Back to Iraq

It really wouldn't be surprising if right about now, President Obama is asking himself, 'remind me again why I wanted this job?' With multiple points of crises and tension in the Middle East, which never seems to be in short supply, to The Ukraine and simmering tensions in Southeast Asia over China's rush to assert supremacy over the potentially rich oil and gas deposits off the coasts of Vietnam and the Philippines, the president could be forgiven for counting the days until the end of his term.

About the last thing he may have wanted to confront was a renewed crisis in Iraq, that tortured land from which American troops left in 2011 after eight years of unfortunate and expensive involvement.

It may yet be decades before the historical record settles enough to determine whether or not the American-led invasion in 2003 eventually created a better future for the Iraqi people than would have been the case had we not acted on what turned out to be flawed intelligence about weapons of mass destruction under development by the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. About 4,500 U. S. military personnel lost their lives, thousands more suffered grievous wounds - physical and psychological - which will prevent them from leading the full lives they would have had a chance at otherwise. The entire enterprise is anticipated to cost U. S. taxpayers at least one trillion dollars, and many veterans of service there will require decades of expensive medical care. There can be no question that they deserve it and we must pay for it.

Then we have the splintering of Iraqi society, and the many more civilian deaths incurred by their people to consider. And that splintering, which has implications for the broader Middle East given the turmoil in Syria, the unpredictable evolution of Iran, and the winding down of our involvement in Afghanistan - which one could easily picture devolving into an all-out civil war - is still playing itself out.

The emergence of the Islamic terrorist group ISIS, or IS, as they seem to have re-branded themselves (short for "Islamic State") out of nowhere has had one salutary effect so far. It has prompted the departure of Iraq's horrible and ineffective prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and his replacement by a new leader who seems to understand that a government based on suppressing the minority Sunni population in favor of the Shiites who were suppressed under Hussein's ghastly mis-rule won't work for anyone except the terrorists of ISIS. If the present crisis leads to an inclusive government that is prepared to rule democratically and respect minorities, the country may finally turn a corner and have a chance at survival.

In the short run, a renewed American presence in Iraq, even if limited to air strikes and small Special Forces advisors, is critical, and we owe it to the Iraqis. We broke their country, flawed and threatening as it may have been, and now we have to put it together again. The Iraqis may have been their own worst enemies in the years since Hussein's overthrow, but this is a case, for cold realpolitik reasons as well as moral high ground humanitarian ones, where if you are in for a penny, you are in for a pound.

And we are.

Americans may be understandably sick and tired of the unending insanity that is the Middle East, and see a host of issues awaiting attention here at home - still - years after the economic collapse of 2008. But this is what we bought into, unwittingly, in 2003. At this point, it is in our best interests to do whatever we can to bring stability to Iraq, because a fragmented, divided nation in the heart of the Middle East will spawn instability for decades more, if not longer. If that means limited military assistance for awhile, then that's what we should do. That all becomes much easier should the new regime in Baghdad turn out to be the kind or representative government we thought we were creating in Iraq years ago.


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