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An Important Warning on Iraq

Ryan Crocker is quite simply the best diplomat of his generation, and not a person given to hyperbole, so when he writes that recent events in Iraq “are reminiscent of those that led to virtual civil war in 2006 and resulted in the need for a surge in U.S. troop levels, a new strategy and very heavy fighting”–then attention must be paid.

He is alarmed, and rightly so, by the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusrah Front. He notes: “These developments threaten not only to unravel the gains made since 2007, but also to energize the forces of violent extremism in the heart of the Arab world, already burning in Syria.”

In essence, he is sketching out the dire consequences of President Obama’s failure to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011, although he is too diplomatic to come out and say so.

The only part of his article I disagree with is his ending: “Though the United States has withdrawn its troops from Iraq,” he writes, “it retains significant leverage there. Iraqi forces were equipped and trained by Americans, and the country’s leaders need and expect our help.”

Maybe so, but what I see is that our departure has opened the way for Iran to eclipse our influence–and to the extent that we still have influence we haven’t been doing enough to exercise it, because President Obama prefers to delegate all matters relating to Iraq to underlings, as if he couldn’t be sullied with dealing with the fallout of “George W. Bush’s war.”

As it happens, that war, after tragic early mistakes, was nearly won by the time Obama assumed office. If Iraq does indeed spin out of control, history will not look kindly on the almost casual manner in which Obama aborted negotiations on a Status of Forces Agreement and turned his back on Iraq. The misguided fashion in which we “ended” the war (or, more accurately, ended our involvement in keeping the peace) may eventually be judged as serious a mistake as the misguided manner in which we began it.


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