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Obama’s Mistake in Iraq: Getting Sucked Back Into a Religious War Already Lost

| June 22, 2014

ISIS goons: not our fight.

ISIS goons: not our fight.

It was just nine months ago that Republican leaders led by John McCain were getting embarrassingly horny over American attacks on the regime of Syrian President Bashar el Assad, which would have helped the rebellion then trying to depose him. Old airman McCain of course has never known a bomb he couldn’t drop. He reminds me of Buzz Marrow, “The War Lover” in John Hersey’s novel of the Flying Fortress crew doomed by Marrow’s arrogance and love of inflicting death and destruction.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive That McCain served honorably doesn’t mean he hasn’t been warmongering dishonorably since. He was calling for air strikes and a no-fly zone over Syria as far back as March 2012, because really we’d gone too long without starting another war in the Middle East and the first four that we started or got involved in (Afghanistan, “terror,” Iraq, Libya) were going so fantastically well. Not that McCain noticed. He still thinks the United States has a say in the Middle East, as opposed to the irrelevant has-been and the laughing stock the United States has been there since 2003, compliments of the hubris and ignorance of an ex-president now painting himself showering and taking baths.

By last year McCain was yelling in a Senate hearing at the defense secretary for not recommending an attack to help the rebels, before finally going apoplectic over President Obama—“that guy,” as McCain called him during one of their debates in 2008—acting more measured than his missile-happy predecessor. Don’t forget: it was also McCain who was badgering George W. Bush to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran there near the end of Bush’s tenure. Somehow Bush, who’d been burned enough by his own warmongering until then, had a moment of lucidity. He told McCain to take a hike. McCain ran for president instead.

Did you happen to catch McCain last week on the Senate floor? Now he’s blaming Obama for not unleashing an attack on the very same rebels he wanted the president to help less than a year ago. And not just him: all sorts of Republicans who think contradictions are as cute as grandma’s amnesia have turncoated from rebel lovers to rebel bombers faster than a Sara Palin wink, all the while keeping up their calls for impeaching Obama, first for not helping the rebels, now for not bombing them.

Turns out Obama’s prudence about dropping bombs all over Syria has been vindicated. He didn’t want to help the rebels because he feared that the worst among them would benefit the most. They’re the groups we’ve slowly come to know as al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda mutant, and that bloodthirsty group of nut jobs so violent that even al-Qaeda has denounced them. Imagine that: an organization that makes al-Qaeda queasy. That’s the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or the ISIS, as even those Islamic idiots with beards for brains like to call themselves. They’re the ones now approaching Baghdad from the north almost as fast as the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division approached Baghdad from the south 11 years ago. It wasn’t long before the U.S. Army discovered that it had copped itself a sandy Vietnam, just as it won’t be long before the ISIS discover that their barbarism can only go so far before they meet their match in Shiite barbarism.

Because this is primarily a religious war, not just a civil war.

The question is: will Obama’s lucidity last long enough to keep us from getting involved there, as we should not be, as we should never have been even in 2003, when Bush accelerated (though he did not create) the crucible for this madness today.

Sure we had the moral responsibility to ensure that the country we’d destabilized and whose destruction we then enabled should be rebuilt, held together, and its people protected. So here’s the man the United States picked for the job: Nuri al Maliki, a lesser Saddam Hussein who did on behalf of the Shiite majority what Saddam had done on behalf of the Sunni minority all his years. Al Maliki is an authoritarian, a thug, a gleeful torturer—but then, no Arab leader worth his jails wouldn’t be—and a sectarian hog. He sundered confessional links under the Americans’ noses long before American troops left the country. He hardened since. His American reward: tanks, guns, money. So much for American moral standing. It radiates similar fecklessness by supporting the brutal regimes in Egypt, Algeria and across the Arab peninsula and helping to crush democracy activists—with American weaponry. That’s our Made in USA brand now.

So Obama’s record in the Middle East has not been stellar. What lucidity he displayed by resisting the war lover’s calls is giving in to the more demented approach of the John McCains of the world. He’s sending so-called military “advisers” to Iraq, thus disinterring that euphemism for ground troops from the graveyards of Vietnam. He claims to be sending just 300 of them, but surely you don’t think those 5,000 Americans assigned to the American Embassy in Baghdad are all involved in stamping Iraqis’ tourist visas to the United States. Our military presence there is far heavier than the president lets on. In war, presidents lie. “That guy” is no different.

Here’s how absurd this is getting: Iran is now in bed with the Great Satan, because we’re suddenly Iran’s best hope, next to Iran itself, to keep the Sunni barbarians from reclaiming Shiite Iraq. Who knows. Maybe that will lead to some constructive dialogue with an enemy of 35 years. But if the price is involvement in another war, it isn’t worth it.

