Recently, anti-government militants led by the Sunni extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have taken many important areas in northern Iraq and are closing in on Baghdad. Baghdad is now extremely threatened, affecting the al-Maliki-led government, which the U.S. launched the Iraq war to cultivate. The situation has attracted attention from American President Obama and others. The U.S. has paid a huge price for the Iraq war in its 36,000-plus military casualties and almost a trillion dollars in economic loss, so it has trouble accepting the sudden change in the Iraq situation, and the fact that Islamic extremists may once again be in power in Iraq. The crisis in Iraq has hit a nerve. Has the U.S. lost its 13-year war on terrorism? Did Obama make major mistakes in his six years of foreign diplomacy? Voices of doubt have been raised and not quieted.
Americans are most worried about another Sept. 11 at home with the change in Iraq. On the surface, the U.S. has made major progress in its war on terror: The al-Qaida leader bin Laden was killed, and while U.S. citizens as well as important domestic and foreign structures have faced some terrorist threats and even attacks, the attacks’ frequency, scope, loss of life and economic losses were not comparable to the Sept. 11 attacks. Obama has also often prided himself on his anti-terrorism accomplishments. Yet, the anti-government militants’ large-scale military movements in occupying northern Iraq have made the U.S. realize the many problems in the war on terror, and generated a reflection and critique of Obama’s foreign policy.
The U.S. is fighting a war without a just cause. The military invasion of Iraq is the root of the problem for the Iraq mess. America used incorrect intelligence to attack terrorists, and under a banner of looking for weapons of mass destruction, a legal government was overthrown and ethnic and religious conflicts were created, leading to chaos and poverty. Soon after Obama came into power, he announced the troop withdrawal from Iraq due to domestic political concerns and international strategic adjustment. While terrorist attacks still constantly happened in Iraq, before political and economic order was restored and people’s lives could be improved, the U.S. military left the country, leaving behind a mess. The promise of transforming Iraq into a democratic and prosperous country is gone without a trace. U.S. anti-terrorism efforts were all about military attacks instead of getting rid of the fertile soil which is breeding terrorism, helping Iraq grow its economy, improving its citizens’ lives, and resolving ethnic and religious conflicts. It is hard to have victory with the American way of anti-terrorism.
The U.S. wants a piece of the pie that is Asia’s rapid economic development; meanwhile, in the long-term, curbing China’s development into a powerful competitor and realizing a strategic rebalancing of power in Asia was another important reason for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Now, as the rebalancing is in effect, Japan’s Shinzō Abe has used the opportunity to expand his pro-military expansion and right-wing agenda; meanwhile, the Philippines and other countries have created non-stop conflicts to disrupt regional harmony and stability. In the Middle East, the U.S. is having more and more problems: It is having trouble solving one crisis before another pops up. The strategic rebalancing of power in Asia is facing another serious test.
How Iraq’s domestic crisis is handled will not only affect the mid-term U.S. elections, but also the political strength of the last two years of Obama’s presidency, and will be an important indicator in the analysis of Obama’s historical standing. Losing Iraq will signify the complete failure of Obama’s anti-terrorism strategies and tactics. Confronted with war chaos in Iraq, Obama has no choice but to face the challenge. The aircraft carriers have arrived in the Gulf, and the aerial attacks on the anti-government militants are also poised to launch. Partnering with Iran to take military action in Iraq is no longer an unimaginable choice.
The author is the Executive Director of the American Studies Center at the China Foundation for International Studies.