Obama called leaving Iraq an "extraordinary achievement." Little more than two years later, it's chaos.
In December 2011 at Fort Bragg, Barack Obama boasted of his grand achievement in ending the war in Iraq as the last U.S. troops were removed. “We knew this day would come,” he said. “We’ve known it for some time. But still there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long. It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Everything that American troops have done in Iraq – all the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding and the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has landed to this moment of success. … We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations and we are ending a war not with a final battle but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement.”
Today, the news coming out of Iraq is yet another sad reminder of the utter failure of Barack Obama’s leadership on the world stage. The jihadist group known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit this week in lightning fast strikes that sent unprepared Iraqi security forces scrambling. ISIL has made steady progress in its campaign against government forces in recent months, having seized much of Anbar Province earlier in the spring. Its forces are now poised less than a hundred miles from Baghdad. By the way, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new leader of ISIL, was released from U.S. custody in 2009. Anyone still think those five Taliban leaders “are not a threat to the United States”?
America’s national security team assures us that Baghdad will not fall because of the high concentration of military forces there. But U.S. embassy officials are laying out contingency plans for evacuation. Last one to the helicopter on the roof can turn out the lights.
It’s a stunning turn of events, particularly for those gullible enough to believe Obama’s claims about his “extraordinary achievement.” For instance, let’s recall his boast upon pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq: “Al-Qaida is decimated.” Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared in July 2011 that the U.S. was close to “strategically defeating” al-Qaida. It turns out that al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), the major jihadi force that U.S. troops were fighting before Obama’s ignominious retreat, was not actually defeated. It just morphed into something else that is even more of a threat.
As recently as Wednesday, responding to the news of ISIL’s military gains, our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president maintained, “The world is less violent than it has ever been.” Perhaps true when compared to, say, World War II, but his statement is willfully ignorant of reality. Iraq is unraveling, Ukraine is fighting for its very existence against a resurgent Russia, and Boko Haram continues to terrorize Nigeria, just to pull three examples from the headlines.
The Middle East is a raging battlefield once again, with al-Qaida at the center of the conflagration. Call the brand of al-Qaida whatever you like, the blame for this rapidly unfolding disaster lays squarely at the feet of this president. Obama was so eager to end George W. Bush’s “dumb war” that he ignored the advice of senior Pentagon officials to leave a sizable American force in Iraq. He doesn’t seem to comprehend that leaving a battlefield is not synonymous with victory on the battlefield.
The growth and success of ISIL is a direct result of Obama’s complete foreign policy malfeasance. The Islamic militant group is made up of Sunni fighters from Syria and Iraq motivated to create a Pan-Islamic caliphate stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iranian border. The civil war in Syria, which Obama refused to dirty his hands with, inevitably spilled over the porous border with Iraq, and militants traveled back and forth in that region for the last two years or more, causing death and destruction and growing stronger by the day.
It’s a mistake to assume that ISIL is just another al-Qaida affiliate that can be neutralized with drone strikes. This is not some ragtag band of fighters roaming the desert in rusty pickups. They are trained soldiers, equipped with more than military hardware left behind by fleeing Iraqi National Security forces and abandoned U.S. military outposts. They are motivated, which is more than can be said for the White House.
Just as Bill Clinton’s willful ignorance of al-Qaida in the 1990s left us unprepared for 9/11, so too Obama’s self-centered hubris has allowed Iraq to come to the brink of anarchy. Headlines say the White House was “caught off guard” by the advance of al-Qaida. Perhaps Obama only found out about ISIL’s military gains from news reports.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has begged the administration to consider air strikes against ISIL staging areas since May. Going back as far as March, American advisers who visited Baghdad had been told by senior Iraqi leaders that air power was sorely needed to turn the tide against the insurgents. Yet the requests fell on deaf ears.
Now, Obama says all options are on the table to help the Iraqis. “I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria.” Not getting a permanent foothold? His oblivion knows no bounds. Maybe he can try a few Twitter hashtags on his way to Laguna Beach for golf and a fundraiser.
Things have gotten so bad that Iran is now getting into the fight on behalf of the embattled Iraqi government, sending Revolutionary Guard units to combat its Sunni foes. So, while Iran remains a state sponsor of terrorism, props up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and continues its quest for nuclear weapons, it’s defending U.S. interests in Iraq better than Obama is. Even Assad is offering to help. To put it conservatively, Iraq is a total mess.
Obama has made it plain he has no intention of correcting his egregious mistakes in Iraq – he’s given away everything we fought for and he’s proud of it. We will likely have to watch chaos spread across the region for another two years until, hopefully, a new president does what’s needed to stabilize the region and protect U.S. national security interests. Thursday’s anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall reminds us that America can be a beacon of freedom and security in the world. Unfortunately, we’ve gone a long way in the wrong direction.