As the world is transfixed by the events unfolding in Egypt, it is worth noting another epic Obama administration foreign policy failure: Iraq.
A little less than a year ago, Michael Gordon reported in the New York Times that the Obama administration had failed to negotiate an agreement with the Iraqi government that would have allowed American troops to stay in Iraq. He suggested that administration incompetence was to blame for the failure.
Given the source of the report, we ought to take it seriously.
Some have suggested that the Iraqi government was intransigent and wanted all American troops out of its country, but I find Gordon’s analysis more likely.
Barack Obama rose to prominence as an anti-war candidate. He promised to end the war in Iraq and he did just that. He did not say what would come next, but clearly he, and many Americans, wanted to be finished with Iraq. It is stupefying that the debate revolved around ending the war, not winning the war. The easiest way to end a war is to surrender and go home. In the minds of our enemies, that is what the administration did in Iraq.
Moreover, Gordon’s explanation rings true because President Obama had no experience with executive leadership or complex negotiations before he took office. When you send an amateur out to do a professional’s job, it is likely that he will fail.
How’s that policy working out for Iraq? Today, the New York Times reports the grim news:
Across the country, the sectarianism that almost tore Iraq apart after the American-led invasion in 2003 is surging back. The carnage has grown so bloody, with the highest death toll in five years, that truck drivers insist on working in pairs — one Sunni, one Shiite — because they fear being attacked for their sect. Iraqis are numb to the years of violence, yet always calculating the odds as they move through the routine of the day, commuting to work, shopping for food, wondering if death is around the corner.
The drastic surge in violence — mainly car bombs planted by Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate against the Shiite majority, and the security sweeps in majority-Sunni neighborhoods that follow — has lent a new sense of Balkanization to this city. Security forces have increasingly restricted the movements of Iraqis in and out of Sunni areas, relying on the neighborhoods listed on residence cards as an indicator of a sect. Sunnis also fear reprisals from reconstituted Shiite militias, groups once responsible for some of the worst of the sectarian carnage that gripped Iraq just a few years ago.
Even for the hardened residents of the capital, long accustomed to the intrusion of violence into everyday life, the latest upswing in attacks has been disorienting, altering life and routines in a manner that has cast a pall of fear over this city.
Now, apparently, the Iraqi government is asking for some American troops to return to help stem the violence. Some have seen this request as a sign that the Iraqis have had a change of heart and that there was nothing Obama could have done to conclude a satisfactory status of forces agreement.
Surely, many people in Iraq, and many officials in the Obama administration believe that the real problem in the Middle East is Western colonialism. By their lights, if Westerners withdraw from the region—beginning with Israel—all will be well.
Perhaps, the Iraqi government has seen the light. One knows that the Obama administration will never agree to send American troops back into Iraq. In that he will have the support of most Americans.