A man looks at burnt vehicles belonging to Iraqi security forces one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of city of Mosul, June 11, 2014...
Reuters

A problem the United States can’t solve

Updated
If you missed last night’s show, Rachel flagged a piece from Leslie Gelb on U.S. policy in the Middle East that rings true.
What happened in Iraq was history as usual. The U.S. fights in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Vietnam and other places (maybe next in Syria), provides billions of dollars in arms, trains the friendly soldiers, then begins to pull out—and what happens? Our good allies on whom we’ve squandered our sacred lives and our wealth fall apart. That’s what’s happening in Iraq now. […]
 
No amount of U.S. air and drone attacks will alter this situation. This kind of outcome was inevitable for Iraq given the political lay of the land in that country…. Before the United States jumps off another cliff, let’s simply stop and take note of the bloody realities of more than fifty years. These internal civil wars, including the fights against these terrible extremists, are won and can only be won by the people Americans want to help—not by American troops, planes, drones, trainers, equipment and arms.
As conditions in Iraq deteriorate – and there’s no denying the seriousness of the crisis – the domestic debate has turned to some straightforward questions. For example, who bears responsibility for the violence, aside from the ISIS perpetrators themselves?
 
For the conservatives who’ve gotten every aspect of Iraq wrong since 2002, President Obama deserves the blame. That’s insane. It wasn’t Obama who launched a catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003; it wasn’t Obama who ignored warnings about sectarian conflicts in Iraq; and it certainly wasn’t Obama who led Iraq in such a way as to exacerbate those conflicts.
 
Yes, obviously, the U.S. president ended the war – just as he said he would – and withdrew American forces. But the Obama administration left the future of Iraq in the hands of Iraqis, and after a decade of war, sacrifice, investment, and training, there was little more we could do to help Iraq succeed.
 
Nonsense, say the conservatives who’ve gotten every aspect of Iraq wrong since 2002. We could have embraced perpetual war and kept a lid on Iraqi violence by trying another decade – or two, or more – of war, sacrifice, investment, and training. But the root problems the right chose to ignore before haven’t gone away. Indeed, they’re worse. Perpetual war may inexplicably sound appealing to some Republican policymakers, but (a) they have no credibility; and (b) there are many problems perpetual wars can’t solve. This is one of them.
 
Which leads to the second question: what do we do now?
 
Iraqi officials would welcome U.S. military support, probably in the support of air strikes, which or may not happen. But my question for proponents of air strikes has yet to be answered: what happens afterwards?
 
Let’s say the White House grudgingly agrees to intervene, militarily, again. Let’s also say the U.S. mission is a success: we target ISIS and related insurgents, we launch strikes, and we remove terrorists from the field of battle. Then what?
 
Iraq’s political problem will not have gone away; it’ll simply be lurking under a cloud of fire and dust. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki still won’t have an inclusive government; sectarian conflicts will still divide the nation; and the security threats will still linger.
 
For the conservatives who’ve gotten every aspect of Iraq wrong since 2002, the answer is probably more of the same: if insurgents don’t “get the message” with one round of air strikes, then we’d hit them again. And then again. And then some more.
 
How long would this last? They haven’t said specifically, but presumably the answer is indefinitely. It’s not like we can trust the Iraqi military that we’ve spent billions arming and training, right?
 
Obama withdrew American forces in large part because there was nothing more we could do to secure Iraq’s future. The conservatives who’ve gotten every aspect of Iraq wrong since 2002 find that unsatisfying, but – and this is key – reality doesn’t care.
 

Foreign Policy and Iraq

A problem the United States can't solve

Updated