By: Harry C. Blaney III
Once again the never ending conflict in Iraq has intensified and is in the headlines. We have written before about the dangers of a spreading Sunni-Shiite religious war throughout the region. But, here in the United States, the Republicans have made it a partisan issue without any thought about the nature, extent, complexity, and resiliency of this age old struggle within Islam.
They have paid almost no attention and given almost no analysis to the particular reasons for this most recent successful upsurge and battle by the terrorist group “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” known also as ISIS.
There may be good reasons why America and other nations should help the Iraqi government resist the recent efforts of the militants, but such help alone is not likely to solve the underlying reasons for the government’s own weakness. It will also not halt the successes of what can only be described as a ruthless and radical Islam that a relatively small group wishes to implement in both Syria and Iraq.
I concur with my old State Department colleague Leslie H. Gelb, who led the Political-Military Bureau. In his recent Daily Beast article “U.S. drones and fighters won’t solve the problem: the problem is the Iraqi government” he wrote:
“And before the U.S. government starts to do the next dumb thing again, namely provide fighter aircraft and drone attacks and heaven knows what else, it should stop and think for a change. If America comes to the rescue of this Iraqi government, then this Iraqi government, like so many of the others we’ve fought and died for, will do nothing. It will simply assume that we’ll take over, that we’ll do the job. And when things go wrong, and they certainly will, this cherished government that we’re helping will blame only America. Don’t think for a moment it will be otherwise. Don’t think for a moment that the generals and hawks who want to dispatch American fighters and drones to the rescue know any better today than they’ve known for 50 years.”
And he concluded:
“Before the United States jumps off another cliff, let’s simply stop and take note of the bloody realities of more than fifty years. These internal civil wars, including the fights against these terrible extremists, are won and can only be won by the people Americans want to help – not by American troops, planes, drones, trainers, equipment and arms. And in the interest of a great majority of people in these countries who suffer from these wars, Washington owes it to them to try, just try, the diplomatic path of decentralization and federalism.”
There is no doubt that the many mistakes of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government are at the root of the present crisis. President Obama is right in being cautious and reaffirming that there will be not “boots on the ground” in Iraq. However White House advisers spent all last night looking for ways to help the Iraqi government. This included possibly providing weapons and intelligence to help in the immediate conflict.
There is no doubt that Maliki’s misguided efforts to consolidate Shia dominance and marginalize the Sunni population has much to do with success of ISIS. Moreover, many Iraqi citizens view Maliki and his government as corrupt. No American life is worth saving such a regime. President Obama and his officials have tried time and time again to convince Maliki of the need for reconciliation and sharing of power with Sunnis. Yet, even after agreeing to include Sunni opponents in his governing coalition, Maliki carried out a policy of oppression.
The question now is whether American assistance should be conditional on Maliki reforming his government. Such reforms will involve including significant Sunni political leaders and, as Leslie Gelb has indicated, providing some measure of regional autotomy. But, as in Afghanistan, establishing a honest and fair government and providing more jobs, education, and a sense of responsibility to the whole country is a necessity for any long-term reconciliation and advancement of Iraqi society.
However, within America we are seeing again in the foreign affairs and national security realm – as it is in domestic politics and issues – the hyper partisan corrosiveness which impacts our capacity to rationally debate and reach wise and effective solutions affecting our global interests and goals. It is, again, almost entirely from the Republican side, and is led by the same group that got us into the unneeded war in Iraq in the first place over a decade ago.
They now blame Obama for “getting out of Iraq” in 2011 which, they have conveniently forgot to tell us, was due to the the Iraqi government’s demand that U.S. forces be subject to Iraqi law. This was, and should be, non-negotiable.
The far right’s reaction to the president’s humane decision – backed, we must add, by the military – to trade Bergdahl has been a relentless and senseless stream of criticisms. They reacted similarly to the Benghazi attacks, and conveniently ignored the fact that it was they who had cut Embassy security along with children’s education, health, food stamps, and science. They continue to support a decaying infrastructure while funding a weapons system that the military does not want, the administration did not ask for, and the public finds generally useless in today’s strategic landscape. Mindless and also hypocritical!
As long as the issues of America’s security and well-being are used just for attacks, not for constructive joint examination, politicians will continue to fail our citizens and our strongly re-elected president when he tries to both make this nation better and the world more secure. Iraq is just one example. The media has proven no help, and has simply fallen into line with the neo-cons and GOP by playing the blame game and proposing military action but offering no analysis of its realities and consequences.
It will hard enough to find just the right balance between getting Maliki to see the light and building reconciliation and long-term peace. The immediate dangers continue to pose major threats: the possibility that Baghdad might fall into the ISIS’s hands, and the regional (Syria and Iran, especially) repercussions of this.
But as Mr. Gelb said, we need to get the negotiations and diplomacy right, and we cannot provide effective military aid to a failed and sectarian authoritarian leadership whose army will not fight and whose people do not support it.
We welcome your comments!