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Monday, October 24, 2016

Remember the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush? It happened on December 14, 2008, near the end of the president’s second term. Bush had traveled to Baghdad for a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki. The two announced the signing of the U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement promising that all American soldiers would leave Iraq by December 31, 2011.

“This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,” yelled TV correspondent Muntadhar al-Zaidi in Arabic as Bush ducked nimbly away. “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,” he shouted as he flung his second shoe.

“I don’t think that you can take one guy throwing his shoe as representative of the people of Iraq,” sniffed White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who sustained a black eye in the melee.

Actually, things are a lot worse than that, it’s been tempting to observe watching President Obama struggling to contain the predictable aftermath of the worst strategic blunder in U.S. history. For sheer destructive folly, only Vietnam rivals the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Predictable because, as Eric Alterman reminds us at, the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus view of 16 different U.S. spy agencies, did predict it. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” it concluded that dismembering Iraq’s government and disbanding its army had greatly multiplied the threat of Islamic terrorism.

As reported by Mark Mazetti in the New York Times, the draft report described “actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.”

At least that’s what it said before the little gremlins in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office censored the final document. Even so, a 2005 study by the National Intelligence Council also concluded that “that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists.”

History records that the Obama administration beat the treaty deadline by two weeks, completing the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq on December 16, 2011. The president spent much of the 2012 presidential campaign bragging about it.

Well, he wasn’t doing a whole lot of bragging last week.

Indeed, listening to the president’s cogent, almost professorial explanation of his administration’s response to the rapid takeover of large parts of Iraq and Syria by ISIS militants, I found myself wondering how much Obama himself believed his own words.

“Iraqi leaders,” he said “must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq’s future. Shia, Sunni, Kurds—all Iraqis—must have confidence that they can advance their interests and aspirations through the political process rather than through violence.”

Yes, and snow cones and magic ponies for all the little children.

This too: “The United States will not pursue military options that support one sect inside of Iraq at the expense of another. There’s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States. But there is an urgent need for an inclusive political process, a more capable Iraqi security force, and counterterrorism efforts that deny groups like ISIL [more commonly known as ISIS] a safe haven.”

No military solution, just a more capable Iraqi army. All that and a defensive perimeter around Baghdad too! Manned by Shiite militias of doubtful loyalty to Iraq’s government and possibly by Iranian soldiers, Obama was careful not to say aloud.

Indeed, as Iraq descends into a full-scale sectarian civil war, the best possible outcome from an (amoral) American point of view would be bloody stalemate and ultimately, perhaps, partition.

But Obama can’t say those things either, although he came close when he told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell that the idea of arming “farmers, dentists and folks who have never fought before” to overthrow a brutal dictator like Syria’s Assad and also defeat ruthless jihadists was a “fantasy.”

He said the Washington press corps needed to understand that.

Above all, the president needs to heed Gen. David Petraeus’s warning that the U.S. not let itself be manipulated into serving as a Shiite air force.

Politically speaking, however, here’s catch: The more President Obama does what Americans say they want done in foreign affairs—i.e. pulling back from insane Middle Eastern ethnic and religious conflicts—the worse his polling numbers get.

It’s almost as if people yearn for a make-believe, action-figure president like the one George W. Bush impersonated until the roof fell in. Or possibly like Ronald Reagan, who got the hell out of Lebanon after a Beirut terrorist strike killed 287 Marines, but who talked tough and invaded tiny Grenada.

Basically, too many Americans want victory without sacrifice. They like to chant “We’re Number One!” but with lower taxes and no fatalities.

That’s a fantasy too, from which we may slowly awaken.

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

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Copyright 2014 The National Memo
  • Daniel Jones

    Stay. Out. Of. That. Cesspool.
    Screw victory, there’s no such thing there.

  • Dominick Vila

    Let me start by saying that we should have never gotten involved in the internal affairs of Iraq, that we should not have deposed our old ally – Saddam Hussein – and that we should not have replaced Sunni government workers with Shiites sympathetic to Iran. What we did was a recipe for disaster and we are now paying the consequences of a foreign policy influenced by the personal goals of a few, greed, and arrogance.
    There are no easy solutions now. We either let our puppet fall and allow the Sunnis to regain power, or we get involved in an internal struggle that is none of our business. The al-Maliki regime does not enjoy public support, to a great extent because most Iraqis see it as an extension of U.S. interference, and because of their decision to exclude their spiritual enemies from governmental decisions. The best course of action is to let the Iraqis solve their problems. Our myopic foreign policy De-stabilized the Persian Gulf region after years of relative calm due to Saddam’s ability to keep Iran at bay. The ISIS fighters are likely to retaliate against those responsible for so many deaths and the destruction of what was once a prosperous country, but after the dust settles down, we are likely to see a return to the way things were before we messed things up to make a few extra bucks, control the oil market, and turn a pathetic President into a war President to guarantee his re-election. As usual, it was our young men and women in uniform who had to make the ultimate sacrifice and suffer the consequences of some of the worst foreign policy decisions in modern U.S. history (Beirut notwithstanding).

    • charleo1

      That’s our options exactly, isn’t it? Do this, and that bad thing happens. Do that other thing, and it gets a whole lot worse. And unfortunately, doing nothing at all, may hold the greatest risk of the worst possible outcome of all. It’s funny how it happens. That difficult, and impossible predicaments, always follow dumb, and foolish decisions. I read one person’s comment here that Iraq, and the Mid East, are a terrible investment. But looking at invading Iraq as an investment, which team Bush probably did. Is more like two drug addicts contemplating robbing a liquor store, as an investment. It’s a great Investment, if you get away with it. Investment, is how China secures it’s oil contracts. They bid on them, like farmers secure a price for hog bellies. Or as in Nigeria, bring in technology, and knowhow, and extract the oil for a contracted price. Improving some of the infrastructure there, with roads, water plants, and housing, etc. And hearts, and minds, will most likely follow. What they don’t do is get involved with regime change. Promote their own brand of governance. Waste their money knocking down the infrastructure, so they can build it back at multiple times the cost, while the Nigerians try to kill them. And I haven’t seen one Chinese Government Official on T.V. wringing his hands about all the turmoil. I suppose the case could be made it’s basically immoral not to care about the possible, human Rights violations in Nigeria. But, for all our posturing on the subject, we haven’t done the people of Iraq any favors in that department. In fact, we’ve made about everything about their daily lives immeasurably worse, since we got there.

      • Dominick Vila

        In addition to de-stabilizing the entire Persian Gulf region, and shifting the balance of power to Iran, our decision to invade Iraq did not produce positive results for us. In fact, it paved the way for the mayhem we are dealing with now, and the uncomfortable circumstance of having to side with Iran to keep our Shiite puppet in power. There is no question that ISIS is as brutal or more brutal than even Al Qaeda, but their real goals remain nebulous. Is their primary goal to seize control of Iraq, or to control parts of Iraq, Syria and Iran to form a medieval Caliphate controlled by medieval zealots opposed not only to a Western presence, but to the most modest evidence of Western culture and values? I suspect that for them the issue is not wealth, but religion, sovereignty, and the preservation of their culture.

        • charleo1

          I would suspect the later. That they are the same
          hardcore fanatical elements, as has been backed, and funded for years by the Saudis, Yemenites, and other factions out of Arabia. I’m guessing, the same groups that continue to fund Madrases throughout the region, to radicalize kids to carryout their suicide missions. That’s where these radical clerics are located, that need to sign off, so to speak, on each one of these jihads, or martyr missions. And their
          goals are just that. To establish a Sovereign State, in Arabia. (Has to include Mecca, of course.) Then, from there, spread their version of extreme Sharia Law throughout the Middle East. This also makes the Fahd, Dynasty itself, a huge target. But, the Royal Family are tough, and brutal, as one might expect, and deemed unassailable at this point. So, it seems to me the Sunni Revolutionaries are thinking they need a secure base of operations to amass, and equip this huge Sunni force they hope will eventually unite all Muslims, expel Israel, rule the entire region. And then, I’m guessing, if I’m an absolute fanatic nut-job, I want to conquer the World for Allah. And if this is so, it’s ultimately
          all about religion. After Iraq, that puts Iran directly in
          their crosshairs. And they seem to be responding
          as one would expect. Sending their best units into the fight, next door. So I believe there is much evidence, the first objective of ISIS is to spark a general sectarian war in the region. Initially involving Syria, Iraq, Iran, and perhaps even, their ideological cousins, the Taliban. That are well armed, and battle hardened, and now encamped just over in Pakistan. Another place that is literally seething with religious zealotry. I think it very likely the Taliban will most likely be back in charge of Afghanistan by this time next year, and Syria could be, or may already be a de facto, failed State. And, the wider the war the more jihadist it draws. That’s a fact. But, I don’t believe anyone knows for sure, how many of theses types are out there, just keeping their powder dry, and waiting for what looks like the real deal. If the
          U.S. were to jump in in a big way, I think this is the
          real concern of Obama, and the Joint Chiefs. We
          loathe to see the sacrifice, and the ton of money we’ve spent go down the drain to extremists. However, by us coming in on the side of the Shia in Iraq, would be a huge plus to ISIS in their efforts in this respect. So the plan is, for the Iraqi troops to whip them, with as little overt U.S. help as possible.
          Because, Plan B, looks like a Holy disaster.