This is a war between Sunnis and Shiites. It’s not our business. We’ve made a mess of it so far. We’re not about to improve on the situation, and chances are we will only make it worse, at the cost of yet more useless American blood. We should stay out. We should let them fight it out. It’s their reformation. As the French writer Flaubert wrote 150 years ago when the French were sending troops to some god-forsaken Arab land in hopes of calming a war of beards raging even then, “we’re sending soldiers and artillery against those Muslims when it’s a Voltaire they need.”

Too bad we’ve grown so poor, so unimaginative and, like them, so backward, as to offer them only guns.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece was broadcast on WNZF.

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29 Responses for “Obama’s Mistake in Iraq: Getting Sucked Back Into a Religious War Already Lost”

  1. Rob says:

    Oh no!

    It’s all President Obama’s fault, per Dick Deferment Cheney.
    According to Cheney he and Mr. Mission Accomplished left Iraq in good shape.
    Bush was the President and yet you don’t hear a peep out of him.
    This war profiteer pops off every chance he gets. He had his moment of fame and now the rest of us are paying the price. And many needlessly paid the ultimate price.

    His next tune will be, a noun, a verb and Benghazi.

    But I bet there are people reading this news journal who swallow everything he says.

  2. Cindy Johnson says:

    Isn’t it all about World Oil ??

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Yes that’s probably the thing that causes the most jitters. Our economy and most other developed nation’s economies are oil-based. There’s no getting around that. If we allow other large nations to enter the region with their armies to “settle disputes,” they (Russia or China) won’t simply stabilize the region and ensure the fres flow of oil onto the world market. Those guys would just take it and likely charge everyone else quite a premium. That’s why it’s unfortunately best for us to do the job. We don’t simply conquer and take. We liberate and trade. Big difference.

  3. Steve Wolfe says:

    I like a lot of what you said in this piece Pierre, and I certainly see the failure of Bush’s attempt to bring Iraq into the modern world. I didn’t think it was folly to attempt it, and I had high hopes for success so the demonstration of democracy in Iraq might be embraced by more of the nations in the region, which would have given the rest of the world a welcome breather from all the Middle East tensions and help ensure, among other things, a more cooperative OPEC. I was holding my breath as we warned Saddam what was coming, because I also held that another possible outcome was that the entire region might have turned all their professional hatred on America, triggering a much wider war there as well as more attacks here. But after the war was won in Iraq, Saddam was dead at the hands of his own people, the first elections were held, and the Shiite and Sunnis became less vitriolic and began to disengage through arms, it indeed appeared that the desired end was beginning to materialize. Although there were plenty of other subsequent bad moves, among them backing Maliki, the troop level that was maintained during Bush’s Administration maintained relative peace and allowed the spread of hope in and for Iraq.

    Where I must depart from your narrative is where you give too much credit to Obama, calling him “lucid” regarding the Middle East. It was on his watch that Egypt disintegrated as he sat silently while the pro-democracy youth movement was silenced. He also blew it in Libya. He thought it a solid choice (albeit late to the game) to back the anti-dictator side, but without the necessary anchor for peace after winning the fight (boots on the ground), the same people he backed ruthlessly murdered our Ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi. Then Syria. Don’t cross what? That was possibly his biggest blunder, since by doing nothing when Assad gassed his own civilians Obama telegraphed to the rest of the bad guys in the world (think Putin) that America will do nothing when they cross lines, even borders.

    But his most blatantly political action in foreign policy, in which his foreign policy naïvete was on full display, was removing all the American troops from Iraq, giving himself what he believes was the right to declare “victory,” which it most assuredly is not. Victory is defeating your enemy, not walking away when you don’t feel like the fight matches your personality. It was and always will be necessary to occupy a land after military action in order to ensure the peace won and stabilize the new government (think Japan, Germany, Korea). So I think it truly misses the mark when you give him credit for recognizing that there is no way for any foreign power to win the fight between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. It truly appears that they must duke it out among themselves, meaning, according to their own dictates, it will be won through attrition, because they must all fight to the last man.

    Here’s the rub with that: Escalation. The winner intends to survive in sufficient number to hold vast lands, so they don’t intend simply to fight tooth and nail to the last man. They will both look for a way to beat their enemy, and now they are fighting not only in the nuclear age, not only in close proximity to nuclear weaponry, but with partners that actually possess nuclear weapons who are themselves fanatical enough to allow them to be used once the fight grows large enough to trigger some threshold known only to them. Iran, as we are all aware, has expressed the desire to gain nuclear weapons and to use them. They are a close enough ally to Maliki to cause us to be concerned, and Iran is now warning the Muslim nations that financially support ISIS. The Pakistani government also maintains only a tenuous hold on their own arsenal, having to constantly play keep-away from their own fanatical Al-Qaeda fighters. There’s even Russia, traditional Middle East instigators, hoping to realize obscene profits from the oil revenues they overly rely on for their dysfunctional economy. Putin is not above slipping more arms, possibly a nuke, into the hands of whoever he favors in the fight.

