Men react at the site of a car bomb attack at a market in the town of Iskandariya, June 2, 2014. A car bomb exploded at a market at the town of Iskandariya,...
Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

Crisis grips Iraq, spurring a familiar U.S. debate

Updated
The security crisis gripping Iraq is real and intensifying. Closer to home, however, there’s a familiar domestic political debate starting anew.
 
In Iraq, militant insurgents, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – an al Qaeda offshoot considered too radical for some in the terrorist network – have seized control of two major cities and may yet launch an attack on Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki wants Parliament to declare a state of emergency, while also quietly reaching out to U.S. officials, inviting military intervention.
 
The White House is “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating conditions, but by all accounts, President Obama is not at all eager to recommit military forces to Iraq, choosing instead to focus on Iraq’s capacity to defend itself.
 
But elsewhere in Washington, a predictable dynamic is taking shape: the same conservatives who were wrong about the war in Iraq before are not only blaming the U.S. president for Iraq’s current crisis, they’re also suggesting Americans re-enter the fight. That includes Kenneth Pollack, as well as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.):
“Our worst fears about Iraq are being realized today. The black flags of Al-Qaeda are flying over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, just as they do over Fallujah. Al-Qaeda affiliated militants are now pressing their offensive into other parts of western Iraq and possibly beyond. This growing threat to our national security interests is the cost of President Obama’s decision to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq in 2011, against the advice of our commanders and regardless of conditions on the ground. […]
 
“[W]e call on the president to explain to Congress and the American people how he plans to address the growing threat to our homeland and our national security interests posed by the rapidly expanding Al-Qaeda safe haven in Iraq and Syria.”
As this debate takes shape, let’s get a few things straight.
 
It’s certainly not surprising that the usual suspects would pretend to have credibility, assume the public will forget how wrong they were, blame Obama, and welcome new U.S. troop deployments, but we already fought a war in Iraq. We already invested blood, treasure, and many years to create an Iraqi government with a fighting chance.
 
For many on the right, the fact that the U.S. president ended one of the longest wars in American history, only to see Iraq struggle on its own, is proof that the war should have been longer. Indeed, by their reasoning, perpetual war was the only responsible course – withdrawal might lead to violence.
 
Kevin Drum’s recent take rings true.
I’m endlessly flummoxed by the attitude of guys like Boot. After ten years—ten years!—of postwar “peacekeeping” in Iraq, does he still seriously think that keeping a few thousand American advisors in Baghdad for yet another few years would have made a serious difference there? In Kosovo there was a peace to keep. It was fragile, sure, but it was there. In Iraq it wasn’t.
 
The ethnic fault lines hadn’t changed a whit, and American influence over Nouri al-Maliki had shrunk to virtually nothing. We had spent a decade trying to change the fundamentals of Iraqi politics and we couldn’t do it. An endless succession of counterterrorism initiatives didn’t do it; hundreds of billions of dollars in civil aid didn’t do it; and despite some mythologizing to the contrary, the surge didn’t do it either. The truth is that we couldn’t even make a dent. What sort of grand delusion would persuade anyone that yet another decade might do the trick?
That’s not a rhetorical question.
 
In Iraq, ISIS hasn’t just made advances, it’s seized control of cities with relative ease. For McCain & Co., that’s proof that our decade-long war obviously wasn’t good enough. Maybe after another decade or two, the argument goes, Iraq would be in better shape.
 
As for the reflexive willingness of some Republicans to blame U.S. leaders for violence in the Middle East, Fred Kaplan makes a compelling case that Iraq’s crisis “has little to do with the withdrawal of American troops and everything to do with the political failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”
Maliki has since backpedaled on all of these commitments and has pursued policies designed to strengthen Shiites and marginalize Sunnis. That has led to the resurgence of sectarian violence in the past few years. The Sunnis, finding themselves excluded from the political process, have taken up arms as the route to power. In the process, they have formed alliances with Sunni jihadist groups – such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. […]
 
One problem always was, and still is, that Maliki had no interest in conciliatory politics on a national level. And that’s why he’s now facing a monumental, even terrifying armed insurgency. His troops in Nineveh province simply folded when they came under attack, not because they weren’t equipped or trained to fight back but because, in many cases, they felt no allegiance to Maliki’s government; they had no desire to risk their lives for the sake of its survival.
 

Foreign Policy, Iraq, John McCain and Neoconservatives

Crisis grips Iraq, spurring a familiar U.S. debate

Updated