed to go.

    Sad that they have to die for our mistakes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Mark Ivey: The surge was a RESOUNDING SUCCESS!!! (in a whisper: except for all those parts that never came to fruition but we don’t talk of them)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  17. C. Clavin says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA:
    In theory I agree.
    In reality the effort would be so fracturing that the damage wouldn’t be worth it.
    It would be nice if they went over seas or to Canada and some other nation took them to Nuremberg. Even then…Obama would have to support the criminals.
    But our real problem is that the people I listed above are still given a forum of any kind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  18. Davebo says:

    @al-Ameda:

    But the pottery barn rule doesn’t exist and never did. Yet another misleading statement from a guy who’s been making them for decades.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  19. Tyrell says:

    If General Allenby and Colonel Lawrence were around, that place would get straightened out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  20. bill says:

    @lol: yet we’re still in germany and japan- they ain’t doing so bad now are they?

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 21

  21. Phillip says:

    @Scott:

    Of course , if we support the Maliki and Assad against the Sunnis we would defacto be on the same side as Iran

    What, it’s okay when it’s Afghanistan, but not when it’s Iraq? What kind of frelled-up logic is that???

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @bill: And what is the cost to us?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. bill says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: way more lives and money ever spent in iraq. we are the worlds police, albeit weaker now- so deal with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @bill:

    we are the worlds police, albeit weaker now- so deal with it.

    #1, we don’t have to be, #2, weaker how? We spend as much on our military as the next 10 countries combined and some of them are our allies.

    As to dealing with it? The loser’s lament.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  25. dennis says:

    @bill:

    Without going into a long list of what is wrong with what you wrote and why, your outdated thinking on this issue is astounding.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @bill:
    Iraq ain’t Japan or Germany…by any stretch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  27. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    No President will ever authorize the prosecution of his predecessor for actions taken while in office. I’m not sure it’s even Constitutional, and even if it were, no President would limit his own options and those of his successors by doing so.

    What this is, in effect, is carte blanche for any president to commit any crime. If you know that you’re never going to be prosecuted, no matter what you do, then what effective restraints do you have? It’s a prescription for lawlessness, the way of a Third World banana republic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  28. gVOR08 says:

    @Mikey: @C. Clavin: You’re correct. It won’t happen. Bush and the rest won’t be sanctioned in any significant way. That said, everything @James in Silverdale, WA: said is true.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  29. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    No President will ever authorize the prosecution of his predecessor for actions taken while in office. I’m not sure it’s even Constitutional,

    There’s no constitutional principle that says that presidents have immunity from prosecution for any crimes they commit. We elect men under the rule of law, we don’t appoint kings under divine right. Or at least, that’s what we should do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  30. Rafer Janders says:

    @bill:

    yet we’re still in germany and japan- they ain’t doing so bad now are they?

    We’re not “still in” Germany and Japan in terms of any military occupation, and have not been since the 1950s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  31. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Be that as it may, I’m not wrong.

    Unfortunately.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    There’s no constitutional principle that says that presidents have immunity from prosecution for any crimes they commit.

    Yes, that’s right. Even if impeached, a President could also be tried:

    Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. C. Clavin says:

    @Rafer Janders:
    Refer to Nixon, Richard Milhous.
    The American people won’t abide by wanton lawlessness…but will if it’s seen as an effort to keep us safe.
    Not saying I agree…it’s just the way it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. rudderpedals says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Refer to Nixon, Richard Milhous

    Patient Zero of government corruption. Rather than healing the country, Gerald Ford’s pardon short-circuited the investigation and punishment that would have left this country stronger while also leaving in place a generation of less than noble fellow travelers who eventually found their way into high office.

    For the pardon alone Ford should be remembered as the one of the worst.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  35. wr says:

    @Tyrell: “If General Allenby and Colonel Lawrence were around, that place would get straightened out.”

    You never actually made it all the way through to the end of Lawrence of Arabia, did you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  36. jd says:

    @lol: “Only a fool would believe you war criminals.”
    Don’t harsh on our ‘Mission Accomplished’ Parade!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. gVOR08 says:

    @rudderpedals: A hundred upvotes if I could. I still remember where I was when I heard the news of the pardon “for all crimes known and unknown”. Always left me wondering what Nixon did that we didn’t know about. And yes, Gerald Ford should first and foremost be remembered for setting a horrible precedent. No wonder they feel they’re above the law. They are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  38. Rob in CT says:

    @bill:

    Holy shit. Somebody dragged out the Germany/Japan comparison. Now? In 2014?

    You’re out of date by at least a decade, bill. That argument was all the rage in late 2002/early 2003, during the runup to the war. I remember trying to point out the important differences between the scenarios, but the pro-war side had their fingers in their ears. Apparently, you never took yours out. As a result, you remain ignorant. Willfully ignorant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  39. Rob in CT says:

    @wr:

    Hahahaha. Seriously. Or looked at the region in question today. Totally sorted out!

    Clownshoes, all the way down.

