Driving residents from their homes, imposing an iron-fisted dictatorship, looting and murder—no, this isn’t ISIS in Iraq. It’s the Shi’a militias backed by Iran and the government that President Obama has a kinda-sorta strategy for working with. The Times of London:
The Iranian-backed Shia militias used by the embattled Iraqi army to fight Islamic State have looted Tikrit and exiled most of its population, a development that will confirm some of the West’s worst fears.
Two months after the supposed liberation of the city that once was home to 260,000 people, it has been turned into a ghost town, controlled by the militias who run it with an iron fist.
The city’s mostly Sunni civilian population has not been allowed to return, even though the Baghdad government has promised to protect their rights.
A Sunni official inside Tikrit said that Shia militias, commanded by Iran, maintained total control over the city. A local force of about 1,000 government police and Sunni tribesmen were little more than totemic and were banned from leaving their bases after sunset.
It’s worth noting that President Obama, who inherited two difficult wars in the region, made exactly the wrong strategic decision about both of them. He abandoned Iraq, where victory was won and remained to be consolidated; he doubled down on what he called the war of necessity in Afghanistan, and six years later is no closer to either victory or a safe withdrawal than he was on the day he took the oath of office. (Indeed, new reports indicate that Iran has been increasing its support for the Taliban in Afghanistan—the same people who have led to more than 2,000 dead and more than 20,000 wounded U.S. servicemen in what has become America’s longest-running war.)
In any case, the people of Iraq, like the people of Syria, face the prospect now of increasingly bitter religious conflict, with escalating atrocities on all sides of the war. The radicalization of Saudi foreign policy, and its growing alienation from the U.S. means that radical Sunnis throughout the region can now count on many more arms with many fewer questions asked than they would have faced if U.S. policy had been more robust and clear-sighted. And of course Iran is on the brink of acquiring billions of dollars in new resources to feed the Shi’a radicals and push the region closer to an even greater catastrophe.
Particularly in his second term, when the consequences of errors made in the quieter years before 2012 have begun to take their toll and the significant misjudgments and missteps made since the election have added to the chaos, President Obama is in danger of the achieving the least successful track record in foreign policy of any American president, bar none. The White House is still hoping, perhaps, that an Iran deal could turn that around, and trade deals could still soften history’s verdict a bit, but with every passing week it looks more and more as if future Democratic presidential candidates will have to persuade the public that they won’t repeat President Obama’s mistakes.
One can still hope that Lady Luck will do for President Obama and the United States what the President’s policies so far have signally failed to do, and bring a little peace and quiet to steadily destabilizing world system. Perhaps President Putin will have a change of heart about Ukraine and about democracy. Perhaps China will stop pushing on the South China Sea. Perhaps a spirit of moderation and compromise will waft across the Middle East. Perhaps NATO and the European Union will re-invigorate themselves even as Iran transforms into a liberal state.
Hope, however, is not a plan. Democratic candidates for 2016 need to start figuring out how to distinguish themselves from the Obama foreign policy legacy; Republicans need to figure out how to position themselves as Goldilocks candidates between George W Bush (too hot) and President Obama (too cold). And all candidates, and those who advise them and all of us who think about American foreign policy and our security, prosperity and alliances, need to begin thinking now about how, starting in 2017, a new administration can best cope with what increasingly looks like a much grimmer and more dangerous world than the one President Obama faced so hopefully back in 2009.