While the government of Iraq is proving itself militarily incompetent, American presidential candidates are dancing around the 2003 decision to invade Iraq, which sent Iraq spiraling into its current pitiful state of corrupt incompetence. Candidates ponder how to assert American leadership in the Middle East.
Jeb Bush, whose brother decided to go ahead with the invasion that has been called the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, at first said he would have done what big brother did, then said, no, the invasion was a mistake. Hillary Clinton, as a first-term senator biding her time to run for president, voted to authorize the invasion but now says that was wrong. The other dozen or more presidential candidates (18 months before the election) mostly say invading Iraq was a mistake (Duh!) but do not always demonstrate that they have learned from the mistakes of 2003.
Sen. Rand Paul, who seems determined to be the most independent-minded presidential candidate in a generation, opposes virtually any use of military might on foreign shores. Sen. Bernie Sanders might give Paul some competition for the title of most off-the-chart policy platform. Mike Huckabee wants the United States to be a "Christian nation" even as polls show that it is growing less and less Christian and more secular every year. Sen. Lindsey Graham pushes a more assertive foreign/military policy.
Iraq policy was a major issue in 2004, when George W. Bush won a second term, despite the disastrous consequences of 2003, and in 2008, when Hillary Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq invasion hung like an albatross around her neck. The Middle East might be a significant issue next year, as it has been for most of the past half-century, but it likely will not be the deciding issue for many voters, who worry more about economics, income disparities, tax policy and other domestic matters.
But if the Islamic State militants succeed in consolidating their territorial gains in Syria and Iraq and then recruits domestic terrorists in the United States and Europe, Middle East policy will again leap to the top of the agenda. A major terrorist attack on American soil will make U.S. foreign policy, military policy and security worries the dominant debate in next year's campaign.
Invading Iraq 12 years ago on the basis of faulty or falsified intelligence looks worse with every passing year. Toppling Saddam Hussein has unleashed the demons of sectarian violence and pent-up anger against Western civilization in the Arab world. The next president, no doubt, will still be dealing with the consequences of Bush's decisiveness toward Iraq.