What Policy on Iraq Should Conservatives Recommend?

Jim Geraghty makes a quick case that Republicans shouldn’t be taking an automatically critical stance towards Obama’s current actions on Iraq. Perhaps it is right to say, as the National Review editors do, that more should be done, but that requires that we get much more specific about what we mean by more. I think that one and all can agree at this point that much greater aide to the Kurds is urgently needed, and should have been initiated months ago.  

It is true that now that Obama is acting in the face of more and more massacres, however, and even a number of prominent Democrats are calling for him to do much more, with Senator Feinstein seeming even to call for American boots on the ground with her “it takes an army to defeat an army” comment, it is feckless for Republicans to continue the usual grousing about him betraying allies, having no foreign policy, etc., etc.  

I have seen some conservatives mocking Obama for his reluctance to aide the Maliki more forcefully, which he tried to encapsulate with his comment about not wanting to the U.S. to become “Maliki’s Air Force.” This automatic mockery dismays me, because Obama is right that working with Maliki is highly problematic, and risks strengthening his hand against opponents within what’s left of the Iraqi state and society. Moreover, at present, there are disturbing reports of complicated Iraqi political moves, some amounting to threats of a pro- or an anti- Maliki coup, in the aftermath of recent electoral victories by his opponents.   

My position, sketched here, is that the mess with Maliki reflects more than his own pathologies, but the fact that a partition of Iraq has to be considered as a serious possibility at this point. Indeed, if partition provides the only reliable path for us to openly aide the Islamic State’s Sunni enemies, and for us to not betray our supporters the Kurds, then a partition-assuming policy is the best path for U.S. interests. Whatever Obama and his State Department think regarding such, I say we conservatives have to face the possibility that the Iraqi “rump state” has become largely a Shiite affair, whatever noble or self-serving noises are made by the remaining Sunni participants in its parliamentary politics. It is a state that will likely be driven by its own survival instincts to more and more ally with Iran, persecute Sunnis, undermine Kurdish autonomy/security, and adopt strongman government. That is why blindly doing “more” to “aide Baghdad” and to “fight ISIS” could strengthen all these unhealthy tendencies. It’s fine to craft a policy that has some chance of prodding that rump state towards real compromises with the non-Islamist Sunnis and the Kurds that permit the re-emergence of a viable federal Iraq, but whatever you do, don’t let that rump become stronger unless it makes real moves in that direction. I am fine with accusing Obama of having “lost Iraq,” with pointing out his responsibility-denying lies, and with thus pinning on his policy some degree of responsibility for the massacres, but he is surely correct to be wary of now aiding “Iraq” in a way that actually saddles it all the more with Maliki or that more generally strengthens the Shia side in what may inevitably turn out to be a war of partition.  

I will also say this — unless absolutely necessary or absolutely required by our existing treaty commitments, I don’t think conservatives should support any boots-on-the-ground military actions (beyond the existing one in Afghanistan) so long as Obama is commander-in-chief. In a hundred ways, he has proved himself fundamentally unreliable in diplomatic and military affairs(the “red-line,” Benghazi, etc.).  

Part of this is specific to Obama’s character, but part of this is that “moderate” Democrats have to be made to face the consequences of their allowing their political allies to demonize Bush for the Iraq policy that they in some part signed onto initially. The level of division they permitted in our politics did not need to occur. A gentleman’s agreement between the parties to not demonize disagreement about collectively-entered-into military affairs was what was needed. It was the “adult” and moderate-so-called Dems who let the leash upon their side’s extremists drop, who made that gentleman’s agreement impossible, and they need to face that it lead, not simply to a further degree of polarization in our politics and to so many Dems adopting a knee-jerk “not-Bush” approach to foreign policy, but that it now may well result in a needless genocide of Iraqis, which there is now little possible American consensus to prevent. In saying that, I grant that a President Hillary Clinton would have been less likely to have so utterly abandoned what we had gained in Iraq — that is, the adoption of no-holds barred attack tactics upon “Bush’s war” by the Democrats could have led to a less disastrous outcome.

Of course, Obama at present shows no signs of pushing for American boots on the ground, outside perhaps target-spotters. But Republicans need to figure out what their policy approach is before they indiscriminately blame Obama for whatever goes wrong. If we Republicans conclude that, primarily for reasons of political division and inability to trust the chief executive, we cannot support sending troops back into Iraq, let us say that, and in a forceful and collective way. That is, let us not criticize Obama for not taking actions that we could not get behind were he to take them!  

Enough with this lazy criticism of Obama for everything on the world scene that’s gone to pot. Every candid person with a brain now admits that he is a generally poor leader who radiates indecisiveness in foreign affairs, so let us instead turn our fire upon those in the Democratic Party who are most responsible for our present foreign policy helplessness, and most likely to discourage moves away from that helplessness in the post-Obama era. Let us loudly say now, that if in the future the likes of Feinstein or Clinton get real Democrat support rolling for a more forceful and extended intervention in Iraq – not a fantas,y given the levels of televised murder ISIS may deliver – conservatives must refuse to support it unless we get a much stronger and clearer “buy-in” resolution from Democratic representatives than they gave for George W. Bush using force against Saddam Hussein.  

I admit there is much I am unsure about here, and I want to hear from others. I do know I will lend my voice to the growing movement among American Christians to demand efforts to protect our co-religionists in the Middle East. I would be quite open to a policy that merely said, “We have little idea anymore about what’s best for you Iraqi Arabs or you Muslims in general — but we will bomb hard and cut all aide to anyone who tries to murder or push out Christians, anyone who promotes terrorism in the U.S or Europe, and we will make sure that Israel and the Kurds can defend themselves.”  

But what do you say? With the wild cards of Maliki’s villainy and Obama’s untrustworthiness in mind for the short-term, and with the obvious need to prevent the consolidation of a terror-exporting Islamic State in mind as well, what long-term policy in Iraq should conservatives support?

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