Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Will Business as Usual Work in Iraq?

Does President Barack Obama bear any responsibility for the erosion of the political-military situation in Iraq? Few topics provoke a more violent knee-jerk reaction among the Bush-hating, Obama-defending crowd than Iraq. If you point out something good about the current American position in Iraq, that crowd credits Obama. If you point out something bad, that ...

Photo: MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images

Does President Barack Obama bear any responsibility for the erosion of the political-military situation in Iraq? Few topics provoke a more violent knee-jerk reaction among the Bush-hating, Obama-defending crowd than Iraq.

If you point out something good about the current American position in Iraq, that crowd credits Obama. If you point out something bad, that crowd blames Bush. Is the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq good? It is one of Obama’s signature foreign-policy achievements. Is it bad? The agreement to remove the troops was negotiated by George W. Bush. If you try to inject any nuance or complexity into that simplistic formula, the trolls come out faster than you can say "Halloween."

If this were just an issue of hypocrisy in Internet debates, it would not be a blogworthy matter. But as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s visit to Washington this week reminds us, this is actually a matter of urgent national security for the United States.

I have never seen a knowledgeable expert systematically rebut the case for assigning Obama some blame for the current situation.

But given how dire the situation is, perhaps it is a mistake for those of us who worry about Iraq to focus on assigning blame.

Perhaps the better question is this: Is the best policy for the United States to pursue in Iraq the one that has guided the Obama administration for the last five years? Or is it time for Obama to shift gears, perhaps even to invest some (admittedly limited and perhaps dwindling) presidential capital in forging a different kind of relationship with Maliki?

Is there someone out there arguing that Obama’s approach is working? I would like to see that argument. I think it is a hard case to make, but I could imagine someone making a more limited case: that Obama’s approach is the least worst of all the bad alternatives out there. Even so, I am skeptical, and I have not seen the administration make even that more limited case in a convincing way.

Maliki’s visit forces the administration to talk about Iraq in a way that it has been reluctant to do for a while. The bad news elsewhere gives the administration an added incentive. Perhaps this week we will see a convincing explanation for why business as usual is the best approach in Iraq. Or perhaps we will see the administration make a change, and make a case for that change.

Does President Barack Obama bear any responsibility for the erosion of the political-military situation in Iraq? Few topics provoke a more violent knee-jerk reaction among the Bush-hating, Obama-defending crowd than Iraq.

If you point out something good about the current American position in Iraq, that crowd credits Obama. If you point out something bad, that crowd blames Bush. Is the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq good? It is one of Obama’s signature foreign-policy achievements. Is it bad? The agreement to remove the troops was negotiated by George W. Bush. If you try to inject any nuance or complexity into that simplistic formula, the trolls come out faster than you can say "Halloween."

If this were just an issue of hypocrisy in Internet debates, it would not be a blogworthy matter. But as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s visit to Washington this week reminds us, this is actually a matter of urgent national security for the United States.

I have never seen a knowledgeable expert systematically rebut the case for assigning Obama some blame for the current situation.

But given how dire the situation is, perhaps it is a mistake for those of us who worry about Iraq to focus on assigning blame.

Perhaps the better question is this: Is the best policy for the United States to pursue in Iraq the one that has guided the Obama administration for the last five years? Or is it time for Obama to shift gears, perhaps even to invest some (admittedly limited and perhaps dwindling) presidential capital in forging a different kind of relationship with Maliki?

Is there someone out there arguing that Obama’s approach is working? I would like to see that argument. I think it is a hard case to make, but I could imagine someone making a more limited case: that Obama’s approach is the least worst of all the bad alternatives out there. Even so, I am skeptical, and I have not seen the administration make even that more limited case in a convincing way.

Maliki’s visit forces the administration to talk about Iraq in a way that it has been reluctant to do for a while. The bad news elsewhere gives the administration an added incentive. Perhaps this week we will see a convincing explanation for why business as usual is the best approach in Iraq. Or perhaps we will see the administration make a change, and make a case for that change.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

Tag: Iraq

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