The neo-conservatives who sold the invasion of Iraq on the basis of fables about weapons of mass destruction now want to blame Obama for "losing Iraq." Unrepentant, they have once more flooded the media — Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, even Paul Bremer, who headed the ruinous post-invasion occupation.
But Gen. Colin Powell, Bush's secretary of state and former chair of the Joint Chiefs, had it right when he cautioned against the invasion, arguing what was dubbed the
Pottery Barn argument that "if you break it, you own it." The invasion broke up Iraq and shattered stability in the region. Obama inherited the shards of broken glass. Cheney and his claque want to blame him for not putting the pieces together again. Obama at least had the good sense to get American soldiers out of the mess (although their removal, ironically, was agreed to by George Bush and enforced not by Obama but by the government of Iraq that refused to accept a so-called "residual force.")
Affixing responsibility for the debacle is important because it helps us decide whom to trust going forward. But it doesn't provide much help in figuring out what to do.
The civil war between Shiite and Sunni and Kurd now engulfs Syria and Iraq, with Iran and Saudi Arabia and the emirates involved in supporting various sides. One of the perverse effects of the Bush-Cheney invasion is that it produced a militantly Shiite government in Baghdad, allied with Iran and intent on suppressing the minority Sunnis in Iraq, to the dismay of our allies in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The Bush debacle is measured in millions displaced, trillions wasted, hundreds of thousands dead, and thousands of U.S. casualties, dead and wounded. But the scope of the folly is that all that misery and sacrifice produced a government allied with our adversary in the region and aligned against our allies.
On solutions, the debate has been virtually devoid of common sense.
Many seem to think that precision, limited bombing will have transformative power, leading to peace, negotiations, coalition government, a revival of the moderates. This is frankly silly. There's already a lot of violence in this expanding civil war; adding a bit more to it isn't a remedy.
First, we have to understand the limits of our interest. President Obama argues that our interests are deeply engaged — in stability of the region, in the supply of oil, in the security of our friends from Israel to Jordan, and even in the security of our "homeland," which could be threatened if the vicious ISIS terrorists consolidate a safe haven stretching from Baghdad to Damascus.
But this, too, seems exaggerated. Obviously, we have an interest in stability of the region — one reason invasion was so foolish. But the civil war isn't really a threat to our security. Iraq's oil is not essential to the world economy, much less to ours. And the terrorist ISIS forces will be constantly besieged, and hardly a threat to the U.S.
In reality, the U.S. has neither the interest nor the resources nor the public support to "resolve" the civil war now raging across the Middle East. We should revive the "coalition of the willing" to offer outside pressure for negotiations and peace. We should be willing to bring our regional allies together with our regional adversaries like Iran to see if a settlement is possible. And we should act economically to limit the damage. But the last thing we should do is commit more lives and more treasure to a limited military intervention that will only add fuel to the fire.