Between Iraq and a hard place

Beginning last month, media outlets have widely reported the fall of the Iraqi city of Fallujah to Sunni extremists related to al-Qaida. What politicians and talking heads fail to explain, however, is why Iraq is demanding U.S. commitment with more blood and treasure. Private contractors stayed in Iraq long after the withdrawal deadline in 2011.

Eleven years ago this March, many of you might remember the second round of bombs over Baghdad commencing live on CNN. Dominated by hype of gripping fear that widely defined the era, little could anyone have imagined a continued U.S. military occupation of the Middle East over a decade later. I certainly couldn’t conceive of one.

After all, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, two bitter enemies in life, are dead with General Motors. “Mission accomplished,” right? But, thanks to a decade of perpetual war, al-Qaida and related groups are on the rise the reason largely stemming from the rationale for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

See, government “never lets a good crisis go to waste,” to paraphrase former White House Chief of Staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the dawn of the Great Recession. In times of disaster, many people expect government to wave a magic wand and make well all that ails them; a condition in which government is more often than not willing to thrive.

In the name of prosperity, businesses and banks deemed “too big to fail” have been subsidized. In the name of a “drug-free America,” addiction itself has been criminalized. In the name of national security, America “appeared on the move again” after 9/11, to paraphrase former President George W. Bush’s autobiography.

In the words of John Quincy Adams, “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” While we can agree that evils are pervasive at home and abroad, our government cannot and should not attempt to rid the world of these ills.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the bloody occupation that followed, was not necessarily over oil, but political correctness. If the U.S. government wanted oil, after all, why didn’t it allow trade with Saddam’s Iraq following Desert Storm in 1991? The American military, and the ballooning national security apparatus, are not historically good at stopping 19 men with box cutters from conspiring in a suburban basement. But they can topple regimes, a deadly CIA practice perfected during the Cold War. People can’t perceive individual non-state actors in the arena of foreign policy, but they can perceive foreign boogeymen.

In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama was elected president on an anti-war platform. The media fanfare of withdrawal in 2011 was just that, fanfare. Troops have been replaced with thousands of so-called “private” contractors, who are no more private than the Department of Education. They are well-armed and fly around in helicopters, and a few hundred were even detained by the Iraqi government just two years ago.

In demanding a formal end to the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and anti-war senators left and right deliver where the Democrats failed following their supermajority in 2007. In practice, Nancy Pelosi has proven just as pro-war as Kid Rock. If the bipartisan measure becomes law, remaining contractors that replaced U.S. troops will finally be brought home, and the Iraq War will formally end.

Better yet, if John McCain and Senate hawks succeed in their push for re-intervention in Iraq, they will have to also push through the House, Senate, and president’s desk a Constitutional declaration of war.

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously voiced her view that we might as well use men and women in uniform, simply because we have them. “Why not” use them in Iraq, Bosnia or Afghanistan, as her rationale went? Following a decade of war that continues to define a generation, has it finally dawned on policymakers to ask “why” instead?

 

Reach the columnist atjbobay@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @JDBobay