Way back in the summer of 2009, when the US withdrawal from Iraq was being touted as yet another great triumph by the Obama administration, we wrote in this space:
"Was withdrawal from Iraq just another campaign promise, made to be broken – like Obama’s pledges on government secrecy and other civil liberties issues? The president’s record, so far, does not bode well for an answer in the negative.
"This administration of self-proclaimed ‘pragmatists’ has no problem dispensing with principles and promises when it’s convenient. And it is decidedly inconvenient to be getting out of Iraq at the very moment we are ratcheting up pressure on our new adversary in the region: Iran."
At the time, this may have seemed a bit of a stretch: after all, the President had secured his party’s nomination – and the White House – largely on the strength of his promise to get us out. And the country, by that time, was more than ready to see the last of Iraq.
So who could’ve foreseen that an American return to Iraq was in the cards? Well, anyone with half a brain, but unfortunately that doesn’t even come close to describing US policymakers and the alleged "experts" of Washington wonkdom.
The regional war many of us predicted would be the inevitable result of the Iraq invasion is now upon us. A group expelled from Al Qaeda known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," or ISIS, has mysteriously arisen, fully armed, like a Muslim Minerva from the head of Allah. Now in possession of Iraq’s second largest city – Mosul, population 2 million – ISIS controls roughly the western third of the country. And they’re marching eastward, taking Tikrit and converging on Karbala and Najaf – the sites of Shi’ite shrines, which the Sunni militants of ISIS are intent on destroying.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is asking the White House for air strikes: Obama is saying "all options are on the table" – including, one presumes, troops on the ground. John McCain is already demanding it, and the outcry from the War Party is getting louder by the moment: Obama, they aver, must "do something." The Iraqi "army" we spent billions training and arming is useless: discarding their uniforms in the street, they can’t run away fast enough. Who will stop ISIS as they converge on the ultimate prize, Baghdad?
The answer is: Iran. Tehran has already answered Maliki’s call to arms, with the elite Quds force taking up positions in the country, including in Tikrit, where they are reportedly retaking the province on the Iraqi government’s behalf. They are also stationed in Karbala and Najaf, guarding those two symbols of Shi’ite power.
When the US invaded Iraq, and destroyed the secular Ba’athist regime, Washington effectively delivered the country to the Iranians. Indeed, Ahmed Chalabi, and his fellow "heroes in error" – who along with his neocon sponsors lied us into war – turned out to be Iranian agents: remember those US raids on his various Iraqi compounds? Tehran was the main beneficiary of the neocons’ war, and now they are moving to claim their prize – before it is ripped out of their hands by ISIS.
This augurs a perfect storm of regional rivalries, one that sets every religious and political faction in the ‘Middle East’ up for a war of all against all. The second phase of the Iraq War has begun: the only question remaining is how big a role will the US play in it?
As I noted in 2009, the Status of Forces agreement we signed with the Maliki government has plenty of escape hatches, which could easily be invoked to send US troops back into the country. Here’s one:
"When any external or internal danger emerges against Iraq or an aggression upon it violates its sovereignty, its political stability, the unity of its land, water, and airspace or threatens its democratic system or its elected establishments and according to the request of the Iraqi government, the two parties will immediately start strategic talks and according to what they will agree on between them the United States will undertakes the appropriate measures that include diplomatic, economic, military or any other measure required to deter this threat."
I can just hear the Obamaites justifying an American re-entry by claiming we have a "treaty obligation" to intervene. Whether this involves drone strikes or some type of air support and even sending in troops is irrelevant, at this point, since the reappearance of US soldiers on the ground is eventually going to be required if Washington decides to shoulder the responsibility of retaking Mosul and environs.
In any case, we have only to consult the theory of what I call "libertarian realism" – the idea that a nation’s foreign policy is determined by internal political factors rather than by objective considerations – to predict what the eventual outcome of this latest "crisis" will be. Rather than be haunted by the accusation that he and his party "lost Iraq," and that the thousands of Americans killed and hideously wounded in that war sacrificed for nothing, the President will start us down the path to re-intervening in a big way. And if his successor in the Oval Office is Hillary Clinton – who supported the war, and up until just the other day, defended her vote in favor – the bigness of the American footprint will soon result in a confrontation with Iran.
In a rational world, re-fighting the Iraq war would be inconceivable: in the world we are living in, however, it is all too probable. If we had a foreign policy that made any kind of sense, we would partner with Iran in keeping the peace in the region: they are in a much better position to clear out ISIS. In our world, however, this is a virtual impossibility: there is too much of a chasm between Washington and Tehran. Indeed, the present crisis could well mean an end to the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, if and when push comes to shove in Iraq.
Our present conundrum is entirely self-manufactured: there was no Al Qaeda presence in Iraq prior to the US invasion, in spite of the Bush administration’s ridiculous attempts to hold Saddam Hussein responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The repressive measures taken by the government we installed – remember those purple-stained fingers that were supposed to symbolize a New Dawn for Iraq? – have done more to consolidate support for ISIS than any other single factor. Our efforts to overthrow Syria’s Ba’athist regime have given ISIS and other radical Islamist groups the space – and the means – to create their "caliphate" in northern Syria and Iraq, where ISIS recently dismantled the border posts. I wonder how many US-supplied arms to the "moderate" Islamists have gone into the hands of ISIS and its allies.
The present mess in Iraq has "Made in Washington" written all over it. But not everyone in Washington is crazy, and the proof is a bipartisan effort to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq. Cosponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), the measure has widespread support, including from some very conservative Republicans like Mike Lee (R-Utah).
If this effort succeeds, it will be a huge roadblock in the path of the drive to start Iraq War III. After all, how is one to make the case for re-intervening at the very moment the official end to the war is being certified?
The last time the War Party tried to pull a fast one – during the alleged Syrian "humanitarian emergency," when Obama was intent on bombing the regime of Bashar al-Assad out of existence – the American people rose up and put a stop to it. It’s not hard to imagine a similar eruption in the case of this latest made-in-Washington "crisis."
This is the only factor keeping the Obama administration in check: fear of the political consequences. Which is why we need to keep up the pressure – and step up the fight for a noninterventionist foreign policy.
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.