Op Ed: Two Presidents and Two Failed Policies in Iraq


President George W. Bush rushed into an unpopular war.  President Barack Obama got us out of that unpopular war. Both presidents got it wrong, and now we’re paying for it.

That war, the Iraq War, lasted more than a decade and cost one trillion dollars. Bush’s premise for invading Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he planned on using against his enemies, and ultimately, even against the United States.

Bush’s senior advisors, including Secretary of State Collin Powell, gave the president what amounts to the worst intelligence ever provided to a president. That purported intelligence was disseminated loudly to Americans via the very loud megaphone of Vice President Dick Cheney. Perhaps more than anyone else, Cheney wanted to go to war in Iraq more than Mr. Bush.

In fact, even before President Clinton left office, a group called Project for a New American Century (PNAC) wrote the president about the Clinton foreign policy in Iraq. Coincidentally, some of these names will ring a bell: Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Armitage, William J. Bennett, John Bolton, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz and a few others.

Even in 1998, these guys were singing the Weapons of Mass Destruction tune in unison.

“The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.

We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.

We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country. If we accept a course of weakness and drift, we put our interests and our future at risk.”

It is significant to note what can be gleaned from the last paragraphs of this letter. The proponents of removing Saddam Hussein from power talk about protecting “our vital interests.” We don’t need to be Socrates to figure out what this means.

Today, the argument about whether we should have gone to war in Iraq in 2003 is moot. It happened, and most of us just accepted that fact.  We waited patiently, and we prayed that our soldiers would make it back home alive.

Enter Barack Obama in 2009. From the outset of his presidency, Mr. Obama promised us that he would get our troops back from Iraq within a few short years. Fast forward to December 2011 when Mr. Obama declared, we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq.”

The relationship between the U.S. and Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki was not a good one. Maliki turned out to be the worst thing that could have happened to Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Maliki refused to form a coalition government with Sunnis and Shiites. As a Shia, Maliki alienated the Sunnis, and as a result, the U.S.

After more than 10 years in Iraq, the U.S. wanted to leave Iraq with some sort of “victory,” and Maliki would prove that he would not contribute one iota toward that goal. This is the point at which things turned sour between Maliki and Obama. Obama attempted to reach a compromise with Maliki about leaving some troops in Iraq, mainly for security and protection, but Maliki would have none of it.

This gave Mr. Obama the out he desperately wanted to pull our troops from Iraq and declare a political and moral victory. The failure to hammer out a deal with Maliki to leave a token number of American troops in Iraq will prove to be one of Obama’s single worst mistakes.

Today ISIS, or the Islamic State, a terrorist group worse than the Taliban and al-Qaeda put together, is beheading Americans and Brits and is wreaking havoc all over the Middle East in Syria and Iraq. As of this writing, ISIS is driving steadily toward Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, and this is the worst possible news for Iraqis, the Middle East and the West. A victory by ISIS in Baghdad will cause shockwaves throughout the world.

What does this mean for the United States? If ISIS succeeds in nabbing Baghdad International Airport, it will then cascade toward our embassy in Baghdad – by the way, the largest embassy in the world, where many of our diplomats are stationed.

The U.S. solution to “degrading,” ISIS, as Obama describes it, through the use of air power, is not working. The president insists that the U.S. will not enter into another war in Iraq that includes ground troops. While speculative, it is highly probable that there wouldn’t be an ISIS today had we left some reserve troops in Iraq, but of course, that is speculation.

Mr. Obama has his hands full with this one. There is simply no explanation he can provide the American people for failing to use his power as president and our influence in the region with Maliki. It’s going to be a very long two years for this president.

How could two presidents have gotten this so wrong? We will soon learn the fate of Baghdad, and whether this highly sophisticated and organized group of terrorists will have the military might to take over Iraq’s capital and largest city. If ISIS conquers Baghdad, we will have entered a new chapter in world history – one that will remain a black mark on the United States forever.


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