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Middle East In Flames
How Iraq Was Lost

Who lost Iraq? It’s an exceedingly complicated and nuanced story, but this powerful insider testimony in the Washington Post this weekend from Ali Khedery, one of the longest-serving American officials in Iraq, makes a strong case. A key passage:

On Sept. 1, 2010, Vice President Biden was in Baghdad for the change-of-command ceremony that would see the departure of Gen. Ray Odierno and the arrival of Gen. Lloyd Austin as commander of U.S. forces. That night, at a dinner at the ambassador’s residence that included Biden, his staff, the generals and senior embassy officials, I made a brief but impassioned argument against Maliki and for the need to respect the constitutional process. But the vice president said Maliki was the only option. Indeed, the following month he would tell top U.S. officials, “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” referring to the status-of-forces agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past 2011.

I was not the only official who made a case against Abu Isra. Even before my return to Baghdad, officials including Deputy U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, Odierno, British Ambassador Sir John Jenkins and Turkish Ambassador Murat Özçelik each lobbied strenuously against Maliki, locking horns with the White House, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Maliki’s most ardent supporter, future deputy assistant secretary of state Brett McGurk. Now, with Austin in the Maliki camp as well, we remained at an impasse, principally because the Iraqi leaders were divided, unable to agree on Maliki or, maddeningly, on an alternative.

Our debates mattered little, however, because the most powerful man in Iraq and the Middle East, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was about to resolve the crisis for us. Within days of Biden’s visit to Baghdad, Soleimani summoned Iraq’s leaders to Tehran. Beholden to him after decades of receiving Iran’s cash and support, the Iraqis recognized that U.S. influence in Iraq was waning as Iranian influence was surging. The Americans will leave you one day, but we will always remain your neighbors, Soleimani said, according to a former Iraqi official briefed on the meeting.

After admonishing the feuding Iraqis to work together, Soleimani dictated the outcome on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader: Maliki would remain premier; Jalal Talabani, a legendary Kurdish guerilla with decades-long ties to Iran, would remain president; and, most important, the American military would be made to leave at the end of 2011. Those Iraqi leaders who cooperated, Soleimani said, would continue to benefit from Iran’s political cover and cash payments, but those who defied the will of the Islamic Republic would suffer the most dire of consequences.

The conclusion:

By looking the other way and unconditionally supporting and arming Maliki, President Obama has only lengthened and expanded the conflict that President Bush unwisely initiated. Iraq is now a failed state, and as countries across the Middle East fracture along ethno-sectarian lines, America is likely to emerge as one of the biggest losers of the new Sunni-Shiite holy war, with allies collapsing and radicals plotting another 9/11.

This is, of course, the account of only one official, and other participants would no doubt tell the story in different ways. But the story underlines the degree to which, after immense sacrifices and investments, the United States and many Iraqis were on the verge of better things, only to see the progress dissolve into more chaos and madness than ever. 

Historians will treat this administration much less kindly than journalists so far have done.

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  • Pete

    “Historians will treat this administration much less kindly than journalists so far have done.”

    That’s a no-brainer given that today’s journalists have not only been radically biased towards Obama but have been even enthusiastic agents of spreading his lies & propaganda and covering up Obama’s numerous scandals and lawless behavior. Fact.

  • lukelea

    “with allies collapsing and radicals plotting another 9/11.”

    I hate this bugaboo of another 9/11. 9/11 pales in importance compared to the blood and treasure that has been spent and the loss of US power and prestige in the world as a result of our Iraq invasion and protracted war in Afghanistan.

    To say nothing of the fact that 9/11 was a sucker punch that only succeeded because our guard was down and the Bush administration was almost willfully neglectful. How many Americans have been killed in the US since 9/11? A dozen? Five? A very tiny number in any case. This is not a war on terror it is an excuse, a manipulation of the national security issue for other purposes than defense. Cut it out!

    • S.C. Schwarz

      What nonsense. Bush’s anti-terror initiatives largely worked and now the left says there was never any problem. And when terror resumes, because of Obama”s crushing incompetence, the left will once again say it’s all Bush’s fault. What a perfectly self-contained universe the left lives in: Liberals are right about everything and if something goes wrong it’s always someone else’s fault.

      • Curious Mayhem

        Um, I think you’re both right. There haven’t been any major losses to terrorism in the US since 9/11. But that’s because of both security measures at home and abroad, and drawing al Qa’eda into combat in Afghanistan and Iraq with a trained, equipped army that can crush it in any open battle. Radicals engaged, killed, and on the run over there are — among other things — not available to make mischief here.

