We all know Bush’s Iraq War, but we don’t know much about Obama’s Iraq War. Republicans fight wars. Democrats engage in police actions, impose No-Fly Zones and provide security for humanitarian missions. They don’t do anything as vulgar as fight wars. That would be warmongering.
Even by the war-shy standards of Democrats, Obama’s word games with war have been something else.
Obama’s wars are complex shell games. When he goes to war, he claims that it was at the request of a third party, which was actually fulfilling his request to file a request that it later takes back, based on a pretext that turns out to be false, to carry out a mission that turns out to be a pretext for regime change.
At least that’s how it happened in Libya.
When he inherits a war, he changes its name and announces a withdrawal while leaving a heavy military presence in place, before then actually withdrawing. If the first withdrawal doesn’t result in a disaster, because it never really took place, he can’t be blamed for the disaster that begins after the real withdrawal. After all the original withdrawal worked, so withdrawing can’t be the problem.
That’s what he did in Iraq. It’s what he plans to do in Afghanistan.
Obama’s Iraq War doesn’t exist as a distinct entity because the administration has gone to great lengths to distance itself from any appearance of being involved in it. When his original promise of withdrawing within sixteen months proved unfeasible, he declared that “By Aug. 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end.”
The war was renamed from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn. The 50,000 soldiers became members of “Advise and Assist Brigades”. When two soldiers were killed and nine wounded on that September, they did not die as part of a combat mission. When two members of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard were killed by an IED in January, they died as advisers and assistants for New Dawn.
Five years later, America’s combat mission in Iraq is still going on. We’re still advising, assisting and bombing. And there’s no new dawn anywhere in sight.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was a name that made liberal elites turn up their noses, but it succinctly expressed a purpose and a goal. New Dawn could have been anything from a brand of soap to a cult. It was a cheerfully meaningless name and that was its purpose. It created a sense of progress without any actual progress having been made. Like everything Obama did, it was a shiny box with nothing inside.
When it came to Iraq, Obama tried to fool everyone; selling the anti-war crowd an immediate withdrawal while promising everyone else a sensible withdrawal once the mission was finished.
And he managed to lie to everyone.
When the real withdrawal came, it was followed by an onslaught of Al Qaeda car bombs. More significantly it turned Al Qaeda in Iraq into the first franchise to be able to claim to have beaten America.
Obama had been so set on withdrawal that he had paid little attention to Al Qaeda in Iraq’s resurgence. Its continued activity in Iraq combined with the withdrawal allowed the terror group to create the myth that it had defeated the United States and driven it out of Iraq. And Obama allowed the myth to grow.
Al Qaeda around the world was looking for new tactics and inspirations. While Obama insisted that Al Qaeda had to be urgently fought in Afghanistan, its presence there was light. It was much more of a threat in Yemen, a locale that would become the source of a number of terrorist attacks directed at America and Europe, and a major player in the current civil war there, as well as back in Iraq.
Obama insisted that Bush had taken his eyes off the ball by ignoring Afghanistan, but he was the one who had taken his eyes off the ball by focusing on Afghanistan and ignoring Iraq. His eagerness to get away from Iraq created a situation in which the United States could target Al Qaeda in Yemen and Pakistan, but not in Iraq where it was strongest. This policy turned Iraq into an Al Qaeda haven.
His unwillingness to confront Al Qaeda in Iraq added to the myth that it had won and that the United States was too frightened of it to fight it. The myth had some elements of truth to it.
Obama was afraid, but he wasn’t afraid of Al Qaeda. He was afraid of Iraq.
September 11 had badly panicked Democrats who suddenly saw themselves losing the post-Cold War narrative of soft power and multilateral diplomacy. Their feigned patriotism only lasted long enough for them to spot a weakness by seizing on Al Qaeda’s campaign of terror in Iraq to turn the narrative around. The last thing Obama wanted to do was risk undermining the anti-war victory of the left in Iraq.
The left needed a defeat and so it created one in Iraq. The Islamists needed a victory so they derived it from Iraq. Osama bin Laden and the Democrats were both reading texts on Vietnam and drawing the same conclusions. But the Democrats did not understand the implications of those conclusions.
By positioning Iraq as a war that America had lost, they also made it a war that Al Qaeda had won.
Al Qaeda had thrived in Afghanistan because it could claim to have beaten the USSR. Now it was thriving in Iraq because it could claim to have beaten America. The transformation of Al Qaeda in Iraq into the Islamic State would become a self-fulfilling prophecy powered by propaganda and American apathy.
Obama had made Iraq into America’s blind spot. The blindness became policy. Even as ISIS was capturing entire cities, Obama clung to the narrative that the local franchises were Jayvee teams and that the entire War on Terror could be wrapped up by withdrawing from Afghanistan.
The administration’s insistence that the Iraq War couldn’t exist made it inevitable that it would. Each denial was read by ISIS, its supporters and opponents as proof that Obama was afraid of to fight it.
Televised genocide and mass rape forced Obama back into Iraq, but with the same lack of commitment. Just as before his final withdrawal, his priority is not to win the war but to avoid the appearance of blame. Once again he is trying to fight a war without fighting it by doing as little as he can get away with.
Obama does not fear an ISIS victory. He fears Bush’s Iraq War becoming his Iraq War. He worries about having his soft power foreign policy mired in the mud of Iraq. He is afraid of losing his Nobel Prize in Baghdad.
He ignored ISIS for as long as possible. Even now he does not envision defeating it, only “degrading” it until he can go back to safely ignoring it again. The rise of ISIS has not changed his Iraq policy. It is still the same disastrous and irresponsible policy that led to the rise of the world’s first Al Qaeda nation.
The plan is to reboot New Dawn, wait a while and then forget about Iraq all over again. But ISIS isn’t making it easy.
The roots of ISIS lie in the unwillingness of many Democrats to confront what Al Qaeda actually was and their expediency in seizing on its attacks in Iraq for political gain. Obama and his party have reaped the political benefits of Al Qaeda terror only to discover that the terror won’t go away just because Bush did.
Obama may refuse to call the war by its name, but the Iraq War has not ended and it’s his war now.