Thursday, June 19. 2014
I was thinking about doing a roundup of Iraq/Syria war posts, but despite finding some useful links -- cf. Juan Cole: Who are Iraq's Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?; Bob Dreyfuss: How Iraq's Crisis Got Started, and How It Didn't -- they seemed to be coming in rather scattershot. Then I ran across the following Obama quote in a comment and it pretty well sums up the essential incoherence of the American position(s). Obama's quote was from November 2010 on occasion of "The Erbil Agreement" which secured a second term as Prime Minister for Nouri al-Maliki:
Maliki got his first term in 2006 when the Bush administration conspicuously meddled in Iraq's political process to get rid of then-Prime Minister Ibrahimi al-Jaafari, an intellectual who was considered too socialist and too timid when it came to controlling the Sadr Movement militia (the Mahdi Army), perceived by the US as a major threat to its occupation. Maliki proved to be an effective strong man, but that was partly because the US could offer Sunni Awakening groups protection against Shiite assassination squads. With the departure of US troops, the protection and bribes that the US had provided vanished behind a thin cloud of rhetoric such as Obama spouts above.
Obama's speech is doubly dangerous. The obvious problem is that what he's describing is pure fantasy: Maliki is a sectarian, and the entire basis for his government, indeed the very structure of that government, was a set of tradeoffs designed to cultivate and reward sectarian parties. It may be obvious to Obama that what the Iraqi government needs to do is to is to become more inclusive and fair, but there was no reason to think that any politician in Iraq would put the public interest above his own pocketbook (and that of his own family, clan, etc.). That just wasn't in the cards, and that wasn't an accident: the US built Iraq that way.
Beyond the obvious problem of its fantasy lies a deeper problem in Obama's speech: he's trying to use Iraq's progress toward stability and prosperity as something vindicating Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq. For someone who gained a large chunk of his credibility for his early opposition to the Iraq War, his stance is stupid and insane. It's stupid because it wasn't true and it's falsity would become clear as soon as Iraq's government faltered -- which is what just happened. It's also stupid because it shifts the blame for Iraq's failure from Bush (who was solely responsible for the war) to Obama (casting away the credibility he gained from his antiwar stance). What Obama should have done is to remind people that this was Bush's war each and every time the subject came up, that it was a disaster, and what the real costs have been. Instead, Obama's legacy is littered with speeches like the one above, where he not only lies to us, he lies to himself. That's insane.
Many commentators (e.g., see Dreyfuss above) have pointed out that the Sunni Islamist insurgencies in Syria and Iraq are joined together. That is, after all, embedded in the name ISIS. They've also pointed out that while Iran and Qatar are consistent in supporting their co-religionists, the US is confused, backing Maliki while opposing Assad. It's certainly hard to see either government as worthy of support, nor is there any reason to think that either insurgency would solve anything. Indeed, the only sensible lesson that one can derive from either war is that all those who resort to violence should be condemned. But Obama isn't drawing that lesson, and you have to wonder why. The simplest explanation is that Maliki is "our" guy while Assad isn't, but that assumes continuity between the Bush administration (which was responsible for empowering Maliki) and Obama. Then there's the notion that the US can't help but choose sides and back one with military power -- there's simply no one in power who can think differently.
Still, that's hardly reassuring for the guy who campaigned on how he wanted to change the way we think about war.
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