        There was nothing specifically lazy about the Bush administration with regard to Islamic terrorism here. That laxity was evident during the Clinton years and before that. It was the rise of globalization in the 1990s that made such attacks here possible. Before the late 90s, it was beyond the possible, and both Clinton and Bush people lacked the attention and imagination to see that something like the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 or the US embassies in Africa in 1998 could be pulled off here as well.

        What it does show, however, is that globalization paradigm, beginning with the last years of Bush, Sr., enthusiastically promoted by the Clintonistas, and extending into the Bush years, was carried into absurd territory once it was applied indiscriminately outside the developed world. The EU pushed multiparty democracy on Turkey and got the AKP. The US pushed multiparty democracy in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya and (with the partial exception of Lebanon) got more Islamic radicals, this time organized as parties, rather than as bands of terrorist jihadis, but in alliance with them.

        And, yes, liberals need to exit their narcissistic, circular-reasoning world of self-referential triviality. The last serious Democratic president was LBJ. Since then, it’s been politicians who can’t take responsibility for anything. There’s too much of a gap between reality and their fantasies. (I’m a former Democrat myself.) I think “lukelea” is a conservative Democrat, more in touch with reality. But my strictures remain.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Hey, I’m a liberal who admits that nothing but a permanent occupation was ever going to work and I just posted separately here the honesty and taxes needed to support it.

        All you conservatives who want to “use” this for the purpose of electing “tax-cutting military hawks” (the essence of Republican rhetoric, but an oxymoron in practice) are not even leveling with yourselves, much less the rest of us.

  • Curious Mayhem

    This confirms everything else I’ve read, that the decision to force Maliki on Iraq, even though he was not the 2010 election winner, was the key Obama decision that sent Iraq back into unlimited sectarian conflict, along with the complete removal of US troops in 2011.

    One of the strangest things about the Bush years was, not just the invasion of Iraq, but the ways in which Bush’s policy strengthened Iran’s position. That wasn’t so clear during his administration because Bush was pro-Israel, opposed to Hizbollah in Lebanon, and kept the sanctions on Iran. It wasn’t clear even in the first couple years of Obama (the Iran sanctions were ramped up) — although Obama’s 2009 failure to support the reform movement in Iran and ridiculous, narcissistic Cairo speech (all about “me, me, me”) were warning signs of what was to come.

    But now we see the full price of that failure, or the failure of Iran policy going back to Clinton. The re-emergence of radical Sunni groups just compounds the failure.

    Many analysts, and almost every Israeli you talk to, have known for 20+ years that the only seriously threatening state actor in the Middle East is Iran. The radical Sunni groups are sponsored as well, not officially by governments, but by private money, mainly from the Gulf. That money made possible al Qa’eda, ISIS/ISIL, the AKP in Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Historians will treat this administration much less kindly than journalists so far have done.”

    You have the right! That he abandoned the seed of Democracy America planted in the backward Muslim culture of the middle-east, at such great cost in blood and treasure, is utterly contemptible. Historians will look back and realize that American’s voted for Obama based on the “Color of his Skin” and NOT on the “Content of His Character”.

    • Fred

      Let’s face it JL, that seed was planted in extremely stony soil and never would have sprouted anyway. The Arabs simply don’t have the cultural or historical wherewithal for democracy other than the “one man, one vote, one time” variety. And “That’s what they said about Germany and Japan” is a canard. Despite their barbarism just before and during the war, both Germany and Japan were essentially civilized societies. Germany was and is a Western European culture and Japan had been Westernizing since the mid-nineteenth century. The Arabs are a bunch of primitive tribesmen. In addition, we destroyed Germany and Japan then occupied them for a decade and still have troops in both places. I doubt seriously the American people would stomach doing to the Arabs what we did to the Germans and Japanese and would even less stomach a decades long occupation of the Middle East. And even if we were capable of and willing to do all that I don’t think it would work. Unlike with Germany and Japan, you’re dealing with essentially barbaric savages not civilized people who temporarily descended into barbarism.

  • FriendlyGoat

    America never “had” Iraqis, so no American can “lose” the Iraqis. The fact is, Islam lost Iraq and nothing is going to change that until Iraqis (and others in the region) lose some of their affection for a false philosophy which wars with itself continuously.

    True, we deposed a dictator and mounted a lengthy occupation at great cost and sacrifice by those who served there.
    One alternative to what we have done would have been to announce our plans to maintain a large force in Iraq on a PERMANENT basis, passed the related income tax increase through the Congress dedicated to covering the present and future (veterans’) costs and passed the expansion of military personnel needed to avoid multiple deployments. That might not have flown well internationally or domestically, but it would have been both honest and perhaps somewhat effective. Most everything else even discussed has been much less honest.

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