Sane Talk on Iraq

Maliki is part of the problem.


A man who owes his presidency to his opposition to the Iraq war is now pondering a new intervention in the same country. Some of his foremost critics think the president is being too cautious, even accusing him of "surrendering." The debate over Iraq has gotten so risible that if Saddam Hussein were still alive, some hawks would probably be calling for Washington to "finish the job" by reinstalling him.

Fortunately, some people have kept their heads. One of them is The Monkey Cage's Marc Lynch:

Caption contest!
Lawrence Jackson

The absence of U.S. troops because of the 2011 withdrawal is an extremely minor part of the story at best. The intense interaction between the Syrian and Iraqi insurgencies is certainly an important accelerant, but again is only part of the story. Nor is the U.S. reluctance to provide more arms to "moderate" Syrian rebels really the key to the growth of ISIS in Syria or in Iraq. It's a bit hard to believe that the jihadists who have joined up with ISIS would have been deterred by the presence of U.S.-backed forces—"Well, we were going to wage jihad to establish an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but the U.S. is arming moderates so I guess we'll stay home." In reality, the shift to an externally fueled insurgency and the flow of money and weapons to a variety of armed groups is what created the conditions that allowed ISIS to thrive in the first place.

The more interesting questions are about Iraq itself. Why are these cities falling virtually without a fight? Why are so many Iraqi Sunnis seemingly pleased to welcome the takeover from the Iraqi government by a truly extremist group with which they have a long, violent history? Why are Iraqi Sunni political factions and armed groups, which previously fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq, now seemingly cooperating with ISIS? Why is the Iraqi military dissolving rather than fighting to hold its territory? How can the United States help the Iraqi government fight ISIS without simply enabling Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's authoritarianism and sectarianism?…

I've long argued that the only thing that would force Maliki to change his ways would be his perception that his survival depended on it. When U.S. troops were fighting his war and securing his rule, he consistently refused to make the political accommodations that his U.S. advisers pushed upon him. After U.S. troops left, he enjoyed sufficient political strength and military security to strike the kind of political deal that could have consolidated a legitimate Iraqi order. Instead, he moved to consolidate his personal power and punish Sunni political opponents.

Read the rest here.

Addendum: Daniel Larison is making sense too. In a post at The American Conservative, he criticizes

the expectation that an American military presence gives the U.S. the ability to "shape" political outcomes in a significant and constructive way. This overlooks the fact that the U.S. was remarkably unsuccessful in influencing Maliki's behavior during the years when the U.S. was fully occupying the country. The assumption that an American presence would make it easier for different factions to compromise ignores that the eruption of sectarian bloodletting took place under U.S. supervision, and it also fails to take into account that opposing the U.S. presence served as a rallying point for both Shia militias and jihadist groups.

Read the rest here.