Numerous individuals and factions are responsible for the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — a Sunni faction also known as ISIS — and its successful military offensive in Iraq. President Barack Obama is not one of those individuals, and he should not make the mistake of reestablishing an American military presence in Iraq.
The first responsible individual is former President George W. Bush. Notwithstanding Republican Party protestations, it was Mr. Bush whose unnecessary and tragic invasion of Iraq led, in large part, to the current turmoil. He quickly compounded that first deadly mistake by dismantling the Iraqi army and essentially all institutions of government. No one will defend Saddam Hussein’s ruthless reign, but neither can one deny his removal unleashed long-standing hostilities between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
A recent political cartoon skillfully rebutted Republican whining to stop blaming Mr. Bush for the Middle East chaos. Against a backdrop of war scenes, an elephant says to a donkey “There you go blaming Bush for what Bush did.” Case closed on Mr. Bush’s culpability.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was, and is, the strongest proponent and defender of the Iraqi war. In a recent Wall Street Journal op ed, he had the temerity to say of Mr. Obama, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” That in reality is a self-assessment of the Bush-Cheney team, whose hands are stained by the blood of more than 36,000 American troops killed or wounded in Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also bears principal responsibility for the ISIS uprising. A Shiite, Mr. al-Maliki, was chosen as prime minister after the first Iraqi election to bring some measure of peace and cooperation among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. Instead, he marginalized Sunnis as a class and imprisoned many individuals. The Kurds have now become autonomous in the northern Kurdish territory. No one believes Mr. al-Maliki now intends to establish an inclusive governing body.
Finally, the United States-trained and –equipped Iraqi army, many of them Sunnis, essentially collapsed in the face of ISIS forces, also Sunnis. Obama’s former National Security Advisor, Thomas Donilon, said on Face the Nation 800 ISIS fighters routed 30,000 Iraqi army troops in capturing the city of Mosul. The Iraqi soldiers shed their uniforms, laid down their arms and abandoned American-provided armored vehicles. No amount of American training and presence would have changed that.
Even if we remain engaged militarily in Iraq for a decade or more, as the Cheneys and McCains advocate, the same sectarian strife would re-emerge. The Shiite-Sunni split has existed since the death of the Prophet Mohammad in the year 632, and U. S. military action will not bring it to an end.
Mr. Obama was right to withdraw American forces from Iraq in 2011. He’s right to use diplomatic pressure to bring about the formation of a Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish government. But now that we are out, we should stay out. Period.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.