And so we come full circle. Nearly three years since Barack Obama decided to trade defeat for victory in Iraq by allowing his feckless vice president to fail to “negotiate” a status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi government he did not really wish to have—since the president wanted to leave, leave, leave, as he had said he would do in 2007—circumstances of the simplest human decency have compelled him to commit U.S. forces to stave off the genocide of the Yazidi sect in Iraq.
He is not responsible for the monstrous actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—in no way, and anyone who suggests otherwise is guilty of a great wrong. What Obama is responsible for is this: Having assumed we had lost in Iraq (and probably having believed that loss was just, given how little he thought of the war and the reasons for fighting it), he became president and was basically informed that the war had all but been won while he was assaulting it on the way to his landslide election. Only a colossal fool would have thrown the Petraeus-Bush gift of an Iraq rescued from civil war and on its way to a stable future in the garbage, and Obama is not a fool. So he didn’t. What he did do was remain ever mindful of his promise to leave and how failing to deliver on that promise might affect his chances in 2012.
So when the continued American presence in Iraq became contingent on reaching a legal agreement with the new government, he and his people trumped up reasons why Iraq was making that agreement impossible—because it refused to grant Americans immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, which was ironed out with the Bush administration in 2008 and which the Obamans could easily have ironed out if they had paid sufficient and proper attention to the matter—and America walked.
If you want to see Obama’s monument there, just look: ISIS on the march. The Christians of Mosul decimated and set to flee. Strategic Iraqi assets from oil to water in the hands of what is now indubitably the worst non-state actor in the region since al Qaeda’s heyday. And the possibility of some kind of super-terror state under ISIS control from the Iraqi border with Iran to the lands west of Iraq in Syria.
The United States could not stand by and watch these monsters cause 40,000 Yazidis to die of thirst up on that mountain—though it could, and did, watch as Mosul was made Christian-rein. Failure to act then was a sin of omission. Had there been no intervention now, that would have effectively been a sin of commission, a moral stain on the United States that Obama could have found no way to lay at George W. Bush’s feet.
He has acted, and that is a good thing. But the question is: What now? What now?