How many times will Americans be told that “the legacy of Iraq” has taken its toll on a war-weary country and stymied our ability to project strength and determination in the Mideast generally and military intervention in Syria specifically? Since I have yet to hear someone articulate what that legacy is, it is difficult to give credence to the concept that Bush’s “wrong war” has intimidated the Obama administration into utter incompetence and complete fecklessness.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal on the twelfth anniversary of 9/11, William Galston posited:
Through [the] fog of confusion [pertaining to the decision to attack Syria], we can discern some large truths. The legacy of Iraq is powerful, in political parties and in the citizenry. Most people would welcome a resolution of the Syrian crisis achieved without American military power.
The third sentence is simply a truism. We would be hard-pressed to find a significant number of Americans who relish the thought of military intervention when alternative and viable non-violent solutions are available. When civilized people go to war, they do so because attempts at diplomacy and other means to reach a peaceful resolution have failed. American military power is the last resort, not the Plan A. It never has been, including when America went into Iraq under the leadership of George W. Bush.
Galston instead falsely puts forth the notion that his second sentence is a truism (and, in his view, a large one). But he fails to articulate what the legacy of Iraq is. It cannot be that people would prefer a resolution to conflict that does not involve military power, since we have already established that that is a trait of civilized nations. So on what do he and others base this narrative that if it were not for our intervention in Iraq, we would invade Syria with the shock and awe required to bring down Assad?
When the U.S. began the military campaign against Saddam Hussein, America was united. I recall an impassioned debate with a French friend who is a career U.N. peace-keeper. He questioned the American government’s commitment to see the war through and worried that we would simply dethrone Saddam and exit the battlefield, leaving the country in ruins. I argued that President Bush would ensure not only that we would win the war, but also (rightly or wrongly) take on the task of nation-building prior to pulling our troops out. Perhaps Bush was idealistic, but the hopes of bringing democracy to the region proved possible — until he left office.
What I and others who supported the war did not anticipate was that the endeavor would take as long as it did, and that an anti-war Democrat like Obama would take over the helm. Obama inherited an Iraq that resembled a burgeoning democracy. It is now a crumbling republic that is slowly becoming yet another Iranian proxy due to Obama’s premature withdrawal of our troops.
My friend and I were both correct. Notwithstanding the toll that it took on his presidency and the Democrats’ desire to see him fail, Bush was determined to keep troops in Iraq until its newly and democratically elected government was stable. On the other hand, the Obama administration has proven not to have the stomach (cojones) to ensure that the blood and treasure left behind in Iraq served the purpose of winning a war, establishing a stable government under which democracy could flourish, and sending the message to the world that America’s strength and resolve are second to none.
Perhaps my friend’s fears have proven more accurate than my promises. I did not predict that the U.S. electorate would elevate to the highest office in the land an administration comprising of individuals who voted against the surge and who had no respect for the Iraqi people, the soldiers who fought for our country in the name of freedom and national security, or the U.S. legacy.
When people talk about our credibility as a nation in the context of Obama’s Syria bungling and bumbling, they miss the point that we lost all credibility when we abandoned what we started in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is no surprise that the mullahs in Iran, Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, and even Moammar Gaddafi in Libya have not feared taking on the U.S. While Libya is seemingly an anomaly in the sense that we did provide military force in a “leading from behind” capacity, we left that country in shambles, with its stockpiles of weapons falling into terrorist hands and the Benghazi attacks on the 9/11 anniversary as the legacy of that intervention.
The result of Obama’s dangerous decisions is that Iraq is turning to Iran for support in its internal struggles with al-Qaeda and regional enemies. And this is not, as Galston asserted, because Americans prefer diplomacy to military might — we long ago had boots on the ground in Iraq and had established positive diplomatic relations with its new government. We also had a critical ally. No longer — instead of discussing the use of Iraqi airspace for U.S. and/or Israeli fighter jets to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, we are reading that Iran’s jets are utilizing that prized possession in order to fly weapons to its puppet, Assad, to help him win Syria’s civil war. Our legacy in Iraq — and Obama’s legacy to the world — could very well be a Russian/Iranian/Syrian/Iraqi/Hezb’allah alliance controlling the Mideast despite decades of U.S. foreign policy that specifically and successfully worked to prevent that.
Aiding and abetting the Obama administration in our various defeats in the region are the Democratic Party, mainstream media, and liberal academia. Leading the drum beat of anti-war propaganda year after year, those segments of society may have successfully led to an American people who are war-weary. But if they are, it is not because of a failed Iraq. I recall reading the headlines of the New York Times every morning as it seemingly celebrated yet another death of a U.S. soldier in the years following the onset of the Iraqi war. (It is now ironic that the man who has opted to use drone strikes rather than boots has overseen three times as many American soldier casualties in Afghanistan in less than five years than his predecessor did during his two terms.) With no one left to message why that country is important to our national interests, no wonder Americans believe we failed there.
It is ironic that the man who loves to hear himself talk and turns to his teleprompter in order to sell his failures has failed to articulate any real policy in the Middle East. In his latest speech to the American public on Tuesday night reversing his reversal of his reversal, there was absolutely no mention of the 9/11 anniversary. But, as Victor Davis Hanson observed, there was quite a lot of “Iraq ad nauseam … : ‘we learned from Iraq,’ ‘an open-ended action like Iraq,’ ‘terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan,’ ‘our troops are out of Iraq,’ etc.” It is as if Obama wanted the Iraq war to fail intentionally so that he would not face a citizenry with the staying power to pursue its international responsibilities. Thus, he would be free to transform America without distraction.
How can a nation be credible when it is led by a man who fears his base more than he fears the rising hegemon of a nuclear Iran being armed by a Russian thug on the ascent? After five years in office, Barack Obama has no idea what he is doing or how to fulfill his responsibilities as leader of the free world. He does know how to run from confrontation as quickly as he can find the door, irrespective of what becomes of our national security or our relationship with our allies. And he has succeeded in destroying our credibility on the world stage.
As the 9/11 anniversary passes yet again, it is not just the memories of that fateful day that come rushing back. It is the feeling of dread that the Democrats running the foreign policy show are taking us back to those pre-9/11 days, when the terrorists were left unchecked and emboldened. And that will be Obama’s legacy — not the legacy of what Iraq could have been, but of what it turned into once Obama entered office. This legacy has nothing whatsoever to do with diplomacy versus military strength and a war-weary country. It has everything in the world to do with the evaporation of our nation’s credibility and stature in the world.