The outcomes of wars are intimately connected to the decisions about whether to fight them in the fist place. And the Bush administration’s determination in 2003 to march into Baghdad was based on costly hallucinations. The goals of the invasion were to destroy the Iraqi army, destroy the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and establish a pro-U.S. democracy – all in the name of fighting the war against al-Qaida. The first two aims were achieved with lightning speed. But “WMD” claims turned out to be a fiasco.
Meanwhile, Iraq has yet to achieve a stable democracy, much less one that is pro-U.S. After seven long and terribly bloody years and 4,400 U.S. military lives, the new reality isn’t easy. Now that 50,000 U.S. combat troops have left, extremist groups again are striking at the social and political fabric.
Last week, insurgents with al-Qaida in Iraq engaged in a wave of car bombings, roadside mines and hit-and-run attacks in at least 14 Iraqi cities and towns. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility and may be aligning itself with other terrorist organizations, including Naqshbandia and Ansar al Sunnah also operating out of Iraq. There is no indication of these deadly assaults abating anytime soon.
An additional 50,000 U.S. troops are remaining in place to "advise and assist" Baghdad government forces, and all American units are to withdraw by the end of 2011 under a security accord with Iraq. But it is not clear as to who exactly they are supposed to be helping. A new government has yet to be formed after elections in March and negotiations between secular, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties are stalemated.
And while the U.S. government has turned the page, others in the region will not. Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs continues, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria continue to have a stake in Iraq’s political future. All are petrified of a strong Iraq and equally afraid of an unstable Iraq.
The temptation to meddle, which was powerful even with a U.S. presence, is now overwhelming. The U.S. has made no guarantees to these governments about what policy it intends to pursue going forward. "The Obama administration talks about a responsible exit strategy," Joost Hiltermann, a Mideast expert with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), told The Root. "I see an exit but I don’t see a strategy."
In the best of worlds, Obama would call a conference of Middle East leaders in order to establish a regional security framework. That of course is impossible given the current behavior of Iran. In lieu of such an arrangement, the administration will likely tell its allies to build a political wall against Iran. But this too carries multiple risks. Miscalculation could lead to another regional conflict. Let’s hope we don’t have to turn another page too soon.
Greg Beals is The Root's Middle East correspondent.