On the occasion of the ISIS march on Baghdad, I’d love to be able to say ‘I told you so’ to all of those who voted for Barack Obama. But stop…he’s not the one who put us in this situation. Remember, the original status of forces agreement called for withdrawal by 2011, and was signed by President Bush. Plus, Obama campaigned in 2008 promising a US withdrawal from Iraq. He delivered on the promise.
I’m no fan of Obama foreign policy. Is it sinister, or just inept? But don’t blame this one on him.
What went wrong?
The first Iraq war was, relatively, a jewel of restraint and competence. Bush 41 was our last WW2 President, maybe his wartime experience provided a sense of caution. Was Bush 43’s approach to Iraq driven by a need to one up his father? What went wrong with the second Iraq war and the occupation?
- President Bush failed to sell the nation on the size of the task. Did he not understand how difficult it would be to govern and rebuild? The American people were never asked to sign up for an expensive, bloody, decades-long struggle to rebuild. If asked, they would have been forewarned, and it is more likely support for the effort would have lasted.
- The civilian leadership apparently didn’t understand what they were facing. Either or both President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld decided to disband the Iraqi army. Chaos resulted.
- There weren’t enough troops. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner is quoted here: “We had concluded that in dealing with a collapsed society and the aftermath of a conflict where the local institutions for security had either been totally discredited through their abuse or had been disintegrated as a result of the conflict, that the intervening power would need a force of approximately 20 men per 1,000 inhabitants in order to maintain security and prevent the emergence of a resistance movement. Translating that to Iraq, it meant between 400,000 and 500,000 men.”
There is a silver lining: hopefully we take this as a lesson, and work harder to reach an agreement with the Afghani government that provides for a responsible, safe transition.
Germany and Japan made it look easy
Good results with the postwar occupation of Germany and Japan may have tricked us into thinking we could do it again; but it seems success in that case was unique and not easily reproducible. A paper by Jesse-Douglas Mathewson lists eight factors affecting the success of an occupation.
- state unity
- state capacity for liberalization
- the security, cultural, and regime-type environment of the occupied state
- the nature of the devastation inflicted by the occupier
- the acquiescence of the occupied state
- the scope of reconstruction
- levels of commitment to the project
- domestic support in the occupier’s homeland
Mathewson says that in nearly every one of these factors, Japan and Germany in 1945 presented better odds for success than Iraq.
President Obama’s foreign policy record provides little hope that he has the intellect and character to respond appropriately. He has antagonized our friends and encouraged our enemies. Consider: in 2008 the UK, Israel, Germany, and Saudi Arabia were among our top allies. Each of them is now disenchanted.
- With the UK, Obama returned a Churchill bust; and sold their top-secret missile codes to the Russians.
- Israel sees a perceived lack of sympathy and public hostility to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Discoverthenetworks.org provides a list of issues.
- In Saudi Arabia, there is unhappiness about Obama’s endorsement of the Arab Spring, his failure to support the moderate Syrian opposition, and perceived pandering to Iran.
The bottom line
- Much of the blame for the disaster in Iraq falls on President Bush for bad decisions and inadequate planning, leading to an unsuccessful occupation. President Obama campaigned on withdrawing American troops, and he followed through.
- So President Obama is left with a fine kettle of fish. His record says he doesn’t have the skills to deal with it. We can hope the President suddenly becomes Churchillian in his wisdom and resolve. I’m not holding my breath.
What should we do? Talk with our regional allies. Get them to find a strategy where they can lead, and we can play a supporting role.