With Islamic State having taken over Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, and Shiite militias lining up to take it back from the Sunni militants, President Barack Obama is being criticized for allowing Iraq to fall into chaos.
On his radio show May 18, Sean Hannity excoriated Obama for pulling troops out of Iraq too early, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted that "this is another consequence of the failure of this administration and this president to leave a residual force behind."
But, while Obama has no doubt been terribly hypocritical about what to do in Iraq, the rise of Islamic State is not his fault.
In this citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, a protester holds a placard depicting U.S. President Barack Obama during a demonstration in Kafr Nabil town, Idlib province, northern Syria, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN)
Recall that in December 2008 – after Obama was elected, but before he was inaugurated – it was President George W. Bush who signed the status of forces agreement that called for U.S. troops to be pulled out of Iraq by 2012. By pulling U.S. forces out in accord with that timetable, Obama was carrying out a deadline set by Bush.
Of course, Obama could have negotiated a new status of forces agreement with Iraq that would have left U.S. troops in the country, and he tried to. But Iraq wouldn't agree to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution if they violated Iraqi laws, and the negotiations fell apart. The 2012 deadline that Bush set stayed in place, and Obama pulled troops out.
But, even if immunity had been granted, the number of U.S. soldiers would have been 10,000 or less. It's not clear if that would have been enough to stop Islamic State. And even if it were enough to fend off Islamic State, there's no telling who else might decide to pick a fight with us. Islamic State is far from the only paramilitary force in the region, there's also Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army and Badr Brigades.
In particular, I worry about what happened in January 2007, when four U.S. soldiers were abducted from a security station in Karbala. The well-equipped militants took them east, likely heading for Iran. With U.S. helicopters bearing down on them, the militants shot their captives and fled. This operation – probably an Iranian-backed attempt to take U.S. soldiers hostage – almost succeeded, even though the U.S. had well over 100,000 troops in Iraq at the time. Would a mere 10,000 be able to defend themselves if Shiite militias decided to take some belated revenge?
If there is a single person to blame for the rise of Islamic State, it's former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
When Sunni militants turned on Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2006 and the U.S. initiated the Iraq Surge in 2007, sectarian violence plummeted and a space was made for reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis. Maliki, a Shiite, didn't deliver. After U.S. troops left, Iraq had a relatively peaceful 2012 until Sunni resentment hitched its wagon to – or even, helped to organize – the Sunni militants in Syria.
President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stay in their seats, Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, following a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
U.S. military force can only provide a short-term stop to the violence, and only at great cost, like we saw with the Iraq Surge. To prevent Iraq's Sunnis from joining and supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq or Islamic State, they have to believe that there is a place for them in the Iraqi government. Maliki failed miserably at that. He didn't even manage to put together a military force competent enough to protect his fellow Shiites. Hopefully his successor, Haider al-Abadi, will do better.
Meanwhile, Obama as president has done much of the same flip-flopping on Iraq that he did as a senator.
While in the Senate, Obama opposed the Iraq Surge, calling for all troops to pull out by April 2008, and warning that the surge would make violence worse. When it didn't, he said he'd actually always thought the surge would reduce violence, insisting that the real problem – the lack of political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites – hadn't been solved by the surge. This was true, but such reconciliation could only come from Iraqis, not from a U.S. president, whether Bush or Obama.
Once he was elected, Obama withdrew troops as per the status of forces agreement. He routinely took credit for ending the war in Iraq, insisting that Iraq was "sovereign, stable and self-reliant," and sent Vice President Joe Biden to Baghdad to oversee the security hand-off, with Biden praising how "politics has broken out" in Iraq.
Then, when Islamic State took Mosul, Obama helpfully reminded us that it was actually Bush who'd decided to withdraw U.S. troops, and that it was the Iraqi government that had "failed to pass legislation that would reincorporate Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership."
I don't blame people for being worried and angry. Islamic State is a horrific regime, and our president skips from one position to another without owning up to how he's contradicting himself. But, the good news is, Islamic State will be beaten, and – for all of Obama's waffling – the U.S. is taking the right position.
Islamic State simply doesn't have the manpower to take and hold and then develop territory in a virtuous cycle that will grow their resource base and military capacity. They do more to create refugees than inspire followers, and over the course of a year they haven't knocked off a single existing government in the region. Not weakened ones like Iraq and Syria, not de facto ones like the Kurds, and certainly not stronger ones like Turkey or Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
And they'll be beaten without the U.S. risking troops on the ground. From the air, we can choose who we fight; on the ground, we can't.
The bigger worry is how much of a role Shiite Iran will play in beating Islamic State. But even there, propping up Iraq (and Syria, and Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen) may prove to be more of a burden than a boon for Iran.
In the face of all the violence and hypocrisy, don't rule out the possibility that we're might actually be winning.
TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.