    Now to agree with you on one more point: The Sunni-Shiite issue predates America. They have only lasted this long because of their traditionally iron-fisted governments. But to depart once again, it IS in our interests to see that this fight between them does not boil over into a larger regional war that cannot be stopped by outside influence. Instability there destabilizes the oil market, and we are not energy independent, for which you can also thank our anti-energy president. Our economy cannot stand another large price spike like $6.00/gallon gasoline. Then there’s Israel. Like them or not, they are a beacon of democracy and development among large nations who seek their destruction for religious reasons. The Jews have produced brilliant scientists, hundreds of Nobel winners, and may just unlock the secrets to clean energy or defeating major diseases—who knows. Democracy is worth defending if it is worth having at all. Which leads us back to Bush’s original intent in his Middle East goals: the spread of democracy in a region that could sorely use it, yet remains resistant to it, even when it is handed to them on a silver platter by the altruistic hands of foreign liberators. As for Obama’s “lucidity,” I think all we have really observed in him is hesitation, fear of political consequences for acting in America’s best interests, dithering, and more rounds of golf. The guy is an amateur. We are paying a price for electing him. I have faith that the U.S. has the resilience to survive two more years of him and bounce back in spite of his best efforts to render us less powerful, less relevant, and less respected in the world which was formerly more peaceful and prosperous because of American hegemony. He has given us the change. Still waiting on the hope thingy.

    Glad you are back in the saddle, Pierre. Love ya, brother.

    • ken says:

      Thank you Steve, great commentary.

    • TJ says:


      Your problem is that you clearly believe that everyone in every should want what you want and what would be best for America. America cannot force its will on the entire world.

      We have tried that for decades and all it has gotten us is further and further into debt and spread American soldiers and aid money to every corner of the globe.

      Meanwhile at home our infrastructure is falling down around our ears. Our health care is most expensive and least effective in the developed world. Our education system is lagging further and further behind and we as a nation have taken to rewarding greed and shortsighted quest for profits at the expense of a strong middle class.

      Both parties are responsible.

  4. Yellowstone says:

    It is, and always has been, a grab for those Kurdish oil fields. When you read history starting around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, you begin to see the British occupation of the middle-east. They knew as well as the US that there are far greater resources to be found – and protected – other that the sand piles. The Aswan Dam followed.

    Israel was established solely to police that region. To be the strong arm to protect our interests!

    Why, do you have to ask, do the Arabs in that entire region despise the Israeli?

    Those oil reserves are the “vital US interests” that affect “our nation’s security” you are constantly hearing repeated in the media. The ideology that speaks of creating a democracy has been a farce – a meaningful distraction of the truth.

    Most of the world wars were fought over specific control of resources found in specific regions of the world. Oil being the common denominator. Whoever controls the world’s oil, can also control the foundation of all the world’s currency.

    This religious war in the middle east is being fueled by our strongest ally in that region – Saudi Arabia. Why? Who else is thought to be the oil emirate?

    Saddem Hussein, interestingly, was/is the only leader who was able to keep all the factions together. He knew, like we now know, these factions have been at each other’s throats for centuries. And we had to assassinate him – because someone thought he was Satan.

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      I mostly agree. I also think we should become energy independent so we can avoid the instability in the oil market that the Middle East can cause. We will most likely lead the way on alternative energy in the future because of the innovations borne of liberty and profit motive, and necessity, the mother of invention. In the meanwhile there’s no reason to roll with the punches that Shiites and Sunnis want to throw at each other. We should protect American national interests (a very large villiage) with American energy. Then we can get busy creating the next great thing in energy. Just as we feed much of the world, we could fuel it.

    • ken says:

      How much less dependent on middle east oil would be if the Keystone project had been approved years ago?

  5. m&m says:

    Why is it you Liberals never own up to the problems you create? You continue to blame things that bone head communty organizer makes on someone else. When are all of you going to get some back bone??

    • TJ says:

      How is it that we “Liberals” are being blamed for a problem that has existed since before there was an America or a Democratic party?

      Centuries before in fact.

      R U Serious?

  6. Genie says:

    This President couldn’t successfully run 3 lemonade stands at the same time and we all know it. It’s difficult to be up on national security when you are constantly skipping the briefings for a game of golf. Nobody is that intelligent and certainly not this man.

