President Obama’s announcement that the US is sending 300 "advisors" back to Iraq to stave off the rising Sunni insurgency was couched in assurances that "American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq" – but who really believes that? A proven liar – "If you like your health insurance you can keep it" – this President has absolutely no qualms about engaging in systematic deception if it serves his purposes. Indeed, his version of the numbers is in itself a blatant lie: in reality, we are sending 575 military personnel into Iraq, including the 275 marines and troops sent to guard the now-imperiled US Embassy – and that’s just what they’re announcing publicly. God knows what the real numbers are.
Furthermore, the President told us "we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it." This will presumably come in the form of air strikes, but the vague wording gives Obama lots of leeway.
The President went out of his way to spin all this in a way that portrayed it as a decision to limit the use of American military force, but his bald assertion that Americans will not play a combat role is just not credible. What if the Iraqi "army" continues its dramatic collapse and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) enters Baghdad? They’re already in the suburbs of the Iraqi capital: how long before they approach the Green Zone? The rapidity of the ISIS advance militates against making any such declarative statement.
In short, we are, for all intents and purposes, back in a combat role in Iraq – and we aren’t limiting our intervention to purely military means. As the President strongly implied in his news conference, and top administration officials have been saying over the past twenty-four hours, the US is intent on regime change in Iraq – that is, getting rid of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
This has been the one point of unity on both the Obamaite left and the neoconservative right in assigning blame for the crisis: it’s all Maliki’s fault. He is charged with pursuing "sectarian" policies that somehow drove the Sunnis into the camp of ISIS – a group so brutal and sectarian that it was expelled from Al Qaeda. Maliki, says the President, must "reach out" to the rebellious Sunnis – who are even now joining ISIS in droves – and form a coalition "government of national unity." This, we are told, will somehow defuse the well-armed ISIS cadre, who number some 15,000, and prevent Iraq from falling into their hands.
The problem with this scenario is twofold: first, it bears no relationship to reality. A political settlement of Iraq’s ongoing civil war has been out of reach since the very beginning of US involvement, and there’s no reason to believe the various factions will come together as a result of this latest crisis. That’s because it isn’t in their interests to do so: indeed, the advance of ISIS gives all three factions – the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds – what they’ve always wanted: sectarian supremacy within their respective territories.
Which brings us to the second problem with blaming Maliki: Iraq was never a real country to begin with. Its borders, drawn by the British Foreign Office in 1916, were simply the result of post-World War I bargaining by the victors over who would get what pieces of the Ottoman corpse. A series of photos posted online by ISIS, titled "The Destruction of Sykes-Picot" – the treaty that established modern day Iraq – showed their fighters blowing up the berms defining Iraq’s border with Syria, and their fighters pouring through the breach. On Twitter, ISIS triumphantly hash-tagged #SykesPicotOver.
They might have done so much sooner – if Twitter had beeen in existence as early as the first day of the Iraq war. Because from that moment on, Iraq was fated to split into at least three parts, as predicted in this space and elsewhere from the outset. The Obama administration, by committing to gluing this already-pulverized Humpty-Dumpty together again, is embarking on a fool’s errand – and, as such, it suits them to a tee.
The seeds of the Sunni rebellion were planted, ironically, by the very tactics we used to secure our Pyrrhic "victory" in the first place: while John McCain, Dick Cheney, and their neocon amen corner are claiming that this administration "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory," that alleged victory was claimed on the basis of the "success" of the so-called Arab Awakening – an effort by the US to recruit Sunni tribes in the north disgruntled by Al Qaeda’s harsh tactics. These are the very forces now marching on Baghdad under the black banners of ISIS – a fact the Obamaites (and the neocons) blame on Maliki. Yet it was the Americans who gave this group unity – and weaponry – during the "surge," cohering them into an effective fighting force that is now being turned on Baghdad.
The "surge" was the beginning of a general reorientation of American policy in the region, the turn toward the Sunnis – in preparation for the final advance on the real target, which has always been Iran. Blaming Maliki is only a prelude to blaming the real object of Washington’s ire – Tehran.
