Why the Iraq war is a big failed liberal program no conservative should want to repeat

Barack Obama, who would not be president today if he hadn’t opposed the Iraq war, is now contemplating another military intervention in that disintegrating country –perhaps even including boots on the ground. Some 275 servicemen have already been deployed to beef up embassy security.

His predecessor’s invasion of Iraq was supposed to create a viable democracy in the region that would be an ally in the war on terror; stop weapons of mass destruction; pummel the Islamic extremists who attacked the United States on 9/11; and strike fear into the hearts of other “Axis of Evil” countries like Iran.

Now Iran and offshoots of al Qaeda have a stronger presence in Iraq than before we invaded. Another Baathist dictator actually has weapons of mass destruction—and I’m not referring to the conspiracy theory that Syria hid Saddam Hussein’s. Iraq doesn’t look too viable, is trending in a less democratic and more sectarian direction and isn’t much use as an ally.

If there was a government program here at home that failed to achieve any of its stated goals and was instead followed by the complete opposite, no conservative would defend it. Judged simply by contrasting what was supposed to happen with what actually did happen, the Iraq war makes HealthCare.gov look like Google.

Unfortunately, many conservatives not only defend the Iraq war but appear eager for a repeat. Lindsey Graham wants to work with Iran, a country he has hoped Congress will target with an authorization of military force resolution, against al Qaeda. Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan want U.S. troops to return to Iraq to fight them both, warning, “Now is not the time to re-litigate either the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or the decision to withdraw from it in 2011.”

Every hawk wants to forget about the original decision to invade, but more than a few are blaming the withdrawal and its aftermath for Iraq’s current problems. The reality is that departure was inevitable: the American people no longer wanted our troops in Iraq; most Iraqis didn’t want us there. Even if the Iraqi government wasn’t strong enough to survive withdrawal, it wasn’t willing to take the political risk of prolonging the occupation.

The surge only succeeded insofar as it reduced violence enough for us to exit Iraq under tolerable circumstances. It was also supposed to create the space necessary for the reconciliation of Iraq’s different ethnic, religious and political factions. This plainly did not occur and some surge proponents thought it would take twenty or more years for the counterinsurgency to truly succeed.

Once again, it sounds much like the liberal lament whenever a domestic spending program fails. The problem is always that not enough money was spent; the only solution is more money. Wars, however, have a human cost that can’t be measured in money.

At the end of our nation-building exercise, Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki was perhaps the closest we had to Washington’s man in Baghdad. He would not negotiate a status of forces agreement that met conditions, such as legal protections for our troops, which would have allowed us to stay. And he fanned the flames of sectarianism once we were gone.

The United States should risk the lives of more young men and women to save this man’s government? Or should we do another regime change in order to find an Iraqi leader more amenable to a substantial U.S. military presence? Why should Americans fight for what Iraqi soldiers, deserting in droves, will not?

Neither side of this conflict—the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on the one hand, Iran on the other—merits American support. Even conceding the risks of Iraq’s collapse, most available outcomes seem either unfavorable or unachievable. The same people who tell us we cannot secure our own borders often say we cannot be safe from terrorism without invading, occupying and pacifying every foreign land in which terrorists might operate.

The sacrifices our troops have made on behalf of this country in Iraq and elsewhere are amazing and heartbreaking. But the lives and limbs that were lost cannot be brought back by risking more brave Americans in pursuit of unattainable objectives.

Our political leaders do not know what they are doing. The bureaucratic acumen that gave us the VA scandal and Obamacare roll-out problems will not suddenly rise to new levels of competence when tasked with creating a democracy in Iraq. Our impressive surveillance apparatus seems caught unaware by Iraq’s ongoing implosion.

Conservatives correctly support a strong national defense. The folly of trying to rebuild Iraq is simply liberalism with guns.

This time, let’s stay the hell out.


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