Here’s an extensive primer on the background and rise of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, by Dexter Filkins, from The New Yorker in late April. I’m hipped to it via Power Line, whose summary emphasizes the evidence within it that President Obama is to blame for the recent debacle, particularly regarding his imprudent giving up on the negotiations that could have kept some U.S. forces there. I largely agree with the Power Line analysis, but again stress that the best outcome with a posited-wise Obama might have been the U.S. now having leverage, ISIL having made fewer gains, and Maliki still semi-pretending to be for Iraq more than he is for the Shia. And maybe his most recent election results would have been substantially poorer.
Filikins’s evidence suggests Maliki has been a “sleeper despot” all along. That is, the evidence points to Maliki’s aim to emerge as a Shia version of Saddam Hussein, at least over a rump Iraq. Not so much for the glory, but for his personal safety, and that of the Shia generally.
Filkins’s narrative suggests the key moment of disaster for post-Bush Iraq came when the Obama administration calculated that they had no way to back the “secular, pro-Western coalition called Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi,” when it won the most votes in the 2010 election but not enough to form a government, without hopelessly angering Maliki’s backers and other Shia parties and politicians. It seems likely that that calculation was heavily swayed by an Obama desire to wash our hands of involvement in Iraqi politics, but Obama-critics should remain at least open to the possibility that it was basically a correct assessment of what the Shia parties would do if Allawi replaced Maliki. Not that that justifies our not vigorously resisting the violations of the Iraq constitution, which sidelined Allawi and Iraqiya, or any of the rest of Obama’s non-policy since then. For Obama to have insisted upon Allawi’s rights in 2010 might have simply brought about civil-war type activity occurring then, instead of now. But do note, in that scenario a non-sectarian party with ample Sunni-support would have been a major player, and we would have remained the “strongest tribe” in everyone’s calculations. Now, we are gone, Iraqiya and such seem irrelevant, and an al-Qaeda empire is emerging from the wreckage of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
It feels to me as if Obama and those around him simply succumbed to the all-American temptation, one that even Michael Totten is succumbing to now, to just say, “Forget it, Iraqis, we gave you what chance we could, you squandered it, and you’re just 100 percent on your own now.” (The liberal version of this puts more of the blame on our trying to help in the first place.) It’s just that there never is a 100 percent, is there? Nor are we capable of not caring any more about the Iraqis, are we? Obama’s abdication of our (not primary but nonetheless substantial) responsibility for post-Saddam Iraq is by no means as clear-cut as the one the congressional Democrats forced upon Gerald Ford with respect to South Vietnam, but it remains an abdication. One that looks likely to kill hundreds of thousands, if not more.
Again, like most Americans, I’m playing catch-up, so I welcome anyone calling my attention to any errors of fact or analysis.