    More seriously: we do, in fact, bear a lot of responsibility for what happens in Iraq. It’s just that we can’t really do much that is constructive at this point. The one thing I think we should do – allow in refugees/asylum seekers – is probably politically toxic (derp, terrorists, derp).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  40. gVOR08 says:

    @Rob in CT: @wr: There’s an excellent history that includes Allenby’s actions in the M.E. It’s appropriately titled The Peace to End All Peace.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. stonetools says:

    @gVOR08:

    +1 for the recommendation on A Peace to End to All Peace.. Essential for understanding modern day problems in the Middle East, and in the Caucasus as well.

    AMAZON LINK

    I think that the first and maybe the greatest mistaken intervention in the Middle East was to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and replace it with their own forms of empire. By 1920, the British were fighting to put down a Shia rebellion in Iraq (and another rebellion by the Iraqi Kurds). Sound familiar?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  42. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Read A.J.P. Taylor’s remarks on the matter. His analysis:”There must be something in the Mideast that drives men insane” is exactly the same as what my Palestinian-background friend remarked: “everyone in the Mideast is nuts.” His take was that everyone who worried more about the lives of their children than ancient feuds had already migrated. (As indeed he and his family had done.)

    Face it, we’re seeing the beginnings of another religio-sectarian war. The only thing we can do is try to help those who don’t want to be caught up in the middle, geographically constrain the damage, and wait until the fanatics have killed each other off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  43. bandit says:

    @C. Clavin: Then I’m sure you support the prosecution of Obama for ordering the execution of a prisoner which is what the majority of the Nuremburg prosecutions were for. Obama is responsible for abdicating his responsibilities as Commander in Chief – just like every other failure of his putrid presidency

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  44. bob says:

    No venom for the actual people that set the timeline for withdrawal, john? The Iraqis pretty much kicked us out and President Bush set the deadline for us to be out by….. God, am I glad he lost. He has never seen a war he did not want to get involved in….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  45. Rob in CT says:

    @gVOR08:

    Thanks, I may check that out. My gut (not always very smart) says that all that really happened was that the Brits & French took previously Ottoman problems and made them British & French problems (and then, later, these became our problems).

    I see another member of the dead-ender moron brigade has shown up to spew semi-coherent commentary. Why it’s just like old times!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  46. C. Clavin says:

    @bandit:

    the prosecution of Obama for ordering the execution of a prisoner

    WTF are are you talking about?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  47. Rob in CT says:

    I figured he was ranting about the hit on Anwar al-Awlaki. He wasn’t a prisoner, of course, but hey, what are basic facts to rightwingers these days? Just silly obstacles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  48. rudderpedals says:

    I thought he was talking about bin Laden.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  49. al-Ameda says:

    @bandit:

    Then I’m sure you support the prosecution of Obama for ordering the execution of a prisoner which is what the majority of the Nuremburg prosecutions were for. Obama is responsible for abdicating his responsibilities as Commander in Chief – just like every other failure of his putrid presidency

    So, you’re a bleeding heart conservative?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  50. C. Clavin says:

    @rudderpedals:
    So you think Bandit thinks Obama ordered OBL’s execution?
    I’d like to see that proof.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  51. grumpy realist says:

    Standard wingnut: whatever Obama does is WRONG and he should be impeached/thrown in jail/accused of treason. Repeat ad infinutem.

    And they say that we’re the crazy ones….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  52. rudderpedals says:

    @C. Clavin: Not with any conviction on my part, he was vague and I filled in the blanks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  53. Tyrell says:

    @rudderpedals: I remember the time of Watergate well. I totally disagree that a trial of President Nixon would have made this country stronger, in any way, shape, or form. I still believe that Gerald Ford did the right thing in giving a pardon to Nixon. Any sort of prosecution and trial would have divided this country and done a lot of harm. I have always thought that there was more to the Watergate scandal that has not come out in the main stream media. Also, consider this: two attempts were made on Ford’s life. Overall, Ford was an honorable, respected, and capable leader, unlike what this country has had in recent decades.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  54. rudderpedals says:

    @Tyrell: It’s self-serving to credit Ford for keeping the Watergate crimes under wraps. Many embarrassing – possibly criminal – and definitely corrupt – revelations were imminent. What you term a good thing was in reality a tragic coverup.

    Gerry Ford made permanent the divisions in the country. For a reminder of the consequences simply review any survey of public trust towards government, or income equality since the 70s. Or (I prefer this) take a tally of the Nixon knaves continuing to pollute the public sphere. You can’t throw a stone in a Republican convention and not hit a handful of suspects who got their start in the Nixon administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  55. Rob in CT says:

    Hmm. The pardon may have been unjust, but to me this:

    Gerry Ford made permanent the divisions in the country

    is fantasy. The divisions were already there, and would have continued regardless.

    Your point about Nixon’s knaves (nice!) is dead-on though. Dick Cheney being a prominent example. Those people should, at a bare minimum, have had their political careers ended.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  56. rudderpedals says:

    @Rob in CT: Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff really stands out, doesn’t he?

    In an alternate history Nixon was convicted by the Senate, and only then pardoned. Thereafter Ford discovered he preferred statesman and patriot to dumb jock and convened a truth and reconciliation commission to air out the dirty laundry.

    It has to be left to the realm of fantasy as Ford prematurely ejected the investigation and swept it and his remorseless predecessor under the rug.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  57. rudderpedals says:

    @Rob in CT: Made permanent the divisions might have been a little hyperbolic

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0