October 21, 2011
President Barack Obama announced earlier today that the United States will be withdrawing all of its military forces, now in Iraq under the so-called Status of Forces Agreement, by the end of 2011. He, of course, sought to present this outcome as a great success, both for his policies and the larger war effort. But have no illusions: the United States lost its war in Iraq.
The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was America’s biggest strategic blunder since the end of the Cold War. It has done massive damage to America’s strategic position, in the Middle East and globally.
If you are unsure about this claim, please go through the following exercise: First, compare America’s position in the Middle East 10 years ago to its position there today. Then, compare the Islamic Republic of Iran’s position in the region 10 years ago—not 10 days, or 10 weeks, or 10 months, but 10 years ago—with its position today. It is hard to see how any sentient person could go through this exercise and not conclude that, relatively speaking, the United States is in a profoundly weaker position today than 10 years ago. Conversely, it is hard to see how someone could work through this and not conclude that, relatively speaking, the Islamic Republic is not in a significantly stronger position than 10 years ago.
There are many reasons for these shifts in the Middle East’s balance of power, but America’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 looms large on both fronts. This was grand strategy, as practiced by the United States, at its worst.
Although the decision to invade Iraq was, ultimately George W. Bush’s, it was “legitimated” by robust Democratic support, including from Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, John Kerry, and Ken Pollack (along with many others). It was truly a bipartisan act of strategic malfeasance.
In a society that really believed in accountability, none of these Democrats, none of the Republicans who supported President Bush on this matter, and none of the neoconservative pundits and their left-of-center fellow travelers who cheer-led for the war would be accorded serious attention on national security and foreign policy issues, much less be considered for high-level government positions dealing with them. But that is not how America works these days.
As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama gave a speech opposing America’s invasion of Iraq. But, by the time he arrived at the White House, he had essentially accepted its underlying strategic “logic”.
Today, Obama tried to claim that he is keeping his campaign commitment to pull all U.S. soldiers out of Iraq. The claim is disingenuous, to say the least. If Obama had had his way, the United States would be keeping perhaps as many as 20,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq on an open-ended basis. He is keeping his commitment to withdraw only because Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki obliged him to do so.
We have long advocated a thoroughgoing revision of America’s approach to the Islamic Republic of Iran. But the United States needs to rethink its grand strategy in the Middle East more comprehensively. Obama has clearly demonstrated that he is not prepared to do this.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett