October 31, 2011

Iraq Agonistes

I cannot decide whether to join in with all the hyperventilation over our withdrawal from Iraq (Ex. A, Ex. B) and ink a deal with Regnery for A Victory Lost: How Obama Defeated the United States in Iraq, and Murdered Puppies or take the time to defend the administration. The former would probably be a lot more fun, but some lingering sense of responsibility leads me to do the latter. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have disagreed with the Bush and Obama Administrations pretty regularly on issues related to Iraq and Afghanistan, but I thought the Bush Administration did things pretty well regarding Iraq from 2006 onward and that the Obama Administration was correct to complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in compliance with the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration.

Let me just say a few things in response to some of the criticism of the Obama Administration by its neo-conservative critics (many of whom I respect and largely agree with on other issues).

1. Iran did win the Iraq War -- but in March of 2003, not November of 2011. If we were trying to contain Iran, knocking off that regime's mortal enemy in 2003 probably wasn't the hottest idea. A democratic, Shia-majority Iraq was always going to be friendlier with the regime in Tehran than a Sunni Arab-minority regime. You can still support the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 for any number of reasons, humanitarian or strategic, but you cannot then also complain years later about how Iran is empowered. Of course Iran is empowered. That was an obvious, easily-predictable risk we ran from the beginning.

2. Iraq is a sovereign nation, right? By our design, right? Well, if you are going to bust the Obama Administration's chops for not staying in Iraq, you then have to explain to me how we were supposed to stay in Iraq over the objections of the Iraqis themselves. My stance on staying in Iraq has always been that it was worth discussing -- so long as Iraq's leaders were willing to explain our continued presence in Iraq, in Arabic, to their constituents on live television. Anything else would be perceived as a continued occupation, exposing remaining U.S. troops to continued violent attacks. My college buddy Yochi Dreazen, who served as the Wall Street Journal's bureau chief in Iraq for two years at the height of the war, returned recently and discovered a massive disconnect between the debate in Baghdad over U.S. troops in Iraq and the debate in Washington over U.S. troops in Iraq. While we Americans were arguing over whether or not we should stay, the Iraqi voice was clear: they wanted us to go. I want to hear the administration's critics respond to the united opinion of Iraq's elected leaders and populace: are we to keep military forces in Iraq over the objection of the Iraqis themselves? If so, how is this not a new occupation? And does this Iraqi sovereignty we fought so hard for now not matter because of the threat posed by Iran? Because the one thing that drives me nuts about these criticisms of the Obama Administration is that they never allow space to discuss Iraqi sovereignty -- which matters in 2011 in a way that it did not in 2006.

Now, these are just the ways in which I would respond to the critics of the administration, who otherwise raise good points about U.S. interests, the threat posed by transnational terrorist groups, and Iranian influence in the region. Overall, though, I was convinced by the arguments made by Doug Ollivant, one of the men who worked on the Iraq staff of the Bush Administration's National Security Council. Read his essay -- which I am now posting for the second time -- and tell me why he is wrong.