Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Iraqi Reality vs. Administration Predictions

by Elliott Abrams
June 11, 2014


Just days after the fall of Mosul, chaos is spreading in Iraq. The New York Times reports that:

Sunni militants extended their control over parts of northern and western Iraq on Wednesday as Iraqi government forces crumbled in disarray. The militants overran the city of Tikrit, seized facilities in the strategic oil refining town of Baiji, and threatened an important Shiite shrine in Samarra as they moved south toward Baghdad.

Three years ago, in June 2011, several administration witnesses testified about Iraq’s future to the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. The title of the hearing was “Preserving Progress: Transitioning Authority and Implementing the Strategic Framework in Iraq.” The date was June 1st, six months before the withdrawal of the last American troops in Iraq. The Members of Congress, led by the Subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), wanted to know what would happen in Iraq after this withdrawal.

It’s worth recalling the picture painted by the witnesses as they defended administration plans to draw down the American presence quickly, in line with the President’s desire to get all American forces out of Iraq.

The two lead witnesses were Patricia M. Haslach, Iraq Transition Coordinator in the Department of State, and Colin Kahl, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East.

Among the statements made by Patricia Haslach are these:

We have significant national interests in Iraq that require the continuation of strong U.S. support to ensure that we do not lose the fragile progress that has been achieved through tremendous sacrifice….We must recognize that the ripples of Iraq’s success also extend beyond Iraq and the United States. Iraq is poised to become a political and economic leader in the Middle East region. As the Middle East faces steep challenges and an unknown future, Iraq must take center stage as a beacon of democracy and an anchor of U.S. support for the region. Countries in the region and around the world look to our efforts in Iraq to assess the sincerity with which we approach the Arab world, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa look to Iraq as an example of what is possible in the region….The transition that we are executing in Iraq is vital to our national interest….The time is right for this transition. The security situation, while still a concern, continues to improve….This transition is one of the most important international endeavors that the United States is undertaking, and its success or failure will have global implications. We cannot fail.

Then came Colin Kahl:

I know members have concerns about the readiness of the Iraqi Government to provide security in Iraq as U.S. forces draw down between now and December 2011 in compliance with the U.S.-Iraq security agreement. Indeed, terrorist and militia attacks continue to pose a threat….Iraq still faces dangerous and determined enemies, but it is important to emphasize that these enemies do not have the support of the Iraqi people, and these attacks have not sparked a return to widespread insurgency or communal civil war. Moreover, despite these recent attacks, the underlying security situation remains strong….Since January 1, 2009, the Iraqi security forces have been in the lead on security operations–a role that they have more capably embraced with each passing month.

You know, it is our assessment that the Iraqi security forces will be–have pretty good capabilities in terms of internal defense….Iraq has gone now through a period of instability following the 2003 invasion, but it has come out of that and is now on the right trajectory….

So much for the right trajectory. Where are we now? Terrorist groups are gaining control of vast territories and the Iraqi Army is collapsing. The Wall Street Journal summed it up today:

The Administration’s policy of strategic neglect toward Iraq has created a situation where al Qaeda effectively controls territories stretching for hundreds of miles through Anbar Province and into Syria. It will likely become worse for Iraq as the Assad regime consolidates its gains in Syria and gives ISIS an incentive to seek its gains further east. It will also have consequences for the territorial integrity of Iraq, as the Kurds consider independence for their already autonomous and relatively prosperous region….

In withdrawing from Iraq in toto, Mr. Obama put his desire to have a talking point for his re-election campaign above America’s strategic interests. Now we and the world are facing this reality: A civil war in Iraq and the birth of a terrorist haven that has the confidence, and is fast acquiring the means, to raise a banner for a new generation of jihadists, both in Iraq and beyond.


Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Adam

    I supported the invasion of Iraq, and I must now say that I sincerely regret that for the simple reason that what came after Saddam was worse, terrible as he was. Yes, I supported ‘remaking the Middle East’, yes, I supported the toppling of an evil tyrant who was unwilling to cooperate and disclose fully on WMD and who had committed genocide against the Kurds. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    Who now will rule the sunni crescent? As Colin Powell said: “if you break it, you own it”. Well, it’s broken, really broken and the ISIS (al-qaida 2.0) owns it.

    What are the alternatives? One solution which is rapidly becoming a reality is the break-up of Iraq into Sunni, Kurdish and Shia regions. If the U.S. can engage with moderate sunnis to retake control of western Iraq from ISIS, then it should do so, and if they want independence in return then so be it. A three-way divorce, moderated by the U.S.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Anyone with half a brain knew that the Iraqi government ( and military ) would fold up like a cheap suit not long after our precipitous exit . Now Maliki’s government wants air strikes to stop the tidal wave threatening to engulf them . I have news for Maliki … Once Obama retreats , he STAYS “retreated” !

  • Posted by Tyler P. Harwell

    Yes, true, Mr. Abrams, and you are right it saying it. But then, you hardly need to. Any reasonably mature and concerned American citizen can follow the news and draw the same conclusions. He or she can see now that America’s war with Iraq has been a catastrophe for the Iraqi people, and a sad misadventure for the United States.

    By the way, when has American involvement in the Middle East been anything else ? Before J.F. Dulles sent Kermit Roosevelt to Iran ?? But let us look forward, not back.

    In the middle years of the war, in 2007, I was living in Chester, Vermont.

    Shortly after I arrived, Paul Bremmer took up residence there, a walk down the street. Then one day, a sign went up outside the old stone Universalist Church two doors up from where I lived. It said “Scott Ritter and Peter Galbraith to Speak on the Future of Iraq.”, date and time.

    I went to this talk. It was well attended. And there, those two gentlemen predicted that Iraq would break up in to three regions controlled by its principle factions: a Shiite government in the south and east, a Sunni regime in the west, and a Kurdish state in the north.

    That now appears to be happening. The only question is what will happen to Baghdad.

    So, I guess, if you want to say “I told You So”, you will have to get in line.


  • Posted by Frederick Benton

    Recall “Desert Storm” the aftermath of which was a UN peace treaty with Saddam. His WMD programs were found and destroyed and he was to accept inspections. Recall the “oil for food scandal”? Seriously, a more comprehensive view was present then, as now, that we had to choose the least terrible of choices–and isolationist cowardice was not President Bush’s way. Any smart person would see the idea of “regime change” would be only the roughest and most incomplete and that decades of turmoil would continue. This is not a failure by Bush or Obama–it’s a hellish set of problems with the people, religions, ignorance and economy of the region. We still must choose to protect the interest of the United States–that’s never going to be perfect. But we are still in Korea, NATO, Guam, Japan, exerting our mighty influence. President Ford advised “Weakness invites war.” Ask President Putin if that’s a fact. Like it or not, US interests must be defended, and so is it incumbent on President Obama to defend US interests just as many prior presidents did. Harsh realities are dawning–a huge deficit and many foreign policy failures. It’s a post-9/11 world–terrorism has and will continue to appear. The situation in Iraq predictably collapsed with US withdrawal. So, Obama has reached a crossroads–he and his left-wing buddies can no longer win cheap, short-term popularity with a pull-out, smearing President Bush in the bargain. Hold Obama and his party accountable, my fellow citizens, for playing politics with Iraq.

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