The government of Iraq is up to its neck in trouble. An insurgency of Sunni extremists has rolled over the Iraqi Army, which threw its weapons away and ran like rabbits.
Meanwhile Senator John McCain has pronounced the judgment that “we” won in Iraq and that the President and the US government have now “lost” it. I have to assume that the Senator knows he is engaging in fact-free partisan hyperbole.
Iraq is a completely artificial state. A nice British lady, Gertrude Bell, drew the lines on the map of present day Iraq. In the process she lumped together disparate populations, divided by ethnicity and religion; the present outcome was the only reasonable expectation. To the degree that Iraq was ever governable, it was accomplished by naked force.
The British installed Faisal I, not a local boy, as King. His more moderate son was assassinated. My godfather was an advisor to Faisal II; Uncle Jimmy got out, one step ahead of the death squad. Sadaam Hussein kept the lid on through merciless thuggery, killing freely. When we removed him from power we uncorked the whole seething, boiling mess. It took a lot of American blood and bullets, massive American forces and an alliance with Sunni warlords to pacify Iraq. When we left it slid back to chaos as usual. The Iraqi Army is badly led by political hacks rather than soldiers. It serves a government that is fractious, splintered and at war with itself. Nuri al-Malaki is a Shiite partisan, not the uniter his country needed.
The Obama Administration didn’t “lose” Iraq. George Bush signed the treaty withdrawing all American forces, it was a done deal when Obama took office. The people of this country had had a bellyful of that sandy paradise and seeing our men and women killed and wounded. Malaki & Co. wanted us completely out. Under those circumstances we could not leave a force on the ground eternally while the local politicians fought and argued and pocketed the cash, secure in the knowledge that we would keep order while they stole.
What happens next? Partition into three states, or an extremist Sunni dictatorship: Sadaam 2.0 or something infinitely more dangerous; a jihadi theocracy. If it’s Sadaam 2.0, a dollop of foreign aid and looking the other way while the firing squads deal with dissent, could make things calm, quiet and going our way. Worst case, the insurgency really goes about creating an extremist Islamic super-state. There is no end to this that sees a democracy, Switzerland with camels, blooming in the desert.
As to Afghanistan, the future is a bit different. Our advisors will remain to help the army, but despite homogeneity, the Afghans have a centuries-old tradition of fighting each other, so who knows. The only thing they despise more than the guy in the next valley is some twit from out of town, be he American or Pakistani, Russian, Chinese or Englishman. Afghanistan will hold together, sort of. To quote Winston Churchill, “Left to themselves, it’s valley against valley.”
The President has options, none of them attractive. He may be to blame for some things, but this ain’t one of them.