What exactly was Bush right about?
What exactly was Bush right about?
“George W. Bush was Right About Iraq.“
In the past couple weeks, this headline has splashed across social media sites and newspapers all around the country. Is this headline referring to weapons of mass destruction being found in Iraq? No. Is this headline referring to newly uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein was providing support to al-Qaeda? No. Is this headline touting the wisdom of invading Iraq without a broad coalition? No.
Supposedly, this headline is referring to President George W. Bush’s ‘prophetic’ warning about withdrawing from Iraq in 2007. In a speech given to the press corps, Bush cautioned that withdrawing from Iraq too early “would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al-Qaeda … It’d mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It’d mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It’d mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) is committing horrific mass killings, has brutally executed two American journalists, and seeks to expand throughout the Middle East. Iraq has indeed become a safe haven for terrorists. On its face, Bush’s assertion seems to prophetically foreshadow the current upheaval accurately.
But this shortsighted view of history ignores so many things Bush and his national security advisers were wrong about. We were not greeted as liberators, imposing democratic ideals on a country by military force is not easy, and disbanding the Iraqi army was a huge strategic blunder that eliminated a policing force and led many well-trained and disgruntled former service members to the insurgency.
The line of reasoning needed to conclude ‘Bush was right,’ ignores the most obvious counterargument: that the Iraq invasion itself created the conditions that would require a continual presence by the U.S. military in that country. Before the Iraq war, Iraq was not a safe haven for al-Qaeda — Afghanistan was. By taking scarce resources away from the conflict in Afghanistan and launching another offensive against Iraq, al-Qaeda was not dealt a crippling blow but instead had swarms of new recruits as opposition against U.S. interference in the region ballooned.
The elimination of Saddam Hussein, a brutal dictator whose death was welcomed by all, unfortunately created a power vacuum into which the U.S inserted an ineffectual and broken democracy. While Saddam held the disparate factions in the country together by fear, oppression and violence, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to capitalize on his initial popular support and did not create an inclusive government responsive to the needs of its people. Al-Maliki installed his cronies into positions of power and discriminated economically and politically against Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds. The chance for a unified, inclusive and stable Iraq was lost.
While I share the outrage of my fellow Americans at the brutal killings of two American journalists and the senseless slaughter of the Iraqi people by these ISIS thugs, it is important to ask what the endgame is before this country rushes into another war. If we commit substantial combat power to defeating the conventional forces of the ISIS, we would undoubtedly achieve quick and decisive victories over them, but then what? Much like the way U.S. forces defeated the Iraqi army, the conventional forces would devolve into an insurgency and the U.S. would be required to commit ground troops to the region for the long term.
After over a decade of war, is this country ready for that? Are we prepared to spend another trillion dollars in Iraq and have more service members killed?
While action must be taken in Iraq and those responsible for the deaths of Americans should face justice, a well-thought out and deliberate approach to defeating ISIS is necessary, and we should not rush haphazardly into another protracted and complicated war alone. Simply hollering about “bombing them into the stone ages” is not a strategy; there is no single U.S. military action that can solve this problem. We must work with our partners and friends to fight back against ISIS and empower Iraqis at risk — and this time, we need to do it right.