Don’t Blame Iraq on Obama Alone

by Andrew C. McCarthy
Some Republicans are indulging in revisionist history.

I’ve just written Faithless Execution, a book positing that there is such a solid legal case of high crimes and misdemeanors committed by the president that the time is ripe to build a political case for his impeachment. I have argued, moreover, that the president’s policy of appeasing and empowering Islamic supremacists has been a national-security catastrophe, catalyzing a jihadist resurgence across the Middle East.

It is pretty safe to say I am no fan of Barack Obama’s. But it is just as safe to say that for Beltway Republicans to blame Obama alone for the implosion of Iraq — which is now being overrun by the same Sunni jihadists those Republicans have championed in Syria and Libya — is shameful.

Look, I will stipulate that the president’s signature recklessness is abundantly evident in Iraq. He heedlessly withdrew U.S. forces, making no effort to preserve the security gains they achieved in routing al-Qaeda, even as it became obvious that the withdrawal had evaporated those gains and invited the terror network to return with a vengeance.

Still, it was not Obama who agreed to the withdrawal schedule. It was President Bush. And it was not Obama who turned Iraq into an Islamic-supremacist state seething with anti-American and anti-Semitic hatred. Long before Obama came to power, Iraq was an Islamist country, rife with Sunni and Shiite militants who agreed on little else besides their devotion to sharia and their abhorrence of the West.

In late 2008, several weeks before Obama entered the Oval Office, I wrote here about the status of forces agreement (SOFA) the Bush administration was then entering into with the ingrate Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki. Even then, Iraq was pulling ever closer to the terrorist regime in Iran while American troops continued fighting to protect Maliki’s fledgling government from al-Qaeda jihadists — jihadists that the insidious mullahs were also supplying with money, training, and IEDs.

In the SOFA, the Bush administration agreed to strict withdrawal deadlines that invited al-Qaeda to catch its breath, wait out the United States, then resume the jihad as Americans were leaving — the better to make it look to the world like they were chasing us out. All American combat operations were to cease in mid 2009; and, at the end of 2011, all American forces would pull out of Iraq. The 2008 SOFA is the basis for the American withdrawal that Obama so anxiously consummated. It is what promised a resumption of Islam’s eternal, internecine bloodletting between Sunnis and Shiites that now has Iraq on the verge of collapse.

To listen to Republicans and those who foolishly repeat their revisionist history, you would think Obama inherited the Iraq so delusionally envisioned by Islamic-democracy-project devotees: a free, pluralistic democracy that would be a reliable counterterrorism ally and a thorn in totalitarian Iran’s side.

In reality, Iraq remains an incorrigible sharia society in which the persecution of religious minorities and homosexuals is routine. Far from democratizing the country in any cultural sense, Bush officials fortified these tendencies by encouraging Iraq’s adoption of a constitution that enshrined Islam as the state religion and sharia as a primary source of law. Under American occupation, Iraq continued to shun diplomatic relations with Israel and to cheer the “resistance” waged by Hamas and Hezbollah. It sought closer ties with Tehran, a desire the Bush administration indulged on the fantasy rationale that Iran had a strong interest in a stable Iraq — even as everyone knew Iran was fueling anti-American terrorism in Iraq by both Shiite and Sunni jihadist cells.

Why did President Bush agree to the SOFA on his way out of office (under the pressure of a December 31, 2008, expiration of the U.N. mandate approving U.S. military operations there)? Because it was the best deal he could get in an Islamist country that despises America.

Beginning in 2003, fatwas calling for violent jihad against American forces in Iraq were issued by influential sharia jurists, including Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi and Sheikh Abdulla bin Bayyah (who are now Obama administration consultants). Because our government eschews the study of Islamic-supremacist ideology, most Americans remain unaware that these fatwas represented a mainstream interpretation of sharia in the Muslim Middle East: If Western forces occupy Islamic territory, and especially if they are peddling concepts like Western democracy, they must be driven out — even if, in their own minds, they are do-gooders trying to make life better for Muslims.

The Iraqi mindset was obvious in public polling: In 2008, four in ten Iraqis continued to see Americans as legitimate terror targets — and the figure had recently hovered close to six in ten. Fully 80 percent of Iraqis said they wanted Americans to vacate their country. In the one vestige of Iraqi democracy about which the Bush administration could brag, the nation’s holding of popular elections, candidates competed with each other over who could most strenuously condemn the United States and demand that our troops leave yesterday.

It is certainly understandable that after thousands of lost lives and hundreds of billions of wasted dollars, veterans of the war in Iraq are incensed to see the triumphant march of an al-Qaeda offshoot — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (greater Syria or “the Levant”) — through cities they once heroically wrested from terrorist control. After all the American sacrifice, it is infuriating to watch jihadists triumph while Obama idles.

But is it fair to blame these developments on our overmatched commander-in-chief?

Many of us on the right supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein. He was a terror supporter. In those post-9/11 days, there was reason to believe our government was serious about dealing with terror-supporting regimes as if they were terrorists. If Saddam was the next domino to fall after the Taliban, all to the good — it didn’t seem like he’d be the last.

But then the Bush doctrine morphed from a crackdown on the jihad into a reimagining of the Middle East. When democracy predictably didn’t take, the dreamers decided to define democracy down rather than admit failure. “Democracy” somehow became fully compatible with repressive sharia, and we fantasized that anti-Western Islamic supremacists were democratic allies and that Iran would play a constructive regional role.

It was absurd. Yet it was the unquestioned premise for concluding, in 2008, that a sharia state gravitating ever further into Iran’s orbit — an Iraqi state that was dependent on the loyalty of Shiite militias and was already in a simmering conflict with its restive Sunni minority — could be trusted in the imminent draw-down, then complete absence, of American troops to preserve the security gains hard won by American bravery and know-how.

Our troops did astonishing work given the severe limitations placed on them. It was not within their capabilities, though, to democratize Iraq — not unless we were willing to occupy that country for generations with a firm purpose to stamp out its sharia culture. And while our troops demolished al-Qaeda in Iraq, it was not within their capabilities to conclusively defeat a global enemy by demolishing it in one country.

In 2008, we announced we were leaving and provided a timeline for our departure under circumstances where a new American president, bitterly opposed to the war in Iraq, was about to assume power. From that point on, al-Qaeda’s return was inevitable.

Has President Obama been a disaster in Iraq — as in every other place? Sure he has. The security situation in Iraq steadily deteriorated as American forces departed. Maliki was sufficiently desperate that he’d surely have renegotiated the SOFA if Obama had been interested in preserving what our troops had fought for. Obama, however, is all about Obama: He wanted to run for reelection as the president who “ended” the war in Iraq, just as he is now legacy-chasing to be the president who “ended” the war in Afghanistan — even if “ending” really means al-Qaeda and its allies win.

Let’s not pretend, though, that America’s Middle East mess is strictly an Obama production. Today, a Sunni jihadist in Iraq might be killed by an American drone in support, incredibly, of the Iranian military intervention to prop up Iraq’s Shiite government. But if that same Sunni jihadist instead crosses the border into Syria, he will be given American-supplied weapons to fight against the Iranian military intervention that props up Syria’s Shiite government.

That kind of insanity does not happen overnight. It happens after more than 20 years of willful blindness to the ideology of our enemies, and more than 20 years without a strategic vision of the global jihadist challenge.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, was released by Encounter Books on June 3.

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