The hawks of the GOP are having their “I told you so” moment as Iraq begins to crumble. Prime Minister Maliki appears to be an ineffective leader, and the Iraqi forces don’t appear to be well equipped enough to push back from the aggressors of Islamic State of Iraq, better known as ISIS. Multiple high profile cities, some of which were key victories for the United States just a decade ago, continue to fall to the overwhelming power of ISIS. The critics of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq are claiming that this was predictable, and I agree with them. However, the Republican Party and pro-Iraq War proponents have overlooked a very important detail; this was predictable from the start of the war, not just from when Obama took office.
When the decision was made in 2003 to invade Iraq, we were led on premises that were false. The Bush Administration alleged that Iraq possessed WMD’s, and managed to tie Saddam Hussein to Islamic extremists, some of whom sympathized with Al Qaeda. We have since proven without doubt that WMD’s were not in Iraq, disproving a premise that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary Rumsfeld consistently claimed was irrefutable. But often we overlook the second premise for entering Iraq regarding the relationship between Saddam Hussein and religious extremists. His relationship was almost identical to our relationship with these extremists; he wanted them gone.
While Saddam Hussein was a brutal, evil dictator, one thing he and his regime kept on high priority was to prevent any conflict between Sunnis and Shias. The history of Iraq showed a constant struggle between these two groups, leaving Saddam no choice but to aggressively reduce the influence of both groups, primarily in the forms of fear and violence. The strategy was effective, as neither group was able to successfully overthrow the regime, leaving a strange sense of religious harmony, where each section of Islam had been left with something, but not everything. Of course disputes occurred, and I wouldn’t say the individuals from either sect were happy with the conditions under Saddam, but the religious wars were kept to a minimum in Iraq. Even Christians were able to worship in Iraq, although they only made up 8 percent of the nation at their peak. Saddam just wanted to cultivate his power; he had very little interest in either sect of Islam gaining influence.
His own greed actually was the reason why Saddam was vehemently against Al Qaeda. He found them to be too extreme, and viewed their inflammatory rhetoric as a threat to his own power. There are few records that tie Saddam to Al Qaeda in any form, and the few that do all are reports of the conflicts between them. The bottom line is Saddam would never consider allying himself with Al Qaeda since it would align himself with the Sunnis, leaving the potential for his influence to be divided between himself and the leaders in the Sunni community. This leads to the conclusion that no, Al Qaeda was not able to use Iraq as a safe haven, seeing how Saddam tirelessly kept bin Laden and all of his accomplices out of Iraq.
So when we decided to invade Iraq, there was not any evidence that Saddam had conspired with Al Qaeda to execute the 9/11 Attacks. Couple that with questionable evidence of WMD’s, and the case to enter Iraq becomes very weak. There were critics who worried that the invasion would lead to unnecessary bloodshed in some kind of attempt of vengeance for 9/11. Many of these criticisms came from the religious community of all faiths. Instead, they called for diplomatic, global resolutions to investigate the credibility of the intelligence the U.S. had gathered and determine if WMD’s were present. Other naysayers questioned if it was really the time to divert our attention to Iraq at all, regardless of the presence of WMD’s. Individuals such as former President Bill Clinton or then-General Eric Shinseki worried that the invasion was pre-emptive, as there wasn’t any evidence that concretely linked Iraq to 9/11. Shinseki also believed that the amount of soldiers necessary to claim Iraq would be enormous.
Despite these concerns, the Bush Administration dismissed them all as either partisan attacks or just miscalculations by uninformed individuals. They began a campaign where any opposition was labeled un-American. The famous “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists” line from President Bush’s speech to the joint session of Congress perfectly sums up the talking points to defend the positions of the Bush Administration. The reason the case brought by the Bush Administration appeared to be so solid wasn’t because of the evidence they had, it was because of they managed to mute any criticism with rhetoric. No one who had analyzed the evidence could publicly challenge the Administration without being labeled a sympathizer towards terrorists or being dismissed as ignorant, crippling the debate.
So we went to war. We deposed Saddam, a truly evil dictator in just about every sense of the word. But what were we left with? A country in shambles, no WMD’s, and no exit strategy. In the years to come, we would see strong insurgencies of Sunnis, some from groups that had stemmed from Al Qaeda (although, not Al Qaeda itself). The war had become increasingly unpopular, as we began to notice that the cost was rising in both soldiers and dollars, along with the realization that WMD’s weren’t there. We attempted to leave in a safe, timely manner. No matter when we had left, Iraq would have faced this situation. It is fair to say that a different leader could have handled it better, and perhaps the crisis wouldn’t have gotten out of hand as it has now. Yet, we are the exact reason they find themselves in this situation right now.
While it is noble to believe that we should intervene, I don’t see how we can without being entangled in another affair without clear, concise objectives. Nor do I see how it would be beneficial for Iraq for us to occupy the country again. But what puzzles me is that those who are championing their predictions on Iraq over Democrats by pointing to the current mess fail to realize that they are the same people who made the mess in the first place. Just a few days ago, former Vice President Cheney insisted that Obama had failed the nation by letting Iraq crumble. There is no acknowledgement of his own mistakes in Iraq, such as the lack of evidence to support the original invasion.
I’m left wondering why we should be taking his opinion, or any other opinion from the Bush Administration, seriously. With the exception of Colin Powell, there really is no repentance offered by anyone in the Bush Administration for their poor decisions regarding Iraq. This is perhaps why the only voices that truly support intervention in Iraq are the same voices that wanted to go into Iraq back in 2002, only now their credibility has substantially declined. The unfortunate part is their credibility only appears to have been reduced largely in part due to an American public too jaded to return to Iraq, rather than because of the fact that both premises of entering Iraq were completely wrong. Iraq is deteriorating, and it is easy to observe that ISIS is rapidly making Iraq even worse. We cannot, however, forget that this mess was predictable but not inevitable. Had we not gone into Iraq in 2003, under false premises, we would not be entangled in the mess currently occurring in Iraq. Hypothetically, down the line if this had occurred anyways in Iraq, at least we wouldn’t be tied to the nation at all. And the ones who tied us this entire mess?
The Bush Administration. Don’t ever forget that.
They already misled us once, let’s not let it happen again.