  • FireBaron

    Here is a little history lesson.
    In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower campaigned on the basis that he was going to pull our troops out of Korea. In 1953, after he was in office, the US and South Korean governments negotiated a Cease Fire with the PDRK (i.e. North Korea). However, that “war” still has not ended, as we are still operating under that cease fire.
    In 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned on the basis that he was going to end the war in VietNam (ok, guys, stop laughing). So the Paris Peace Talks came out with a framework under which the US would withdraw. As the unpopular US-propped regime in Saigon failed their people and their army (unlike the Republic of Korea), the US final withdrawal (under Gerald Ford) was only minutes before the NVA overran Saigon.
    In 2007, George W. Bush negotiated a reduction in forces settlement with Nouri al-Maliki for Iraq. The deadline for our troops’ final withdrawal was 2011. All Barak Obama did was complete that negotiated withdrawal, especially as President al-Maliki had no desire to reopen negotiations and keep US troops in country.
    Why did I present this – to show that the last two boondoogle affairs our military got stuck in (not counting Afghanistan, the failure of which I totally blame on Donald Rumsfeld) ended up having “settlements” negotiated by one President, but the timeline for operation ended up falling in the laps of their successors! Barak Obama’s hands were effectively tied by his predecessors negotiations concerning troop withdrawals. I am damn sure that Darryl Issa would have launched an investigation into that, too, had he fallen behind the timeline.

    • Faraday_Cat

      You forgot a piece of that…In 1991 George H.W. Bush also negotiated with Saddam the terms of Iraq’s surrender after the first gulf war. They forgot to include that the new “no fly” zone would apply to helicopters as well, and so instead of the Iraqi people, emboldened by the dismantling of the oppresive army, taking back thier country from the dictatorship of Saddam, he used helicopters “legally” within the ceasefire to bomb and gun down the dissenters, saving the dictatorship and bringing us to your 2007 reference.

  • charleo1

    The author makes a good point I think, about American’s fantasies. Those things Americans want, or want more of, or believe we used to have, but now don’t. Or, the idea that we can somehow make a thing to be true. A fiction, a fact, by the sheer force of our will. Or conversely, the notion that if we choose to deny a thing we’d rather not deal with, that we can do that as well. And just vote whatever the thing may be, out of existence. A politician comes along, and says, I deny it too. We say, great! You’re hired! Problem solved. That when faced with a choice between having the most expensive, and powerful military in the World, and a government that does, or provides a lot of what we expect. Or, are told the balanced budgets we also demand, will involve sacrifices or higher taxes. We Americans choose to reject the argument, and the math of that bitter pill. Choosing instead to believe that if enough fat, and waste are cut, there’s plenty of money in the richest Country in the World, without raising my taxes. A politician comes along, and wholeheartedly agrees. And we say, what a leader! You’ve got my vote! We love rollicking, uninhibited, parties, lasting to all hours in the morning. But act horrified at the carnage of dunk driving on our roads. We buy cheap low quality junk produced in China, and S. E. Asia, and then wonder where all the good American jobs have gone, that used to support our families. We exploit our poorer neighbors in Mexico, south and Central America, and our lust for cheap labor, and drugs turns them into narco-states, and economic basket cases. And, then are incensed at them, when they start showing up on our doorstep by the thousands. What happen we wonder, to our fantasies of the Mexicans, and South Americans happily toiling away on the U.S. Corporate Plantations? It couldn’t be their mud floored company housing, that’s caused them to, “invade,” our great Nation. Or the Democratic secularism we fail to impose at the point of a gun in Iraq. It must be the policies of this President! For we the American People, that God continually blesses, are never wrong. And, are obviously not happy at all, about the recent turn of events over there in Iraq. And they’ll demand to know just who dropped the ball. Because if there are any consequences, they can be laid directly at the feet of someone, other than the American People, not doing their job. Yes, of course! Just more governmental incompetence! Well, we’ll fix all that, come election day!

  • howa4x

    When did it become our job to keep Sunni and Shia ‘s from slaughtering themselves? There are two rival faction leaders that stoke this hatred. One is Saudi Arabia, and the other is Iran.
    Once we become completely independent from petro dictatorships there is no need to be involved. The Wahhabis who are the religious arm of the Saudi royal family spread hatred of America through the madrassas they set up in places like Pakistan and we fund that through our oil purchases. We are fighting the students of them in the tribal land there in Pakastan. In effect we are funding both sides in the war on terror. Oil sheiks in the gulf funnel money to ISIS. They are also supposedly our allies, and we are guaranteeing their safety as we did in Kuwait.
    Iran the other protagonist funds groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, committed to destruction of our ally Israel, and supports Bashar Assad in Syria that is trying to crush the Sunni rebellion.. All three are considered terrorist enclaves, but we need a nuclear deal with Iran.
    Obama is caught between the two warring factions and there is no good option for us. Neither side has our best interests, but everyone talks a good game. All we can do is to give advise to the crumbling Iraqi army and protect the embassy. The other choice is to defend our enemy in a fight with our friends, and that is not a choice that will have a good strategic outcome.
    Best bet, turn and walk away, and don’t look back!

