The United Sates has waged war on Iraq under four presidents since 1991. The result of this strategy has always been nothing but chaos.
The many explanations for going to war in Iraq were burdened with ambivalence. In the end, President Obama clearly took the side of getting involved in that civil war, probably in hopes that a new regime in Baghdad could repair the sectarian damage inflicted on the nation by its long-serving premier, Nouri al-Maliki.
U.S. aircraft began bombing Iraq with the multinational Desert Storm operation, the objective being to drive dictator Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Casualties numbered in the hundreds of thousands when four presidents — from Bush senior to Bill Clinton and Bush junior through Barack Obama — waged war in Iraq in order to protect minorities from Saddam Hussein, or to destroy his weapons of mass destruction, or to topple a dictator and prevent another repressive figure from seizing power.
And now? Iraqi cities have fallen one after another, under the onslaught of attacks by a militia just a few thousand strong, attacks by — as Obama calls the Islamic State (IS) — a barbaric gang. The White House assures us that there is no U.S. military solution to the Islamic State problem, but it has launched new attacks against it. The latest American military action was launched from the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush in August, when the world saw the horrifying pictures of fleeing members of the Yazidi religion being killed by Islamic State units. The targeted air attacks had two goals, according to Obama: First, the prevention of more ethnic cleansing, and second, the protection of U.S. citizens in the Kurdish city of Erbil in the north. Advance Islamic State elements are reported to have advanced to within just a few kilometers of the city, where hundreds of U.S. diplomats and many oil company employees are employed. Among the defenders are probably many of the 300 advisors dispatched by Obama in the wake of the city of Mosul’s capitulation to IS units. Some expected air strikes since there were reports of IS atrocities in Mosul.
But Americans show no enthusiasm for supporting yet another unpopular war. That discomfort was partly responsible for the announced attack in Syria that never took place. Government representatives testified in a congressional hearing at the end of July that Islamic State was worse than al-Qaida, and had an organized military as well. Attorney General Eric Holder said the threat of IS fighters infiltrating into the U.S. was “more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general.”
But Obama swore not to allow the U.S. to “be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight.” The hawks, especially in the Republican Party, want more. They say that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 opened the doors to the Islamists and allowed the Islamic State to expand from Syria into Iraq because Obama failed to arm the more moderate groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad. Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, also shared that assessment.
Never Really Victorious
The political current might well be best titled “living with contradictions.” Among other things, it consists of the fact that the IS has its political origins in the extremist branch of Sunni Islam that is supported by America’s good friend Saudi Arabia against the unpopular Syrian leader. Or that Assad’s interests overlap to some degree with America’s desire to see the destruction of the Islamic State. The bottom line is that the attack on Syria so favored by the war hawks a year ago has been strengthened by the IS.
The United States has been at war somewhere in the world for half a century. At the same time, what Obama calls the best military in the world has never really won any victories, save for the invasions of the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. But we shouldn’t think of victory in terms of confetti parades. Foreign Policy magazine writes that in the Middle East, the United States achieved its most important strategic goal since the end of World War II: Largely unfettered access to the vast petroleum reserves there. The Organization of Oil Producing Countries — much feared during the 1970s — hasn’t been heard from since.
Maybe the chaos created by U.S. security policy under various presidents actually does fulfill a purpose, whether intended or not. War nourishes itself, said General Albrecht von Wallenstein during another war that refused to end, the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century.
Of course, it’s not a cast-in-concrete comparison, but still.
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