Based on the bilateral agreement President George W. Bush signed in 2008, the last contingent of the United States military left Iraq on December 18, 2011. The departure was swiftly followed by a resurgence of sectarian violence. On December 22, 2011, more than a dozen car bombs exploded throughout Baghdad, leaving behind more than sixty dead and another two hundred injured Iraqis. Using these incidents to rid his governments from the two leading Sunni politicians, Tariq al-Hashimi, the Vice President, and Saleh Al-Mutlaq, the Deputy Prime Minister, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, ordered their arrests. Immediately following Maliki’s authoritarian actions to undermine Iraq’s fledgling democracy, he went on national television to celebrate the end of the American military presence. In his speech, rather hypocritically, he called on the country’s political leaders to work together to the benefit of a sovereign, democratic and united Iraq. Thus had began Iraq’s violent descent into its most recent national catastrophe.
Contrary to to the highly politicized and mediatized narrative of the Democrat politicians and their hangers-on in the media, it was President Clinton in February 1998, who declared that Saddam Hussein “threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us. Someday, some way, I guarantee you, he’ll use his arsenal.” Eight months later, both Houses of Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act. The vote in the House of Representatives was three hundred sixty for and only thirty seven against the Act. The Senate passed the same Act by unanimous consent. In December, President Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s WMD capability. Representative Nancy Pelosi chimed in claiming that “Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
When President George W. Bush took office, the Clinton Administration half-hearted Iraq policy was in a shambles. Most significantly, the Iraqi regime banned U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998. Thus, between 1998 and 2003, the international community were kept in the dark regarding the Iraqi regime’s activities and intentions. Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein ratcheted up his rhetoric concerning Iraq’s nuclear capabilities. The U.N.’s Oil for Food program aimed at “containing” Saddam Hussein was criticized on humanitarian grounds, and was violated with impunity by oil-hungry governments. The no-fly zone, instituted after Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north, did not prevent the Revolutionary Guard from carrying out periodic ground assaults in both regions. 9/11 and its aftermath convinced the Bush Administration, Congress and most of the international community that Iraq poses a serious and imminent danger to the region’s stability and world peace.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq suffered from two fatal misconceptions. Politically, members of the Bush national security team were convinced that a decisive defeat of the regular Iraqi army and the elimination of the Revolutionary Guard will be greeted by the majority of the people as liberation from a ruthless autocracy. Militarily, the same national security team and the military high command believed that in the absence of organized resistance Iraqi society will make a seamless and peaceful transition to democracy. Superimposed on these two misconception was an ideological one that neglected to take into account Iraqi history, in particular, its visceral religious, ethnic and tribal divisions. As a result, the United States government and its subsidiary in Iraq the Coalition Provisional Authority under the incompetent leadership of Paul Bremer, ignored the threats from the gradually evolving Sunni insurgency, the Kurdish push for independence, and the Shia majority’s self-serving interpretation of democracy, as an absolute rule by the majority. Mirroring the simplistic thinking of the Bush Administration, the Chiefs of Staff were unprepared to face, let alone tackle, the highly complex political, ethnic, religious and social conditions in Iraq until 2007. The ensuing, and ultimately successful surge, was the correct response to the grimm realities on the ground.
Unlike President George W. Bush, who inherited a multitude of crises from his predecessor, President Barack H. Obama was handed a relatively tranquil Middle East, and a reasonably stable Afghanistan. Equipped with the one-dimensional mind of a community organizer, lacking in knowledge, experience and nuanced thinking, and surrounded by a national security team largely consisting of like-minded amateurs, his administration had done very little to stop Iran, the Maliki government and Bashar Assad from turning the Shia crescent into a hotbed of Sunni insurgency that killed more than three hundred thousand and uprooted more than five million civilians in the region. Trying to accomplish irreconcilable objectives simultaneously with no coherent strategy, his personal diplomacy had been swallowed up by the dangerous waters of the region’s highly complex reality.
The Obama Administration’s most serious failure is not anticipating the consequences of the United States’ irresponsible retreat from the Middle East. Historically, the region had imploded whenever local crises had been allowed to simmer for years and even for decades. Clearly, Obama’s hollow rhetoric of change and reform cynically expropriated by Iraqi politicians of all colors to serve their petty objectives is not working. Today, the initial errors of the Bush Administration and utter incompetence of the Obama Administration are overlooked as conventional wisdom focuses on the price the United States payed for the goals that appear to remain unattainable. What is overlooked, however, that several American presidents had contributed decisively to the most recent crisis in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond. In a situation that is essentially a brutal civil war between the majority Sunni Arabs and the minority Iranian and Arab Shias, neither the loss of power and dignity of the former, nor the desire for equality of the latter can be denied, ignored, belittled and misunderstood. Yet, as long as the United States remains the exceptional power of military might and political compass, it will on occasions be called upon to exercise leadership, and defend the principles of peace and freedom for all.
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Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi is Vice President of Frontiers of Freedom.