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Like it or not, we're back in Iraq

By Bob Ray Sanders | Fort Worth Star-Telegram Published: June 20, 2014 4:00 AM

Once the United States had extricated itself from the quagmire known as the Iraq war, many people assumed that the United States would let the country stand on its own, able to defend its borders and newfound democracy.

But in truth, while Iraq had the external trappings of a democracy, it was anything but. Its ineffective and corrupt leadership, propped up by the United States, divided the country further rather than unite it, all the while fueling a growing insurgency.

In recent days the opposition to the government has thrown Iraq back into a civil war in which rebel forces have taken major cities and ruthlessly killed scores of Iraqi soldiers. Once again Iraqi families are being displaced as they flee their homes to avoid the Sunni-dominated militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

And the U.S. government is in a quandary about how to aid its "ally."

Some members of Congress have urged President Barack Obama to move more quickly to help stop the insurgency, but they have no solid ideas of how to do that without putting combat troops back in Iraq. Airstrikes are a possibility but also present a risk as the rebel fighters are among civilian populations in the cities.

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The president has announced that he is sending up to 275 troops to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, with the possibility of deploying a limited group of special forces troops to help advise and train Iraqis.

Like it or not, we're back in it, folks.

This country should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. I won't dwell on that because I lost that argument more than 10 years ago.

What do we have to show for our efforts -- the lives lost; the money spent?

Not much that I can see.

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More than 4,400 American troops were killed and more than 32,000 wounded in a war that should never have been waged. Iraqi civilian deaths during the eight years of conflict numbered well in excess of 50,000, with some estimates as high as 100,000.

At the time when Vice President Dick Cheney was predicting that American troops would be "greeted as liberators" and that democracy would replace a dictator in Iraq, I proclaimed that you cannot impose democracy on a country. This is especially true in a place where the people have more allegiance to a sect than they do their nation.

It was clear that Iraq would never be one people, as sectarian conflicts have existed there for over 1,000 years. How arrogant of our country's leaders to think we could change that with military troops, modern weaponry and money.

We are now witnessing the results of failed policies and false assumptions, miscalculations from the beginning in which we as a nation thought our might was enough to suppress an ideology while establishing a democratic government.

No matter what happens next, the people of Iraq will undergo more suffering. I feel for them, particularly those who would love to live in peace and occupy a land where children can be educated and all its citizens (including women) would be treated equally.

Perhaps one day they will reside in a democracy. If so, it will be because they fought for it, not because the U.S. bestowed it on them.

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amt_ Jun 20, 2014 7:00 AM

As usual, much is omitted in this lopsided editorial page.

Here is some background material:

Obama's abdication led to Islamist insurgency's return
June 19, 2014

WASHINGTON — Yes, it is true that there was no al-Qaida in Iraq when George W. Bush took office. But it is equally true that there was essentially no al-Qaida in Iraq remaining when Barack Obama took office.

Which makes Bush responsible for the terrible costs incurred to defeat the 2003-09 jihadist war engendered by his invasion. We can debate forever whether those costs were worth it, but what is not debatable is Obama’s responsibility for the return of the Islamist insurgency that had been routed by the time he became president.

By 2009, al-Qaida in Iraq had not just been decimated but humiliated by the American surge and the Anbar Awakening. Here were aggrieved Sunnis, having ferociously fought the Americans who had overthrown 80 years of Sunni hegemony, now reversing allegiance and joining the infidel invader in crushing, indeed extirpating from Iraq, their fellow Sunnis of al-Qaida .

At the same time, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki turned the Iraqi army against radical Shiite militias from Basra all the way north to Baghdad.

The result? “A sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” That’s not Bush congratulating himself. That’s Obama in December 2011 describing the Iraq we were leaving behind. He called it “an extraordinary achievement.”

Which Obama proceeded to throw away. David Petraeus had won the war. Obama’s one task was to conclude a status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) to solidify the gains. By Obama’s own admission – in the case he’s now making for a status-of-forces agreement with Afghanistan – such agreements are necessary “because after all the sacrifices we’ve made, we want to preserve the gains” achieved by war.

Which is what made his failure to do so in Iraq so disastrous. His excuse was his inability to get immunity for U.S. soldiers. Nonsense. Bush had worked out a compromise in his 2008 SOFA, as we have done with allies everywhere. The real problem was Obama’s reluctance to maintain any significant presence in Iraq.

He offered to leave 3,000-5,000 troops, a ridiculous number. U.S. commanders said they needed nearly 20,000. (We have 28,500 in South Korea and 38,000 in Japan to this day.) Such a minuscule contingent would spend all its time just protecting itself. Iraqis know a nonserious offer when they see one.

Moreover, as historian Max Boot has pointed out, Obama insisted on parliamentary ratification, which the Iraqis explained was not just impossible but unnecessary. So Obama ordered a full withdrawal. And with it disappeared U.S. influence in curbing sectarianism, mediating among factions and providing both intelligence and tactical advice to Iraqi forces now operating on their own.

The result was predictable. And predicted. Overnight, Iran and its promotion of Shiite supremacy became the dominant influence in Iraq. The day after the U.S. departure, Maliki ordered the arrest of the Sunni vice president. He cut off funding for the Sons of Iraq, the Sunnis who had fought with us against al-Qaida. And subsequently so persecuted and alienated Sunnis that they were ready to welcome back al-Qaida in Iraq – rebranded in its Syrian refuge as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – as the lesser of two evils. Hence the stunningly swift ISIS capture of so much of Iraq.

But the jihadist revival is the result of a double Obama abdication: creating a vacuum not just in Iraq but in Syria. Obama dithered and speechified during the early days of the Syrian revolution, before the jihadists had arrived, when the secular revolt was systematically advancing on the Damascus regime.

Hezbollah, Iran and Russia helped the regime survive. Meanwhile, a jihadist enclave (including remnants of the once-routed al-Qaida in Iraq) developed in large swaths of northern and eastern Syria. They thrived on massive outside support while the secular revolutionaries foundered waiting vainly for American help.

Faced with a de facto jihadi state spanning both countries, a surprised Obama now has little choice but to try to re-create overnight, from scratch and in miniature, the kind of U.S. presence – providing intelligence, tactical advice and perhaps even air support – he abjured three years ago

His announcement Thursday that he is sending 300 military advisers is the beginning of that re-creation – a pale substitute but the only option Obama has left himself. The leverage he forfeited will be hard to reclaim. But it’s our only chance to keep Iraq out of the hands of the Sunni jihadists of ISIS and the Shiite jihadists of Tehran.