If a hegemonic power wants to purportedly build a democracy and "liberate" a people, it would do well to listen to what the people say. On January 4th, the Iraqi Parliament voted for US troops to leave the country. The State Department has already rejected this request; instead, seeking to reestablish the US’s strategic partnership with Iraq.
It is true – if the US were to leave Iraq, Iran would likely gain further influence in the country. Geostragetically, this is something that Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney should have considered before the 2003 Iraq invasion. Since then, Iranian influence on the Iraqi government and militias has swollen; whereas, during under Saddam Hussein’s rein it was more of a religio-cultural influence on Iraqis’ Shia majority.
Nevertheless, a further degree of Iranian influence in Iraq may not necessarily be a bad thing.
First off, Iraqis act as a natural check on Iranian influence. While Iraqis protesting Iranian influence was likely overstated by Western media for strategic ends, the sovereign Iraqi people – through protest and representative government – hold a check on Iranian leverage. If, in the end, the elected Iraqi government decides to be more friendly with Iran over the US, that is their call – the US "liberated" them to be free to choose.
The Iraqi government is already friendly with Tehran, even with 5,000 US troops in the country: several militias within Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are openly allied with Iran and many Iraqis view Iran and pro-Iranian militias favorably for having prevented an ISIS takeover. With the US out, pro-Iranian militias within the PMF, including Kata’ib Hezbollah, will have less to target; for they, as a "terrorist" group (as is the nomenclature for anti-imperial organizations), have regularly targeted US bases in Iraq, minus the years during their anti-ISIS alliance of convenience. Therefore, a US exit would likely reduce militia violence and increase Iraqi stability.
The PMF will be more likely to follow Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Mahdi’s July 1, 2019 decree, which ordered the PMF’s integration into Iraqi Security Forces or disarmament. Although this may be a hard sell due to the name recognition the PMF (Kata’ib Hezbollah, included) received after helping defeat ISIS, it may go into effect if the Americans leave, as the PMF’s anti-US troop raison d’etre will then have expired.
Continued Iranian influence would act as a check on an ISIS resurgence in Iraq.
Perhaps most importantly, a US departure will decrease the likelihood of Iraq being the locale for US-Iranian proxy war – with Iraqis as collateral damage.
Alas, it is not up for Iraqis to decide whether to host American troops. Ultimately, it’s up to the most powerful person in the world, the showbiz President Donald Trump and all the ill-conceived, deluded national interests that surround him.
Even if Trump had a backbone to contest the DOD and State Department’s penchant for perpetual war, it would prove inept. For he is an unpredictable, capricious, militaristic attention-seeker who reflects US imperialism gone mad. Within a year of threatening to obliterate North Korea, he developed a cozy relationship with Kim Jong-Un; although this did nothing to move the two countries closer to peace. To stop hurricanes, Trump has suggested using nuclear weapons. According to Trump, climate change is a Chinese hoax.
As a militarist, Trump increased US troops in the Middle East this fall, to protect Saudi Arabia, increased drone strikes fivefold and, most recently, ordered 3,500 additional troops to the region. His so-called Syria withdrawal was a mere movement of troops to eastern Syria, so Turkey’s army could take over the de facto, autonomous Kurdish territory along the northern Syrian border with Turkey.
With the one of the most militaristic and unpredictable presidents in US history, American troops will remain in Iraq – the Iraqi people’s will be dammed. The only thing that could change this is the election of a non-interventionist who shirks at American imperialism – either a Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, or a Rand Paul.
Even then, they’d still have to wrestle with the Blob.
Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company.