  • tdm3624

    Can’t we please get out of the Middle East where we get very little return on our investment anyway? No matter what we do the crazy Shiite and Sunni extremists are going to go after each other. We have wasted so much money and blood. I would rather have us spend that on a nation like Ukraine who at least seems to want western involvement.

    • Sand_Cat

      Problem is, Ukraine is threatened by a nuclear-armed nation, not a rabble of lunatics (well, a nuclear-armed nation manipulating a rabble of lunatics).

      • charleo1

        That seems to be our nuclear non-proliferation policy. Don’t
        get them, or disarm. And we praise you for your wise cooperation. Then, we help your enemies overthrow you, and you wind up being dragged from your palatial digs, beaten like cur dog, and shot by a mob, and shown on U-Tube to be viewed, and taken very personally by other dictators, and rogue Nations around the World. Then there’s Pakistan, and N. Korea, who do anything they damn well please, while thumbing their noses at us, and the rest. And what happens?
        They get strongly condemned. And I’m sure they are just all torn up about the rebuke.

  • latebloomingrandma

    The Sunni and Shia have been at each other’s throats since the prophet Himself died centuries ago. So how do we expect them to get along now when we in the US can’t even get our own act together?. Our President is called every vile name in the book and our Congress is full of misfits who ridicule each other. And we’re lecturing them?
    It’s time to put our own house in order. I hope we don’t get sucked back into that toxic morass.

  • Jeff Bottaro

    TOO MANY AMERICANS want VICTORY WITHOUT SACRIFICE in ALL walks of their lives. This is a SYMPTOM of a disease known euphemistically as the HUMAN POTENTIAL MOVEMENT. The cure is so painful as to be unmarketable as a political, media, philosophical, OR literary product.

  • ps0rjl

    A little history on Vietnam that is different than Iraq. Ho Chi Minh only wanted a united Vietnam. During WWII he was a staunch ally and hated the Japanese. After the war he was betrayed by the allies who allowed the French to comeback into Vietnam. After the French got their butts handed to them at Dien Ben Phu we immediately stepped in to prop the South Vietnam government because we feared the domino effect. We propped up a number of South Vietnam governments that were totally corrupt and had no support of the people. Once we cleared out of the country it united and now Vietnam is a peaceful prosperous country.
    The Iraq invasion was based on a bunch of lies perpetuated by the evil Dick Cheney and his cabal of neocons. Once we destabilized Iraq there was no way the ethic religious groups would ever unite. The difference is Vietnam was a civil war and Iraq is a religious war. There will be no peace until it is divided into three distinct and independent areas, one for the Kurds, one for the Shia, and one for the Sunnis. Either that or there needs to come to power a man like Saddam Hussein who was so brutal nobody challenged him. Either option, we need to stay out of it completely.
    The only way we will stay out of every mess in the world is to bring back the draft and do not allow any deferments especially student deferments. Once the sons and daughters of the politicians and media are in danger of being sent to war then we will be assured that we will stop sending troops to every hotspot.

    • Mikey7a

      Only one problem with your solution of bringing back The Draft. Who do you think makes the Exception Laws? I believe it’s the very same people, you are aiming to deter from their warmongering, using OUR kids, but never, or rarely, their own!

  • dougom

    Gene, I think most Americans don’t give two sh*ts about “victory” in Iraq at this point. I bet most Americans are perfectly happy to watch Iraq descend into the epic civil war that the Iraqis are clearly so desperate to have. I don’t think we’ll see anything remotely resembling “stability” in the Middle East until either a huge superpower enforces it a la Victorian England, or it’s Balkanized to the point where every tiny little splinter sect gets their own little “country”, a no-doubt weird collection of democracies, kingdoms, theocracies, and so on.

    Short of that, why the hell should we try to achieve “victory” there? What’s the f*cking point, Gene?

    • Gene Lyons

      I suggest reading the column.

      • dougom

        I suggest less snark.

  • Mikey7a

    I heard on the news today, that we are going to begin exporting Oil, for the first time in 40 years. Bring ALL of our troops home from The Middle East. Tell Israel to do what they must to protect themselves, and let the rest resolve their own issues. Tell them to leave us the F..k alone, or we will blast you back into the Middle Ages, and be done with it.

    I would add, send them the War Criminals from here, from The G.W Bush Administration, but I never know who might be monitoring my IP address!

    • ralphkr

      “we will blast you back into the Middle Ages”, Mikey? That is not a threat but a promise to advance their civilization a few centuries from where they currently are TO the Middle Ages.

      • Mikey7a

        Thanks for the early morning belly laugh, Ralph! TO indeed.