Commentary Magazine


An Unsettling Power Vacuum in Iraq

No one should be surprised to read that the State Department’s ambitious program to train Iraqi police is being dramatically slashed and could be ended before long. The Iraqis turn out not to want the “training” that the State Department is offering. And why should they, given that the State program consists of paying moonlighting cops from the U.S. to give PowerPoint presentations on American facilities in Iraq?

Effective advising requires advisers who have some area expertise and are willing to go off base to work closely with the units they are mentoring in the field. But this, of course, is not allowed under the State Department’s notoriously restrictive security rules. The ability of American officials to move around Iraq at all has been drastically curtailed since the departure of U.S. troops at the end of last year. The State Department claimed they could fill the gap left by the men and women in uniform by hiring a small army of 16,000 contractors. But now it seems that State can’t even keep its embassy supplied with food. The entire U.S. presence is being slashed dramatically, and the police training program–which was supposed to be the centerpiece of a continuing commitment to Iraq–is one of many casualties of the handover to civilian authority.

All of this was utterly predictable–and in fact was predicted by numerous commentators, including yours truly, who had no faith in State’s ability to run such an ambitious undertaking in a country that remains so dangerous. It is doubtful that even State officials believed the moonshine they were peddling. More likely this was simply a convenient cover to do what President Obama wanted, which was to leave at the earliest opportunity. So now that our military force has left, our influence has dramatically declined, and we are hard-pressed to push back against Prime Minister Maliki’s dangerous, dictatorial tendencies, to limit Iranian influence, or to keep the peace between Arabs and Kurds. We have left an unsettling power vacuum in Iraq. We should not be surprised it is being filled by our foes.