National Review’s Mario Loyola, who is such a Serious foreign policy thinker that he wants the US to just start bombing random stuff in Iran to “dissuade” its nuclear ambitions and thinks that destroying Iraq in the name of non-existent WMD was fine because, like, in some parallel reality Saddam might really have had a bomb, man, is outraged over Obama’s “criminal negligence” in leaving Iraq just because the Iraqi government told us to get the hell out. He’s real mad, mostly because Iran I guess:
Now the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS — the very al-Qaeda forces we defeated in Iraq in 2007 — have come back and taken over huge swaths of the country, including most of the Sunni heartland to the west and north of Baghdad. Meanwhile, over in next-door Syria, Obama stood by while the rebels fighting Bashar Assad came under the dominance of extreme Islamist forces,
Obviously it’s Obama’s fault that the Syrian rebellion couldn’t sustain itself without the extremists. We could have, um, bombed the extremists and stuff while we were also bombing Assad and oh man I bet Mario needs a cigarette right now.
and then sold them all out with the chemical-weapons deal in September 2013. Consequently, we have thrown the Iraqi government into a de facto alliance with the murderous Baathist regime in Syria — a feat that not even common enemies and a common ideology could achieve during Saddam’s rule — and now both governments find themselves increasingly dependent on Iran.
Well, Assad was already pretty dependent on Iran to begin with, but, and this may be harsh and I apologize for that, if you don’t understand the historical events that surrounded the split between the Syrian and Iraqi Baathist parties and also don’t understand the reasons why the current Iraqi government would be far more inclined to have close relations with Assad than Saddam was, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing about this stuff? Because clearly you don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about.
With Iran’s power and prestige thus enhanced, and rapidly filling the vacuum left behind by the U.S., the mullahs now see the possibility at long last of extending the Islamic Revolution across the Fertile Crescent.
Why is it always a zero-sum game with these jokers? Why can’t Iran expand its regional footprint without that expansion necessarily coming at America’s expense? Oh, right, it’s the constant meth-like addiction to war.
With our impending agreement to let Iran keep its nuclear-weapons programs,
Fuck you, Mario.
we can now settle comfortably into the role of a de facto subordinate ally of Iran, whose forces we may soon be helping with air strikes in Iraq. If you’re wondering where that leaves our actual allies among the Gulf kingdoms and Israel, they are wondering the same thing.
Actually, our allies among the Gulf kingdoms are starting to improve their relations with Iran, funny enough. Admittedly, they still probably want the US to play bad cop for them when it comes to Iran, but since they’re our “allies” and not our “bosses,” we don’t have to act on their behalf if it doesn’t serve our own interests. As far as our ally in Israel, a country whose leadership is routinely dissatisfied with any American Middle East policy short of a full nuclear bombardment of every Arab and Iranian city in the region, I’m sure it will find a way to get over it. The $3+ billion it gets from the US every year regardless of its own frequently abominable treatment of the Palestinians will help cushion the blow.
What’s really baking Mario’s noodle is that Obama actually “restarted” the Iraq War that was totally over by just refusing to take “yes” for an answer when the Iraqis were all telling him “no” on the question of leaving American troops in Iraq. Loyola relies on this lengthy account by Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker of the negotiations in 2011 to rescind the part of the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement that called for a complete US withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011. According to Filkins, every important Iraqi leader, including Maliki, secretly was desperate to have the US leave a residual force behind:
The consequences became clear when negotiations began over the crucial question of withdrawing American troops after 2011. The leaders of all the major Iraqi parties had privately told American commanders that they wanted several thousand military personnel to remain, to train Iraqi forces and to help track down insurgents. The commanders told me that Maliki, too, said that he wanted to keep troops in Iraq. But he argued that the long-standing agreement that gave American soldiers immunity from Iraqi courts was increasingly unpopular; parliament would forbid the troops to stay unless they were subject to local law.
President Obama, too, was ambivalent about retaining even a small force in Iraq. For several months, American officials told me, they were unable to answer basic questions in meetings with Iraqis—like how many troops they wanted to leave behind—because the Administration had not decided. “We got no guidance from the White House,” Jeffrey told me. “We didn’t know where the President was. Maliki kept saying, ‘I don’t know what I have to sell.’ ” At one meeting, Maliki said that he was willing to sign an executive agreement granting the soldiers permission to stay, if he didn’t have to persuade the parliament to accept immunity. The Obama Administration quickly rejected the idea. “The American attitude was: Let’s get out of here as quickly as possible,” Sami al-Askari, the Iraqi member of parliament, said.
Let’s play a game with our imaginations, shall we? Imagine all the people who are currently criticizing Obama for proceeding with the agreed-upon withdrawal of US forces. Now imagine a world where Obama had given in to Maliki’s insistence that American soldiers not have immunity from local law, which is a condition that we’re only just starting to permit in SOFAs with long-time allies like Japan and South Korea, and US troops had remained in country. Now imagine that a few of those US troops get caught in a firefight with ISIS or whomever, and during the fighting they happen to kill a couple or so Iraqi civilians. They’re arrested by Iraqi police, brought to trial in an Iraqi court, convicted of murder, and sentenced to whatever is the equivalent of life in prison in the Iraqi penal code (could be “life in prison,” I just don’t know). What do you suppose these same folks who are accusing Obama of “losing Iraq,” as though it were ever ours to begin with, would be saying about those poor servicemembers who he would undoubtedly have abandoned to death in an Iraqi prison, or whatever? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, you know?
The first rule of Neocon Fight Club is: there is no “right” policy; there’s “our” policy and “their” policy, and “their” policy is always wrong. I’m sure if you put my hypothetical to Loyola he’d argue that Obama could have made Maliki accept immunity if he’d just Tried Harder or something, because the second rule of Neocon Fight Club is that whatever the little non-American peoples of the world say is irrelevant; they have no real agency or ability to determine their own future or to have their own opinions legitimized.
That last part is important, because whatever Maliki was supposedly saying in secret, through unnamed intermediaries, to the Americans about keeping a US military presence in Iraq, he’s steadfastly insisted to the Iraqi public that he never had any intention of allowing any US troops to remain in Iraq past 12/31/11. For all of the talk, from Loyola and from a number of the people Filkins interviewed for his piece, about how the American presence in Iraq was “restraining” Maliki’s authoritarian tendencies and his impulse to punish the Sunni Arabs for the decades in which the minority Sunnis ran Iraq and treated Maliki’s Shiʿa like garbage, it doesn’t seem to occur to anybody that maybe Maliki didn’t like being restrained.
Let’s note, as Filkins does, that it took Maliki all of less than a day after the last American forces left to issue an arrest warrant for Sunni Arab leader (and then-Vice President) Tariq al-Hashemi, on the charge of running “death squads” during the 2006-2007 civil war, a charge that could just as easily have been levied at Maliki himself. Forget Maliki’s words; his actions after the Americans left reveal somebody who was eager to have a freer hand to purge Arab Sunnis from the government and crack down hard against that community, and to employ the Iraqi army as his own private security/intimidation force. What they don’t reveal is any disappointment that the Americans left, at least not until ISIS started giving him real trouble. Mario Loyola may want to theorize that this was a guy who could have been persuaded to accept a permanent US military presence in Iraq, but he’s going to have to make a better case for that theory than anybody has made so far.