The hawks are circling like vultures
Listening to McCain babble on about Obama firing his entire staff and replacing them with his True North, the Man Called Petraeus while Huckleberry Graham shrieks "we've got another Benghazi! in the making" is enough to make me start drinking. And it's not even noon yet here on the west coast. And that's nothing to the legions of morons who are condemning the Obama administration for puling out of Iraq.
Here's a reminder of how that happened, in case anyone is cloudy on the actual history here's a recap:
President Obama's speech formally declaring that the last 43,000 U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year was designed to mask an unpleasant truth: The troops aren't being withdrawn because the U.S. wants them out. They're leaving because the Iraqi
Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq but had instead spent the past few months trying to extend it. A 2008 security deal between Washington and Baghdad called for all American forces to leave Iraq by the end of the year, but the White House -- anxious about growing Iranian influence and Iraq's continuing political and security challenges -- publicly and privately tried to sell the Iraqis on a troop extension. As recently as last week, the White House was trying to persuade the Iraqis to allow 2,000-3,000 troops to stay beyond the end of the year.
Those efforts had never really gone anywhere; One senior U.S. military official told National Journal last weekend that they were stuck at "first base" because of Iraqi reluctance to hold substantive talks.
That impasse makes Obama's speech at the White House on Friday less a dramatic surprise than simple confirmation of what had long been expected by observers of the moribund talks between the administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which believes its own security forces are more than up to the task of protecting the country from terror attacks originating within its borders or foreign incursions from neighboring countries.
In Washington, many Republican lawmakers had spent recent weeks criticizing Obama for offering to keep a maximum of 3,000 troops in Iraq, far less than the 10,000-15,000 recommended by top American commanders in Iraq. That political point-scoring helped obscure that the choice wasn't Obama's to make. It was the Iraqis', and a recent trip to the country provided vivid evidence of just how unpopular the U.S. military presence there has become -- and just how badly the Iraqi political leadership wanted those troops to go home.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, for instance, is a hugely pro-American politician who believes Iraq's security forces will be incapable of protecting the country without sustained foreign assistance. But in a recent interview, he refused to endorse a U.S. troop extension and instead indicated that they should leave.
"We have serious security problems in this country and serious political problems," he said in an interview late last month at his heavily guarded compound in Baghdad. "Keeping Americans in Iraq longer isn't the answer to the problems of Iraq. It may be an answer to the problems of the U.S., but it's definitely not the solution to the problems of my country.
You'll recall that political control of the country had been turned over to the Iraqis by none other than George W. Bush. "Let freedom reign!"
So, now that we've cleared that up, let's take a look at where we are now. (And let's just say that CNN's attempt to turn this into another battle between good 'n evil by pimping the idea that it's all about a "new bin Laden" who is so evil he even wears a mask is not the best way to think about it.)
What started as a crackdown against democratic protests three years ago, has become a region-wide conflict that now has Iraq descending back into chaos. The countries of the region — along with the United States and various non-state actors — all have a hand in creating this moment, as money, fighters, weapons, and a desire to control the Middle East have come together to produce an extremely volatile and terrifying situation.
What has made the Syrian conflict so difficult to respond to has been the fact that the situation has refused to be tied down as just a civil war. In addition to the top-line fighting between the Syrian government and rebels who’d like to oust Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, there’s also a proxy war ongoing between Sunni-majority states in the Gulf and Shiite-majority Iran and its allies. There’s also struggles for dominance among the rebels, who fight each other almost as frequently as the Assad government these days. Add in disagreements between the countries united against Assad over just which of the Syrian rebels to finance, and the reason a simple solution for the conflict hasn’t been developed becomes more understandable.
And standing out among all of this now is the attempts of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — to establish its own state within the region. ISIS managed to takeover the city of Fallujah in January, hold it against Iraqi army efforts to dislodge it, and in the last few days take over both the major cities of Mosul and Tikrit. The former al Qaeda affiliate is literally fighting every other actor in Syria in the process, whether through direct fighting or through proxies, diplomatic battles, or other forms of conflict that don’t involve actually shooting at each other. The confusion inherent in this situation is mapped out, as best as possible, in the below chart from ThinkProgress:
If only we had elected the McCain-Palin ticket. Recall how they would handle all this:
In a small, mirror-paneled room guarded by a Secret Service agent and packed with some of the city’s wealthiest and most influential political donors, Mr. McCain got right to the point.
If only we had listened none of this would have happened, amirite?
"One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit,'" said Mr. McCain, according to Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, an invitee, and two other guests.
By the way, ISIS includes some of the guys we would have been arming in the Syrian war against the government. In Iraq they would be the enemy.