I don’t have any constructive, forward-looking proposals for Iraq, but let’s take a look back. By the time Obama took office, Iraq’s political violence had sharply declined, Al-Qaeda had been marginalized, the Iran-backed Shiite militias had been subdued, the government had the backing of parties representing pluralities of all of Iraq’s largest confessional and ethnic groups, and the legislature was working though changes to the country’s civil service and pension systems. All of the progress took place while Maliki was prime minster.
Then the Obama administration happened. Maliki is a bad guy, but the forces of stability in Iraq were able to keep his worst instincts in check while the US was heavily involved. When it became clear that the Obama administration had ceded influence to Iran, the incentives changed for all the players.
Obama treated Iraq as primarily an American domestic policy problem. He was glad to take all the credit for pulling all the troops out even as the Iraqi state disintegrated. Obama’s short-term-oriented strategy worked – for Obama. He was reelected. It is unlikely he will ever pay the full political price of his choices. But the map of ISIS control of Iraq is a measure of his failures.