As the conditions in Iraq continue to grow more serious, the Republican foreign-policy argument has taken shape: we never should have left.
President Obama made public remarks on Saturday morning, characterizing the future of Iraq as a “long-term project.” He added, “Wherever and whenever US facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation as Commander-in-Chief to make sure they’re protected. We’re not moving our embassy any time soon, we’re not moving our consulate any time soon. We’re going to maintain vigilance and make sure our people are safe.”
Prominent Republicans, meanwhile, pushed a very different message. In Iowa, for example, far-right Senate hopeful Joni Ernst (R), who inexplicably believes Saddam Hussein may have had secret WMD, told ABC, “I can say is, what I would have supported is leaving additional troops in Iraq longer, and perhaps we wouldn’t have this situation today.”
Similarly, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent much of the weekend complaining that U.S. airstrikes are inadequate – he called the limited offensive “almost worse than nothing” – before making another Sunday-show appearance and blaming Iraq’s mess on our absence.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), known for his aggressive foreign policy views, slammed President Obama’s approach to the Islamic state militants in Iraq.On CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain blamed the deteriorating situation in Iraq on America’s failure to leave forces behind in Iraq. The senator said Obama’s targeted strikes in Iraq aren’t enough.
If only the U.S. had been willing to commit to an indefinite war, the argument goes, then everything would be fine.
On Saturday morning, Obama fielded a few questions on U.S. policy in Iraq, and a reporter echoed GOP concerns, asking, “Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about pulling all ground troops out of Iraq?” Obama replied:
“What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision. Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system.“And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances. And on that basis, we left…. So let’s just be clear: The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were – a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq.”
That’s not a bad answer, though it’s almost beside the point.
The GOP argument seems to be, if only the Obama administration had committed tens of thousands of U.S. troops to Iraq, and left them there for the indefinite future, Iraq would be stable and there’d be less violence. It’s hard not to get the impression that these critics somehow slept through the last decade or so.
Obama’s response, in effect, is that the decision wasn’t ours to make. But put that aside for a moment. If we follow the Republicans’ argument to its next logical steps, some fairly obvious questions arise. If the United States decides it’s in our national-security interests to prevent violence, weaken ISIS, and deter sectarian conflicts in Iraq, it necessarily means a vastly expanded U.S. military presence. How many American servicemen and women should be deployed to maintain stability in Iraq? McCain and his allies haven’t said, exactly, but the answer appears to be, “As many as it takes.”
And how long should Americans expect these deployments to last? McCain and his allies haven’t elaborated on this front, either, but again the answer appears to be, “As long as it takes.”
What we appear to be dealing with, in other words, is conservative Republican hawks – literally, the exact same people who’ve been wrong about nearly every aspect of U.S. policy in Iraq for over a decade – arguing that we need an undetermined number of American troops engaged in Iraq for an indefinite period of time.
And for the near future, any conceivable point on the calendar will be too soon for withdrawal, of course, because withdrawal could lead to more violence and chaos. So, the prescription remains eerily familiar: war without end.
More than a decade after GOP hawks created this disaster, they’ve somehow managed to learn nothing.