Yesterday, a barrage of at least 15 bombs were set off in Baghdad, which according to press reports rocked almost every major neighborhood in the Iraqi capital. Dozens of people were killed. We’re seeing a dramatic resurgence of sectarian and ethnic divisions. And the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, issued a warrant for the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni leader who has since fled to the autonomous northern Kurdish region. (Maliki has ordered the Kurds to “hand over” Hashemi or face “problems.”) This is precisely why U.S. commanders recommended we maintain a residual American force of 15,000 to 18,000, in order to keep violence down, ethnic divisions in check, and Maliki in line. But President Obama thought he knew better, and now we have no U.S. presence in Iraq to speak of.
Until now, Iraq had made impressive strides since the civil war that almost consumed it in 2006. But it has been a fragile affair. Iraq, and especially the Sunnis and Kurds, needed an American presence to continue to help bind up the wounds of the war. It was perfectly predictable that if America withdrew its troops, trouble would follow. And now trouble has come, only a week after the president declared Iraq to be “sovereign, self-reliant, and democratic.”
It is quite amazing that Maliki would begin what the Wall Street Journal rightly calls a “putsch” against his Sunni coalition partners so shortly after having met with President Obama. This is yet more evidence of the diplomatic skills our community-organizer-turned-president brought to the job. Indeed, having the United States steadily pull away from Maliki since Obama assumed office has created and exacerbated many of the problems we now face. And they are about to get a good deal worse. Now begins what the celebrated Arab writer Adonis called a “march backwards into the sun.”
CIA Director David Petraeus, who worked near-miracles overseeing the success of the so-called surge in 2007, was dispatched to Iraq earlier this week, to help undo the damage. But of course thanks to the president’s decisions, we have very little leverage now. “Tell me how this ends,” General Petraeus would often ask in the context of Iraq. It could have ended reasonably well; it now looks as if it will end very badly. We know which Western leader we have to thank for that.
What is happening in Iraq is sickening, in part because the gains came at such a high cost and in part because what is happening there was so avoidable. Obama was handed a war that was largely won. What America had given to Iraq is what the Arab scholar Fouad Ajami called “the foreigner’s gift.” But Iraq being Iraq, maintaining an American troop presence there, separate from engaging in combat operations, was necessary if Iraq was ever to become whole again. President Obama has undone much of what had been achieved there, almost in the blink of an eye. And when the history of his administration is written, it increasingly looks as if he will be fairly judged to have been the man who lost Iraq.
In an administration full of failures, this one may well rank among the highest. The human cost to Iraq and the strategic damage to America may be unimaginable. And so unnecessary.