    Bush turned a secure Iraq over to Obama. It is time he take the blame for what happened after that. If your memory needs refreshing, lets go back to the place where Biden stated, “Iraq will be the President’s signature achievement:”

    No more excuses for this man. None.

    • TJ says:

      Well he has successfully been elected twice so “No” we don’t all know any such thing.

      What makes you think that America could possibly end an internal religious struggle that has been going on in that part of the world since long before there ever was an America?

      I am not making excuses I am simply pointing out the reality you seem unable to see.

  7. m&m says:

    Bravo Genie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Jim R. says:

    What makes some people think that all oil, is Americas oil, no matter where it is?

  9. Geezer Saves Gopher Tortoises says:

    “Mission Accomplished!”
    -George W. Bush, May 1, 2003 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

    Eleven years of peace and prosperity ever since!

    I said the foregoing to comfort the Fox news disciples present here.
    People who have been lobotomized need love.

    Below is a video showcasing the former president (who could run 3 lemonade stands).

  10. Katana says:

    What makes know so much? It seems to me that is owned by FOX News. Really people.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      This has to be the funniest comment ever attached to one of my columns. Thank you for the hearty Monday morning laugh dear samurai.

      • Brian Riehle says:

        And then on the other cable channel we have Hillary Clinton continuously parsing words saying that she would provide military support to the “vetted rebels” fighting in Syria and Iraq. As if she or anyone else in the U.S. is smart enough to vett them. You’re spot on Pierre. This is a war between the Shia & the Sunni and as I recall they are fighting over which one of Mohammeds sons is going to be his successor or some other arcane issue of comparable importance.

  11. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “Turns out Obama’s prudence about dropping bombs all over Syria has been vindicated” while I agree with the overall thesis of your column, that being we don’t need to get involved in yet another middle east conflict, I think you’re playing a little fast and loose with the historical facts. As I recall it was certainly not Obama’s prudence that prevented us from dropping bombs on Syria, it was the world’s newest bad guy, Vladimir Putin who quashed that idea. Up until Putin’s offer to allegedly secure the nukes, Obama was pretty set to start dropping bombs and arming “rebels”.

  12. A.S.F. says:

    While I shudder to think of the human rights violations that will result once fascist forces regain control, I cannot sanction our getting sucked in to Iraq again. Advisors, my foot! Does this administration really believe that we don’t remember Viet Nam and how we went in there as “advisors?” All I can see coming out of this is giving both the Sunni’ s and the Shi’ites (as well as Iran) the opportunity to draw us into their bloodbaths so that they can turn around and point the finger at us for being their common enemy. Until their own army is ready to shed more of their own blood and make the sacrifices necessary to take responsibility for extricating themselves from the terrorist clutches of their neighbors, our role should be as limited as it humanely can be.

  13. Telsa says:

    Seems all the political Einstein’s here today actually believe their little comments are going to change the way this planet survives. Sorry Albert, but you, me, and all the other “non-relevant” humans on this chat room will continue to be nothing more then pawns in the Chess game of the Rich. Now go back to your humble existence here in Palm Toast….I mean Coast .

  14. rickg says:

    Lest we forget the US’s foreign policy has not changed much over the years… remember how we teamed up with tyrannical dictators in numerous Latin American countries under the guise of spreading democracy. What a bunch of hooey… No matter what the right says the Iraq war was started by the Neocons with an eye on war profits.. Read people.. and stopped being fooled by this corpratocracy under which we live.

  15. m&m says:

    FlaglerLive, Have you eliminated the (like) box at the end of each article??

    • FlaglerLive says:


      Increasingly over time we’d been running into slow page-loading issues and these infuriating “error connecting to database” issues you may have experienced when clicking on a page. By last weekend it got to be epidemic, and when we upgraded the site’s main software to the latest version, it brought everything to a crawl and kept us from even entering the moderation pages most of the time. We couldn’t figure out the problem for 24 hours until it was narrowed down, if you can believe it, to that little “like” plug-in, which was overloading the server. When we disabled it, everything was back to normal. While the like button on comments is great to have, we’re going to keep it of for now until we find one that doesn’t overload the server and slow down pages for everyone. It’s a trade-off, but right now it’s necessary.

  16. m&m says:

    Thank you Flagler Live.. I wish the city would be that quick and honest with their responses.. Thanx again..

  17. ⓖⓔⓔⓩⓔⓡ says:

    No more “like” symbols – but I still like Flaglerlive.
    The symbols were only symbolic.

    I guess we’ll have to muddle through.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can’t believe all the fuss at Obama for wanting to play golf after what must have been a very stressful situation. Did anyone begrudge stupid Bush when he spent all of his vacation time during the Iraq war on the golf course???!!

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