On Tuesday evening, President Obama will address the nation to mark the end of America's official combat role in Iraq. He will speak from the Oval Office as Vice President Biden -- hurriedly dispatched to Baghdad yet again -- is warning squabbling Iraqi politicians that Iraq's continuing drift, dissent and violence could become a bitter legacy to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, even with Biden's deft pressure it is unlikely Iraq's bitter political rivals will put aside their differences quickly enough to enable the president to announce such a deliverable.
As for the Iraqi people, with an incredible number -- perhaps over 100,000 -- dead the infernal feuding political establishment and a increasingly non-functioning government are sad reminders of so much lost for whatever many may still wonder is an uncertain future.
And it is hard to imagine that after the Sunni Awakening, the Petreaeus Surge, elections, the liberation of Fallujah and Ramadi, and the capture and killing of so many Al Qaeda commanders, that Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) could terrorize its way back into play. Yet, it is rearing its ugly head once again like a once dormant, now increasingly virulent virus.
That's surely not the book-end legacy that any American desires to see emerge from this conflict.
In his remarks, President Obama has a fine line to walk: deserving well-earned praise for pragmatically fulfilling a campaign commitment to timely withdraw most American troops from Iraq, but avoiding anything that resembles a "mission accomplished" declaration given the stubborn political turmoil and violence that serves as the address' backdrop. He has nothing to gain politically, even if he were inclined to make more out of a difficult situation.
For those who supported the invasion in the first place, the liberation theology that gripped those who pressed for Saddam's overthrow has surely become an eternal curse. The fallout from the frenzy of overstatements, misrepresentations and downright lies has transformed the Middle East into a national security sink hole for the United States, and severely undermined our ability to influence the future course of the region.
It seems like an eternity ago when the groundwork was being laid by the neoconservative movement in the U.S. to orchestrate the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
On June 28 2000, Richard Perle, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and one of the chief neoconservative architects behind the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, along with Ahmad Chalabi, then President of the Iraqi National Congress (and a Perle protégé/turned enfant terrible) testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee condemning the Clinton Administration for failing to take their bait and launch a military campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This was Perle's prediction if Saddam were not overthrown by force:
He (Saddam) will emerge in the Gulf as the leader who stood up to the United States and the Western world and prevailed. And at that point, I believe the region will be a much more dangerous place and the manifest failure of American and allied policy -- and here it's largely a failure of American leadership -- will be evident to everyone.
Unfortunately, Perle and Co. had it dead wrong. No amount of spinning and wishful thinking about Saddam's demise can hide the fact that whatever may have been the danger posed by Saddam (i.e., illusive WMD; conjured Al Qaeda's linkages, etc.) we and our Middle East allies face a far more dangerous and uncertain future in the region because of the Pandora's box that was opened by the aftermath of the invasion.
The volatile remains of the liberation experiment are strewn across the entire Middle East landscape -- all of which can be directly traced to the events preceeding Saddam's overthrow:
- With Iran's arch foe Saddam hanged and gone, Iran has emerged as the most vexing and dangerous challenge to U.S. foreign policy in decades. Indeed, Iran has emerged not only as an existential, potentially nuclear armed threat to Israel and our Arab allies, but an international outlaw and state sponsor of terror determined to expel the U.S. from every nook and cranny in the Middle East - engaging in every conceivable "play for keeps" measure to brutally achieve its goal.
- The terrorist Hezbollah organization not only was emboldened to go to war with Israel in 2006 after the U.S. invasion, it has also vastly rearmed itself to prepare for the next military showdown with Israel and with its internal democratic opponents in Lebanon. A Lebanon abandoned to Hezbollah is a debacle of the first order for U.S. national security. Lebanon's democratic Cedar Revolution has given way to a nation that now finds itself once again increasingly at the mercy of Hezbollah and the machinations of Syria.
- Syria, the other claimant to Ba'ath Party hegemony in the Middle East, no longer must take into its calculations a competitive Iraqi Ba'ath leadership that kept it more or less in a box. Once fearing they were next in America's cross-hairs, the Syrians are parlaying dwindling American influence to enhance it and Iran's exercise of influence and power. Moreover, Syria has been an unremitting supporter of Sunni-inspired violence in Iraq and has not seemed too worried about U.S. protestations.
- Jordan, our moderate ally, was inundated by hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who cannot be supported by Jordan's meager resources and now finds itself sandwiched between an unstable Iraq, a more assertive Syria, and a diabolical Iranian leadership that detests King Abdullah and his Hashemite monarchy.
- The Sunni Arabian Gulf states, notably Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, are increasingly vulnerable to internal Iran-orchestrated Shiite-Sunni dissension and turmoil, and have taken up their own nuclear programs to counter the growing Iranian threat; proliferating nuclear programs in the Middle East is no one's answer to a safer and secure Middle East.
- Far afield Morocco faces the machinations of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and recently broke diplomatic relations with Tehran because of an increasingly assertive Iranian clandestine service caught planting saboteurs and agents to undermine the moderate, pro-American Moroccan government.
- Israel -- the country that Perle & Co. were most determined to protect by Saddam's overthrow -- faces far more dangerous threats on its borders and across the region than anything a contained Saddam could have orchestrated against it. There's an existential threat to its very existence by an emboldened Iran, a resurgent Hezbollah, a weaker U.S. security umbrella, and Arab regimes preoccupied with Iran's regional machinations.
- And finally, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan: is America better off in the Middle East today than it was over seven years ago when it invaded Iraq? Of course not. Throughout the region both Arabs and Israelis lament the huge loss of American power and prestige attributable to the invasion. From Morocco to Pakistan, the perception across the Middle East today is that the U.S. "lost" in Iraq, that its forces are exhausted, and Iran is the big winner in the equation.
Many Republicans, notably the remnants of the neoconservative movement and their supporters who form such groups as "Keep America Safe," cling for dear life to a thin reed that the decision to invade was right, that the jury is still out, and someone else or something else is to blame for screwing up Iraq. As for the consequences to the rest of the Middle East...that's a topic they prefer to avoid.