By Mike Courts, COL(Ret), USA, DuPont City Councilman
News Flash. Iraq is lost. Yes Mr. President Iraq is utterly lost and will be the punctuation on your foreign policy that is already known for such events as Libya, Egypt, Syria, Benghazi, Ukraine, fast and furious and whatever happens next in Afghanistan. Nearly 5000 American lives lost, untold Iraqi lives but certainly well over 100,000, tens of thousands of Americans maimed and nearly 1 Trillion dollars of treasure.
I am an Iraq veteran, with 2 years (06-07, 09-10) serving at the highest levels of our military command structure during that period, privy to meetings where some of the most critical decisions were made. Instead of an Iraq at peace with itself and neighbors, based on rule of law with a representative government that respects the rights of all men and women, religious groups and minorities, we are on the brink of a country broken into a radical Sunni Caliphate, an Iranian vassal state and an independent Kurdish state.
Instead of balancing Iranian hegemonic desires in the region, we are enabling them. History will debate if it was appropriate to go into Iraq and you can give that one to President Bush. History will be very critical about 2003-06 and how the Bush administration handled the post-invasion in Iraq. It was a mess and represented the worst qualities of a dysfunctional administration; not only were there no clear objectives or means to achieve them, there was a total lack of inter and intra agency communications that eventually led to Iraq on the brink of civil war by late 2006.
However, 07-09, the Bush team with GEN Petraeus in command in Iraq or Central Command partnered with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, moved in a firm direction, worked hard to foster national reconciliation, reached out to indigenous Sunni Insurgent groups, separated them from Al Qaeda, began substantive structural reform and continued training of Iraqi Military, Police and Government ministries.
In January of 2009 you, President Obama, were handed the baton for a victory lap. You had a few tasks to accomplish to give yourself a stunning foreign policy victory. In 2010 Iraq held Parliamentary Elections. Unlike our form of government, the drama in a Parliamentary system occurs after, not before an election.
Since the Prime Minister position is not directly elected, but selected by the Parliamentary majority, coalition building is a dirty and essential part of the process. You were advised by uniformed and non-uniformed senior leaders that Iraq needed to see a peaceful transition of power before we drew down our presence (key task and confidence building measure in successful democracies). You were similarly advised that the depth of cronyism/nepotism in Iraqi security forces and government ministries was significant, but at a middle manger level (LTC in the military) we saw the seeds of dedicated professionals and public servants, eager to serve their nation and citizens.
We estimated that we needed 15 years of a force from 25,000 to 10,000 to husband the transition, thwart potential coups and keep the Iraqi government accountable until it matured. You appointed VP Joe Biden to be point on the transition. A secular, federalist candidate, Ayad Allawi’s party won the largest number of seats in the 2010 election. He was poised to form a coalition, assume a majority and become the PM. He had broad based support in the Shiite and Sunni communities. Allawi needed our support to “close the deal”. What your point man, the VP, needed to do was have a closed door session with PM Nuri al Maliki and “explain” to him that his role and gift to Iraq was to facilitate this transition of power.
Your experience with Chicago politics should have made you very comfortable with the need and process for getting to the “desired” outcome. Instead, you played hands off and let the Iraqi political system run its course independently. Mr. President, the nascent Iraqi political leadership is like a 16 year old with a new driver’s license, you don’t give them the keys to an Indy racer, you monitor their driving and let them grow into it over time!
The claims of fraud, banned candidates and political maneuvering were overwhelming. Mature political systems can handle these challenges, aka, our 2000 Presidential election. The Iraqis still needed our help and guidance, sometimes even when they didn’t want it. In the end, PM Al Maliki sought retention of power more than what was good for his country, he reached out to Moqtada al Sadr, the self-exiled, radical Shiite Cleric in Iran, and formed a coalition with Sadr’s party (OMS, Office of the Martyred Sadr) and retained a majority and the Prime Minister position. Bringing Sadr into the equation assured us that there would be no Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and no residual US presence. It also solidified a fundamentalist Shiite government that has purged Sunnis and Kurds from the government.
The Maliki administration has ostracized Sunnis, excluded them from the government and waged an internal war on its own citizens. In 2006-09, the Iraqi Sunnis through the “Tribal Awakening” and our work with indigenous insurgent groups, rejected Al Qaeda and tried to integrate into the political process.
We watched as Maliki drove them away and set the conditions for ISIS to foment a full-fledged civil war. The ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, was a detainee of ours when we turned all detainees over to the Iraqi government. They released him and sowed the seeds of their own downfall.
The last 5 years of Iraq are yours President Obama.
When we launched The Surge in 2007, the comments I heard from Iraqis, across the board, were “Never before in our history has anyone wanted more for us, than from us”. You wasted that sentiment and the good works of hundreds of thousands of American men and women, in the military, Department of State and civilian contractors who strove to make Iraq what it could be. Instead you opted for the easy way out, refused to do the political heavy lifting required of the situation and have squandered a golden opportunity.
Like President Carter did with Iran a generation ago, you have rung a bell that cannot be un-rung. Unfortunately, the situation is too far gone for “easy” fixes and a few hundred advisors cannot undo the damage your neglect has wrought. Shame on you. Now we hear that Vladimir Putin has offered whatever assistance is necessary to help the Iraqi government restore its territorial integrity and drive out ISIS. Russia, already with a client state in Syria and Iran can solidify its position in the region, and eliminate US influence in the Middle East.
As a country with its own Sunni challenges in Chechnya, defeating ISIS also serves Russian domestic challenges. Under your leadership, the U.S. is disappearing from the world stage as a major power. Once again Putin is playing the U.S. President for the fool. You have a disaster as a legacy, but at least you have survived, the Iraqis have a broken country and hundreds of thousands of Americans have visible and invisible wounds that will not heal. All for nothing.