The problem in Iraq is an Iraqi problem, and no measure of U.S. willpower can or will solve it. (More)
Iraq and the Return of the (Original) Green Lanternites (Non-Cynical Saturday)
Let’s recall that Obama inherited a pacified Iraq, where al Qaeda had been defeated – both militarily and ideologically.
Obama took that inheritance and squandered it. And – just as Bush predicted – we’re now talking about going back (at least in the air) to help the Iraqis to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.
Credit Thiessen for chutzpah at least. His claim that Iraq was “pacified” and Al Qaeda “defeated – both military and ideologically” ignores the 264 U.S. troops killed in Iraq from 2009 until we left in 2011, not to mention the 33,383 Iraqis killed in over 100 terrorist attacks since 2009. This, for Thiessen, is “pacified.”
“A common interest”
The big news today is what the Guardian calls a “fragile alliance” between the U.S. and Iran to stabilize the Iraqi regime:
Iran has sent 2,000 advance troops to Iraq in the past 48 hours to help tackle a jihadist insurgency, a senior Iraqi official has told the Guardian.
The confirmation comes as the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said Iran was ready to support Iraq from the mortal threat fast spreading through the country, while the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, called on ordinary Iraqis to take up arms in their country’s defence.
The US and Iran, foes throughout the US occupation of Iraq, share a common interest in defeating Isis, and Iran has so far expressed no opposition to US threats to send military support to the beleaguered Maliki.
This news will surely send the neocons, who think the U.S. should handle every problem on our own, into apoplexy.
“The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower”
The neocons are stuck on stupid because of what Matt Yglesias called The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics:
Like a lot of conservative writing on foreign affairs it puts a huge amount of weight on things like will, resolve, and perceptions of strength and weakness. It’s a view of things that reminds me of nothing so much as the Green Lantern comics, which I enjoy a great deal but regard as a poor guide to national security policy.
As you may know, the Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.
Suffice it to say that I think all this makes an okay premise for a comic book. But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.
And as Yglesias notes, this theory is – oh so conveniently – a closed loop:
What’s more, this theory can’t be empirically demonstrated to be wrong. Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will.
“There’s not a sense of American resolve”
That theory didn’t end with the Bush administration. Mitt Romney’s campaign made it the focus of their foreign policy:
Advisers to Mitt Romney on Thursday defended his sharp criticism of President Obama and said that the deadly protests sweeping the Middle East would not have happened if the Republican nominee were president.
“There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser, said in an interview. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”
Williamson added, “In Egypt and Libya and Yemen, again demonstrations – the respect for America has gone down, there’s not a sense of American resolve and we can’t even protect sovereign American property.”
Green Lanternism is also a popular theory of the presidency, at least among Beltway critics, and largely for the same reason Yglesias proposed back in 2006: it can’t be proved wrong. A pundit can always claim the president could have done Something Else and That Would Have Made All The Difference.
“There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias, so I think they can probably get along”
And the pundits can always find some ‘expert’ willing to support the Green Lantern argument. For example, Sen. John McCain has a habit of walking out of classified briefings to talk with reporters, so he can demand mass resignations and declare colossal failures. That would be the same Sen. John McCain who said this about Iraq in 2003:
There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias, so I think they can probably get along.
Yes, really. The rest of the neocons have jumped on the Back to Iraq bandwagon, demanding the U.S. show willpower and resolve.
“The most important answers lie inside Iraqi politics”
But willpower and resolve are no substitute for good governance, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed that test:
The most important answers lie inside Iraqi politics. Maliki lost Sunni Iraq through his sectarian and authoritarian policies. His repeated refusal over long years to strike an urgently needed political accord with the Sunni minority, his construction of corrupt, ineffective and sectarian state institutions, and his heavy-handed military repression in those areas are the key factors in the long-developing disintegration of Iraq. In late 2012, protests had swelled across Sunni areas of Iraq, driven by genuine popular anger but backed by many of the political forces now reportedly cooperating with ISIS’s advance (essential background here). The vicious assault on the Huwija protest camp by Iraqi security forces, in the midst of political negotiations, galvanized hostility to the Iraqi state and paved the way for growing popular support for a returning insurgency. Maliki’s heavy-handed security response to the escalating insurgency across Anbar, including the bombardment of Fallujah, has predictably driven more and more Sunnis into their ranks. Maliki’s purges of the Sunni leadership discredited or removed Sunni leaders willing to play the inside game, and pushed some of them toward supporting insurgency. His exclusionary policies, attempts to monopolize power and rough security practices radicalized a Sunni community that might have been brought into the system following the civil war. Iraq’s political class as a whole has done little better.
That’s the situation neocons insist President Obama can fix if only he shows enough willpower and resolve. After all, Iraq was “pacified” and Al Qaeda was “defeated” when he took office. Except for all the bombings and people dying.
The neocons have a problem with Realworldia: It’s not a comic book.