Back in 2004, the King of Jordan, a key US ally, issued a warning about the danger posed by what he called the "Shia crescent," a swath of territory cutting across the Middle East from Damascus to Tehran, and – with the Israelis quietly urging the Bush administration on – Washington quickly mobilized against this new "threat." The Obama administration took up this policy with a vengeance, openly aligning with radical Sunnis to counteract the rising Shi’ite influence – which was, again ironically, the end product of years of US intervention in the region, starting with our support for the Shah of Iran and ending with the invasion of Iraq.
Our crazy pro-Sunni policy reached its zenith during the phony Syrian "crisis," wherein it was alleged that Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad had used poison gas against Islamist rebels; as it turned out, it was the rebels – with Turkish help – who had carried out the attacks. But we didn’t learn that until much later: what happened in the interim was a full-fledged American alliance with "moderate" Syrian jihadists in a bid to overthrow the Syrian Ba’athist regime. In tandem with Qatar, Kuwait, and the Saudis, Washington poured aid – and arms – into the rebel camp. Amid the kaleidoscopic ideological landscape of the Syrian battlefield, it was and is impossible to tell who is getting arms from where – and if you’re wondering how and where ISIS got the heavy weaponry it is now deploying in Iraq you need look no farther than arms depots in Jordan (and Libya) intended for our Syrian jihadist friends. Indeed, ISIS is proudly displaying its American-made arsenal all over social media, and the claim that all of it was captured from Iraqi forces just doesn’t pass muster.
Yes, we helped arm ISIS, along with our backstabbing Gulf allies – and now we’re sending troops into Iraq who will come under fire from weaponry paid for by American taxpayers. If ever there was a crisis entirely created in Washington, what is happening in Iraq today is a textbook case.
To top it off, in their campaign to oust Maliki the Americans are talking to none other than Ahmed Chalabi – yes, the neocons’ favorite Iraqi politician whose made up "intelligence" on Saddam’s alleged "weapons of mass destruction" was channeled onto the front page of the New York Times by disgraced former journalist Judith Miller. It doesn’t matter to US policymakers that Chalabi was credibly accused by the Pentagon of selling US secrets to Iran – by telling them we had broken the Iranian interagency code. All is forgiven! Incredibly, he is in the running to replace Maliki, with full US backing of course. While this may give the Chalabi Fan Club over at Neocon Central an enormous amount of satisfaction, the rest of us can only look on in sheer disbelief.
As usual, the policy we are pursuing on the ground in the Middle East has zero to do with defending legitimate American interests: it’s pure malarkey to run the "terrorist safe havens" argument up the flagpole, which posits an alleged danger to the United States from ISIS. We are creating more enemies in the region due to our interventionist policies than the public relations departments of ISIS and Al Qaeda combined could ever hope to recruit on their own.
Iraq War III is all about domestic politics: Obama is worried his "legacy" will be tarnished, and his party is concerned about having the "Who lost Iraq?" albatross hung around their necks in 2016.
That’s all the political class in this country cares about: maintaining their own power and prestige. And so the way to approach this issue strategically is to demonstrate that the American people have had it up to here with Iraq, and want no part of another war in the Middle East. We did it when Obama announced he was going to bomb Syria: the War Party was taken aback by the sheer spontaneous power of the protest. Many thousands called their congressional representatives and made it crystal clear that they opposed any new war in the region, whether it be on "humanitarian" or "strategic" grounds.
The American people said "Enough!" – "Basta!" – and it’s time for them to do so again, in no uncertain terms. We here at Antiwar.com are asking our readers and supporters to call Congress and tell them under no circumstances should we send even a single soldier to Iraq. Not one penny, not one GI! And please don’t tell me it’s useless because they won’t listen – they did last time, as politician after politician, inundated with calls from angry constituents, backed away from supporting the supposedly imminent bombing of Syria.
We can win – it just requires action on your part. Go here to find the contact information for your representative in the House: go here to find out how to call your Senator. Call them all – and please do it today. The peace of the world depends on it.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.