No, I don’t think we can blame this one on President Barack Obama.
What is happening in Iraq is an enormous history lesson. We patiently, and with a great cost in lives, rid Iraq of a vicious dictator. Do you remember when Gen. Colin Powell stood at a briefing map and made his stern, “muscular” speech about the destruction of the Iraqi forces on what became known as the Highway of Death?
Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, but his armored forces wanted out once we got involved. Our air power versus their ground forces was almost an unfair fight. It took but one night to wipe out hundreds of Iraqi vehicles skittering from Kuwait up, of all things, Highway 80 back to their home turf. It was one of the most dramatic displays of air power in history.
The swift killing of the Iraqi invasion force was followed by more fighting, not only in Iraq, but then in Afghanistan. Although allied (the British fought with us) casualties were “light,” if you want to use an inadequate word, in the first round, that couldn’t be said of the later years of involvement in both countries. It turned out that our massive armor and air power were not enough to destroy the Taliban. We did destroy the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but, as we all know, the guerilla forces, or terrorists as some call them, proved a tougher fight.
We did, however, think we had a reasonably stable government, if you want to call it that, in Iraq. We didn’t think Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi president, was the ideal leader of an unstable country, but he was the best we could do. Al-Maliki became president as a result of the spilling of a lot of American – and Iraqi – blood. Just a few days ago, President Obama talked proudly of our troop withdrawal from Iraq, who were leaving with their mission accomplished. Yes, that was a phrase used prematurely by President George W. Bush, but it reflected the Washington consensus that our job was – for the most part – done.
So what do we call what happened in Iraq last week?
Can we admit that, in a perverse way, the militants, whoever they are, staged an invasion almost as impressive as our original attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan? How did that happen after almost 15 years of costly involvement in both countries?
Perhaps there is a lesson we should have learned; the hostility between Sunni and Shia runs deeper and more dangerously than we had believed. Does it also mean that we can’t ignore the heart of the western world’s oil supply, but that we have to be much more alert to what is boiling up beneath the surface?
History tells us that sometimes there is no strategy that will make every vital area of the world safe for American interests. No, that doesn’t mean that we should become isolationists – just more cautious interventionists. The cross-border attack in Iraq, and the possible capture of Mosul and Tikrit, and maybe even Baghdad, may be a disaster beyond our control, or even influence.
Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]