Iraq is the foreign policy disaster that won't go away. Eight years after President George W. Bush set the United States on a campaign to reform the Middle East by toppling a cruel and ruthless dictator, Iraq is in many ways worse off than it was under Saddam Hussein and before more than 4,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the unending warfare the 2003 invasion touched off.
President Obama, who had opposed the war from the beginning and was eager to get U.S. troops out of the country, now has decided to send U.S. troops — advisers only — back into Iraq in a last-ditch effort to halt the spread of Islamic extremism. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has taken control of a large swath of Iraq and parts of Syria. ISIS leaders have proclaimed a new country, the beginning on an Islamic caliphate, and they have imposed a totalitarianism whose cruelty rivals Saddam's.
Thomas Ricks' book on the first phase of the Iraq War was titled "Fiasco," perhaps the most appropriate title in nonfiction history. The invasion of Iraq has been called the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. The invasion was based on several assumptions, all of which proved to be wrong: (1) Al-Qaida had a base in Iraq; (2) Iraq had "weapons of mass destruction"; (3) Iraqis would welcome American troops with open arms and flowers; (4) establishment of a democratic Iraq would transform the Middle East.
As bad as Saddam was, he had kept a lid on sectarian violence. Removing him and his entire governmental structure, including police, security and military, unleashed the Sunni vs. Shia violence that nearly tore the country apart in 2006. Sectarian violence is at work again as Sunni-dominated ISIS attempts to wrest control of the country from the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad.
President Obama, who wanted no part of the Iraq War, has to re-examine his own actions. His eagerness to leave Iraq behind and his hesitancy to involve America in the Syrian civil war may have contributed to the rise of ISIS and the failures of the Iraqi government.
George W. Bush started this hubris-filled fiasco, but Barack Obama seems unable to find a way to stop it.