Friday, June 20, 2014

Opinion: The U.S. Shouldn't Choose Sides Iraq

We don’t know how things are going to develop in Iraq. But I think this sort of thing needs to be said early and said often:

Rand Paul, from this morning’s WSJ:

Though many claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan on foreign policy, too few look at how he really conducted it. The Iraq war is one of the best examples of where we went wrong because we ignored that.

In 1984, Reagan's Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger developed the following criteria for war, primarily to avoid another Vietnam. His speech, "The Uses of Military Power," boils down to this: The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the U.S. or its allies are involved and only "with the clear intention of winning." U.S. combat troops should be committed only with "clearly defined political and military objectives" and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives and with a "reasonable assurance" of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress and only "as a last resort."

Much of the rationale for going to war in 2003 did not measure up to the Weinberger Doctrine, and I opposed the Iraq war. I thought we needed to be more prudent about the weightiest decision a country can make. Like Reagan, I thought we should never be eager to go to war. And now, 11 years later, we are still dealing with the consequences.

In 2003, I watched most of the debate over going to war with Iraq, while my wife was in uniform (as a medic) preparing to “go to war” with Iraq. I found most of the debate to be disingenuous. The phrase “as a last resort” was stretched beyond its meaning.

Remember George W. Bush’s “bullhorn” speech? Given the recent discussion over “marriage equality”, we now (as conservatives) have another fine example of the total unreliability of the phrase “the support of U.S. public opinion”. I’d dismiss “the Weinberger Doctrine” as much as I’d dismiss “U.S. public opinion”.

Continuing with Rand Paul:

Today the Middle East is less stable than in 2003. The Iraq war strengthened Iran's influence in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Sunni extremists backed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have filled the vacuum. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken over the cities of Mosul, Tikrit and is on the march to Baghdad….

This is undeniably true. Although it seems as if the region is in a state of flux now, it also seems as if the natural enemies are going to come to an equilibrium that may re-draw the official border lines, but that will also more accurately reflect the realities on the ground.

The Kurds, for example, will gain their own autonomous territory, which they will be vigilant to defend. The Iranians will now be forced to focus on a virulent Sunni threat on their border. And the Sunnis will have natural enemies all around them. Such things will keep the extremists of both sides focused locally.

What would airstrikes accomplish? We know that Iran is aiding the Iraqi government against ISIS. Do we want to, in effect, become Iran's air force? What's in this for Iran? Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?

It seems to me this should be self-evident.

For the small group calling for boots on the ground—how can we ask our brave men and women to risk their lives for a country the Iraqis aren't willing to fight for themselves? Iraqi soldiers are stripping off their uniforms and fleeing this fight. We shouldn't ask our soldiers to put their uniforms on to take their places. …

The U.S. spent eight years training the Iraqis and nearly a decade of war has brought us to this point. Those who say it was a mistake to leave are forgetting that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government was demanding we leave in 2011. …

Many of those clamoring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war. They have been so wrong for so long. Why should we listen to them again?

Saying the mess in Iraq is President Obama's fault ignores what President Bush did wrong. Saying it is President Bush's fault is to ignore all the horrible foreign policy decisions in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere under President Obama, many of which may have contributed to the current crisis in Iraq. For former Bush officials to blame President Obama or for Democrats to blame President Bush only serves as a reminder that both sides continue to get foreign policy wrong. We need a new approach, one that emulates Reagan's policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively.

Too many in Washington are prevented by their own pride from admitting their mistakes. They are more concerned about saving face or pursuing a rigid ideology than they are with constructing a realist foreign policy.

David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a strong advocate for the Iraq war, said recently that "the United States overestimated the threat from Saddam Hussein in 2003. Without an active nuclear-weapons program, he was not a danger beyond his immediate vicinity. That war cost this country dearly. The United States failed in its most ambitious objective: establishing a stable, Western-oriented government for all of Iraq." He added that "the government in Baghdad is not an American friend, and action against ISIS will not advance U.S. interests."

Other advocates for the Iraq war need to examine the evidence and make rational decisions based on it. That's something lacking throughout Washington. Leadership means admitting our mistakes so we can correct them. We will do ourselves no favors if we simply recommit to the same mistakes and heed the advice of those who made them in the first place.

I know that Rand Paul is a controversial figure running for President in 2016. But if this kind of thinking helps to shape the national discussions over the next couple of years, I’m all for it.


  1. Replies
    1. afaik Paul, as far as the issue of abortion, has 100% pro-life voting record. His comments that made people angry were as follows;

      "the country is in the middle (and) not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise"

      that is just descriptive. The laws will not change unless the country as a whole becomes convinced otherwise. He can't just willy nilly change a law all by himself, and he needs a lot of help to get it done.

      Taking the stance "under no circumstances whatsoever shall this happen" will get shot down in court, unless there is an incremental shift forward in the pro life direction legislatively, and judicially, and that is the direction Paul wants to go.

      Unfortunately, there is so much wrong with the country functionally, that simply making all abortions illegal in one,two, or three fell swoops isn't going to happen.

      This is what I understand Paul to be saying.