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Who Won Iraq?

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Posted on Jun 19, 2014

Photo by Poster Boy NYC (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 4)

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri was typical of the Republican politicians who began promoting this line.  “It’s a desperate situation,” he said. “It’s moving quickly. It appears to me that the chickens are coming home to roost for our policy of not leaving anybody there to be a stabilizing force.”  In a similar blast, the Wall Street Journal editorial page wrote, “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.”

And so it goes.  In this case, however, none of it may matter much.  In a country visibly sick of our wars of this century in which even many elite figures find further intervention in Iraq distasteful, “Who lost Iraq?” may never gain the sort of traction the other two “lost” debates did.

In the meantime, however, the world of the Middle East is being turned upside down.  Take the example of Iran.  Once upon a time, Iraq was thought to be just a way station.  As neocons of that moment liked to quip, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran.”  As it happened, the neighborhood around Baghdad quickly grew so ugly and the Bush administration soon found itself so bogged down in unwinnable minority insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan that it never put the U.S. military on that road to Tehran.

Today, the Iranians, it seems, are riding to Washington’s rescue in Iraq.  It’s already rumored that they may be sending, or considering sending, elements of the Republican Guard in to protect Baghdad.  As a result, the U.S. finds itself in a tacit alliance with Iran in Iraq, while still in opposition to it in Syria.  At the same time, it’s still allied with Saudi Arabia in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while facing the disastrous fruits of Saudi funding of the brutal newborn jihadi state at least temporarily coming into existence in the Sunni borderlands of Iraq and Syria.

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The Middle Eastern system as once known has, with the singular exception of Israel, largely evaporated and where it was, there is now increasingly chaos.  In all likelihood, it will only get worse.  “We” may not have “lost” Iraq, but can there be any question that Washington lost in Iraq?  American goals in the region went down in flames in a fashion so spectacular, so ignominious, that today nothing is left of them.  To the question, “Who won Iraq?” there may be no answer at all, or perhaps just the grim response: no one.  In the end, Iraqis will surely be the losers, big time, as Syrians are just across the now nonexistent border between what until recently were two countries.

As for the future Washington has on offer, the Obama administration is, it seems, considering responding to the crisis in Iraq in the only way it knows how: with bombs, cruise missiles, and drones.  The geopolitical dreams of the Bush era are buried somewhere deep in the rubble of Iraq, while the present White House has neither visionaries nor global dreams, grandiose or otherwise.  There are only managers and bureaucrats desperately trying to handle an uncooperative planet.  The question that remains is: Will they or won’t they send American air power back into Iraq?  Will they or won’t they, that is, loose the guns of folly and so quite predictably destabilize a terrible situation further?

In the meantime, a small footnote to future history: given what we’ve just seen, it might be worth taking with a grain of salt the news out of Afghanistan about the increasingly impressive abilities of the Afghan security forces, another gigantic crew set up, funded, trained, and armed by the U.S. military (and associated private contractors).  After all, haven’t we heard that somewhere before?

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt


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