Unbelievably, former Vice President Dick Cheney, after being wrong on every foreign policy issue for more than a decade, has again crawled out of his Wyoming cave and begun outrageously sniping at Barack Obama’s performance in foreign policy. Although I am certainly no fan of Obama’s overall performance as president (in the second edition of my book Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, due out in the fall, I rank Obama as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history), he is still cleaning up after George W. Bush in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places (in the book, Bush the Younger gets an even worse score than Obama). In fact, Obama’s foreign policy, despite all of the recent criticism, is really the only shining light in an otherwise dismal presidency. So far, he has the best foreign policy record since Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Although those two chief executives managed to stay out of most foreign imbroglios, Obama has stayed out of some and managed to limit US involvement in others.
Vice President Cheney urged Obama on in Iraq while calling Rand Paul an "isolationist." Like John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Bill Kristol, Cheney believes that if you are not looking for new wars to fight and countries to bomb, you are weak or an isolationist. All of these jingoists are taking advantage of hysteria in the American media over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group’s gains in Iraq to warn of a new terrorist haven in Iraq, which allegedly could bring attackers again to America’s shores.
However, Obama correctly pointed out that ruthless organizations, such as ISIS, usually face a backlash among even those in their own ethno-sectarian group. The roots of ISIS go back to the creation of al Qaeda in Iraq as a response to George W. Bush’s unnecessary invasion and occupation of the country. And Gen. David Petraeus helped bail Bush out in Iraq by taking advantage of al Qaeda’s brutality to turn more moderate Sunnis against the group, thus lowering the violence until US forces could extricate themselves from that nation. The bribes that Petraeus passed out to these moderate Sunnis didn’t hurt either. And in the latest unpleasantness, Petraeus seems to be siding with Obama against Cheney and the hawks by saying that any US military action should be contingent on the Iraqi Shi’ite government including other groups. Otherwise, Petraeus implied, the United States will just be taking sides in another of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian civil wars.
Yet in fractious Iraq, especially with such internecine conflict having occurred from 2006 to 2008, a more inclusive government practicing real power sharing is an illusion. This reality means it is foolish for the United States to sink back into active involvement a civil war that merely went into the shadows for a time.
Despite the hysteria, ISIS may very well be stopped in Baghdad and will likely be rebuffed in Iraq’s Shi’ite south, because it will have far less public support than in Sunni areas that have been oppressed by Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite government. Also, Shi’ite militias were effective fighters in resisting US forces during their occupation of Iraq.
Thus, Iraq probably will become partitioned by war, much as Syria has been. The Shi’a will have the south, the Sunnis the northwest and west, and the Kurds already have a tranquil fortress in the northeast, guarded by capable Peshmerga militias. In fact, although the West heavily criticized Vladimir Putin of Russia for taking Crimea, not a peep of criticism erupted when the Kurds recently grabbed the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and added it to their region.
So ISIS may indeed get to govern part of Iraq and part of Syria (since the government of Bashar al-Assad and other Sunni insurgent groups aren’t strong enough to throw them out). Yet if the United States stops interfering in Iraq, it likely will not be in the group’s bulls eye. By unneeded military interventions, the US has created new Islamist enemies in Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen and then strengthened them by acting as a recruiting poster for jihadist fighters and funding to throw out the "evil foreigners". And let’s not forget why Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda began attacking the United States in the first place – the US military presence on the Muslim holy land of Saudi Arabia. More generally, non-Muslim interventions in Muslim lands set jihadists aflame, for example in Palestine, Chechnya, and Afghanistan (both Soviet and American invasions), to mention only a few countries. And after the United States withdrew from its military intervention in Lebanon in the 1980s, attacks by the radical group Hezbollah against US targets dissipated. Terrorism and guerrilla warfare are usually caused by a grievance and do not stop until the grievance is removed.
It is difficult for jingoists to recognize, let alone admit, that the United States could very well be exacerbating the spread of radical Islamist terrorism. Even if they can’t admit this very apparent truth, some more thoughtful conservatives do take note of the failure of recent US interventions in Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq. To think more of the same in Iraq will have a different result, Einstein would have defined as "crazy."