WASHINGTON – So, “Did Obama lose Iraq”? Is it Obama’s fault that a country once at the center of US foreign and security policies is now falling apart? Well, yes and no.
Plenty of blame
There is plenty of blame for lots of US policy-makers. Of course, it is easy to say that “it is all George Bush’s fault”. He believed (or made up, according to partisan critics) the intelligence whereby Iraq’s stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMDs, (that were not there, as it turned out), represented an immediate security threat for the United States. And so he ordered the invasion of Iraq that started in March 2003.
Well, the rosy scenarios of a quick war followed by an easy transition to pluralism and democracy –all funded by abundant Iraqi oil– turned to be disastrously wrong. Soon after the successful overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq became a nightmare.
Thanks to a spectacularly incompetent occupation policy, US forces watched as Iraq started falling apart. It took years of heavy losses, destruction, Sunni-Shia sectarian fighting, not to mention extreme suffering for Iraqi civilians, to pacify this sorry country.
That said, when George W. Bush left office, Iraq was reasonably at peace, while a legitimate civilian government was in charge.
Obama: we are done with Iraq
But after Obama took over in Washington, the general feeling was that America was done with Iraq. And it would appear that US negotiators did not press the Iraqi government too much when they created difficulties regarding the conditions under which a residual US force would be allowed to stay in Iraq after the formal end of the occupation. Because these negotiations failed, all American soldiers left Iraq.
ISIL: from Syria to Iraq
Then the Arab Spring came along, and with that the beginning of the upheaval in Syria against President Assad. As we know, America did nothing to support the relatively moderate Syrian opposition. As a result, the anti-Assad insurgency became a magnet for all sorts of Arab factions and movements. Little by little, Islamic radicals became a dominant component of the anti-Assad resistance.
However, this really bad and worrisome development gave the Obama administration a perfect excuse not to intervene. Indeed: “Assad, bad guy. Opposition, also bad guys. Sadly, nobody reliable America can support. End of story”.
Fair enough. But then the really bad guys (ISIL) took over a chunk of Syria and they used it as a base of operations to conquer Northern Iraq. This happened rather suddenly.
Still, the US had the opportunity to react to this major military and political shift. But Washington did nothing. And so the radical ISIL (or ISIS) forces established themselves and even announced the formation of a brand new Islamic Caliphate, (no, this is not a joke), encompassing all the territories they control in Iraq and Syria.
ISIL occupying Iraq? Blame al Maliki
As this was getting really serious, what did Obama do? Essentially nothing, except for blaming the sectarian Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al Maliki. With cause, Washington argued that al Maliki discriminated against the Iraqi Sunnis, this way opening the door for the Sunni ISIL forces to come into the country, essentially unopposed. Again, while this is largely true, what about actions aimed at stopping ISIL? Nothing.
In the meantime, ISIL forces consolidated their power and started advancing towards the Kurdish region in the North East of Iraq. Again, Obama did nothing. It took a new humanitarian crisis in the shape of a religious minority chased out by the deranged ISIL forces to trigger –at last– an American reaction.
Finally, some US action
Finally America started bombing from the air ISIL forces, while it seems that America is now sending weapons and ammunitions to the peshmerga, the Kurdish armed militia.
Now, will this truly belated American response to a crisis that had already morphed into a disaster turn things around? Who knows really. Much depends on the intensity of the US air campaign and the perception that America really means business this time.
Of course, the political crisis in Baghdad does not help. Indeed, following in part US advice, the Iraqis are trying to get rid of divisive al Maliki. But, so far at least, he does not want to go. And so, what does this mean? Are we talking civil war in Iraq, on top of everything else? Hopefully not; but it is too early to tell.
Still, be that as it may, it is a bit simplistic to say that all this is George W. Bush’s fault, because after all he started this mess with the ill-advised 2003 invasion. After ll, in 2009 Obama inherited the Iraq problem created by Bush. All this is true.
Obama made it worse
However, Obama has been president for 6 years now. And it is rather obvious that he managed the deteriorating Iraq situation very poorly. While he did not create the problem, his negligence made it a lot worse.