America went to war in Iraq under false pretenses – the Bush administration’s excuse of “weapons of mass destruction” was a fiction.
We left eight years and nearly 4,500 U.S. deaths later without a responsible withdrawal plan – the product of a president eager to end the war and an Iraqi government making unreasonable demands.
Less than three years on, it’s extremely difficult to imagine the scenario where it would make any sense for another major U.S. military intervention in that quagmire.
Yet, it is unnerving to sit idly by while a virulent offshoot of al-Qaida sweeps through Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria considers al-Qaida not extremist enough. If this Sunni jihadist group controlled Iraq and its resources, it could eventually threaten Americans.
President Barack Obama is in a tough spot. Friday, he said what he had to: “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options.” Those options include airstrikes, by manned aircraft or drones, but they all have their limitations and risks.
Certainly, there is no political will or public support for putting troops on the ground. There’s very little interest, in fact, for “any military activity,” as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco put it Thursday.
Still, it’s not quite right to blithely say, as Pelosi also did, that it’s no longer our responsibility. Even if many opposed the war, we did overthrow a regime – albeit a brutal dictatorship – and help let loose centuries-old religious and ethnic strife. It’s like the store rule cited by Gen. Colin Powell: If you break it, you own it. So America does bear some of the burden for Iraq’s fate.
As for Republicans, some of their hawkish talk isn’t very helpful. Neither are the calls from Rep. Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and others for Obama to sack his entire national security team.
They should be more concerned about what changes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is willing to make in his inner circle. Obama is right that a political accommodation that gives Sunnis more power, or perhaps gives regions more autonomy within Iraq, is the best hope to stave off a full-on war or regime collapse.
Obama said it would be several days before he makes a decision on any military action, but the president doesn’t have the luxury of time.
ISIS, which also controls parts of Syria, quickly seized the key cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit and the small city of Tal Afar, in northwestern Iraq, and is fast advancing on Baghdad.
The last time most Americans heard or cared about these places was when soldiers and Marines were dying there. That certainly can’t be repeated, but it does matter to us what happens. Terrorism makes the world smaller – a lesson we have learned the hard way.