Politics & Policy

After Maliki

Outgoing Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Why America must restore our influence in Baghdad

Nouri al-Maliki’s departure is good news. Still, as Dexter Filkins has explained (see chapter 5), had the Obama administration repudiated Maliki’s 2011 power grab, today’s crisis might have been averted.

Nevertheless, just because Maliki is gone, no one should assume Iraq is saved. Absent a new comprehensive American strategy, Iraq will continue tumbling toward implosion. Our recognition of this fact matters because Iraq holds profound importance for America.

First, unless Iraq is able to stanch the politicization of sectarianism currently infecting its political discourse, the Islami State and its extremist opposites will continue to grow in power. Unrestrained, these groups will burn the Middle East and will then push westward. It needn’t be this way. After all, the great myth of Iraq is that its people are defined by sectarian hatred. As I’ve noted before, the truth is very different. The problem, however, is the binary choice that Iraq’s present dystopia offers its citizens. When you’re a Sunni who has to choose between a power-drill team from the Shiite AAH terrorist group or an Islamic state goon offering protection for the price of freedom, you choose the latter. The opposite calculation is true for Shiites. For Iraqi Kurds, the answer to this chaos is to further isolate themselves from their fellow citizens. Iraq’s other minorities? Just ask the Yazidi.

Regardless, this isn’t just about the security of Iraq. It’s also about the stability of the broader Middle East. As long as Middle Eastern states continue to view Iraq through the lens of sectarian fear, they will continue to shape their political strategies in that irrational context. If Iraq’s problems remain unaddressed, it will replicate what has happened in Syria.

The ultimate truth is that only America has the influence, intent, and capability to save Iraq. Be under no illusions: For Iran, Iraq is just an opportunity for theocratic expansion. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk with Iran, but we mustn’t delude ourselves that the ayatollahs share our interest in a cross-sectarian Iraqi democracy. Again, however, there is hope. As Bing West notes, only the United States has the aviation, logistical, and intelligence capabilities and professional ethos that Iraq’s government so desperately requires. This is the ace in our negotiating pocket. Moreover, the professionalism and skill of America’s diplomats and military personnel in Iraq has long been evident. The interlocutor roles played by David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker in pre-2011 Iraq were instrumental in saving the country from collapse. Building trust, they brought Iraqis together. Today, America has similar public servants on hand in Baghdad. We must give them the flexibility and support to do their jobs.

None of this will be easy. Prime minister–designate Haider al-Abadi is no Thomas Jefferson. He shares his Dawa-party affiliation with Maliki. And although he spent many years in the U.K., Dawa’s members retain an imbued mistrust of Sunni political aspirations. He offers hope, but if we fail to support him, he’ll fall into the hands of Iran, and he’ll reinforce sectarian divisions.

Neither will a necessary American strategy be clean-cut. Alongside America’s honest hand of friendship to those who seek a cross-sectarian democratic future for all Iraq’s citizens, the CIA will have to be at the heart of U.S. policy in Baghdad. Put simply, Obama will have to authorize the CIA to cajole, bribe, and blackmail Iranian allies like the Sadrist movement toward cooperation.

Of course, the alternative to these hard choices is for America to do nothing. But we can predict where such a choice will lead. Replace al-Abadi with Maliki and read this.

 Tom Rogan is a blogger and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He is based in Washington, D.C., and tweets @TomRtweets.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Worst Cover-Up of All Time

President Donald Trump may be guilty of many things, but a cover-up in the Mueller probe isn’t one of them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to appease forces in the Democratic party eager for impeachment, is accusing him of one, with all the familiar Watergate connotations. The charge is strange, ... Read More
World

Theresa May: A Political Obituary

On Friday, Theresa May, perhaps the worst Conservative prime minister in recent history, announced her resignation outside of number 10 Downing Street. She will step down effective June 7. “I have done my best,” she insisted. “I have done everything I can. . . . I believe it was right to persevere even ... Read More
PC Culture

TV Before PC

Affixing one’s glance to the rear-view mirror is usually as ill-advised as staring at one’s own reflection. Still, what a delight it was on Wednesday to see a fresh rendition of “Those Were the Days,” from All in the Family, a show I haven’t watched for nearly 40 years. This time it was Woody Harrelson ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Democrats’ Other Class War

There is a class war going on inside the Democratic party. Consider these two cris de couer: Writing in the New York Times under the headline “America’s Cities Are Unlivable — Blame Wealthy Liberals,” Farhad Manjoo argues that rich progressives have, through their political domination of cities such as ... Read More
Culture

The Deepfake of Nancy Pelosi

You’ve almost made it to a three-day weekend! Making the click-through worthwhile: A quick note about how National Review needs your help, concerns about “deepfakes” of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most cringe-inducing radio interviews of all time, some news about where to find me and the book in the near ... Read More