Littwin: We’re bombing, again. What could go wrong?

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]S we begin dropping bombs in Iraq once again, the one thing we don’t ask ourselves is this: What could go wrong?

Where to begin?

In Egypt, Tahrir Square happened, and we couldn’t justify continuing to stand by a dictator. We played no military role. We didn’t have to. Mubarak fell, and the Arab Spring was on. Soon, the Muslim Brotherhood would win an election (which was always the fear: What would happen when the wrong team wins in a democratic election?). There was a military coup. Now they are killing demonstrators, outlawing the Brotherhood, arresting journalists and shutting down what little democracy there was.

In Libya, we became part of the coalition air force for the rebels. You remember: Leading from behind, they called it. Qaddafi fell. The rebels won. More Arab Spring. Until the country fell into chaos and, eventually, Benghazi happened.

[pullquote]We’re left not just with the disasters, but the tag-along unexpected disasters and the hawkish, somehow unembarrassed so-called experts who didn’t see the disasters coming.[/pullquote]

In Syria, civil war turned quickly into mass slaughter. We looked for a rebel group to side with, in order to stop the murderous Assad. Reliable moderates were hard to locate, and, in any case, the danger of arming them was clear. What if something like ISIS happened? And what if they took the moderates’ guns? And what if they used them to exploit the Shia-Sunni tensions in neighboring Iraq, which had grown ever worse as al-Maliki shut out the minority Sunnis? And what if ISIS brought with it a hard-line vision of Islam that would embarrass the Taliban?

And Iraq? The 4,400 American dead? The 100,000-plus Iraqi dead? The $1 trillion gone? The years it took to extricate ourselves from someplace we never should have been?

As Iraq explodes — and not just from American bombs — here’s an irony for you as told in Max Fisher’s Iraq explainer for, of how ISIS is using stolen American guns to fight its way through Iraq. Fisher writes:

[blockquote]The absurdity runs deep: America is using American military equipment to bomb other pieces of American military equipment halfway around the world. The reason the American military equipment got there in the first place was because, in 2003, the US had to use its military to rebuild the Iraqi army, which it just finished destroying with the American military. The American weapons the U.S. gave the Iraqi army totally failed at making Iraq secure and have become tools of terror used by an offshoot of al-Qaeda to terrorize the Iraqis that the US supposedly liberated a decade ago. And so now the U.S. has to use American weaponry to destroy the American weaponry it gave Iraqis to make Iraqis safer, in order to make Iraqis safer.[/blockquote]

You can see the thread here. Not just disasters, but the unexpected disasters and the somehow unembarrassed so-called experts who didn’t see the disasters coming. The hawkish experts have been wrong time and again, and now they’re back, along with Cheney and memories of missing WMDs, missing flower-bearers, missing American values in Abu Ghraib.

Hillary Clinton made headlines the other day by taking a tiny step in the direction of the McCain position (which is to basically bomb everyone) by saying Barack Obama’s decision not to take more decisive action in Syria was a “failure” that helped lead to the current mess in Iraq.

What was the right call? I mean, in any of these situations? Playing a major role in Libya? Playing so cautiously in Syria?

Who lost Egypt?

The McCains and Cheneys tell us the problem in Iraq is that we didn’t leave a residual force there, presumably forever. Not that having troops in Iraq had forestalled the earlier disasters. You might make a better case that the problem goes all the way back to those senators (like Clinton) who voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq.

The danger now is that we’ll really get pulled back in. It’s the last thing Obama wants, of course. He ran on getting us out of Iraq — and still it took him years. He knows the dangers. He hasn’t come to Iraq’s aid, in large part, because there’s no one in Baghdad to trust. The story there now is how the president of Iraq has appointed a new prime minister to form a government while al-Maliki has said he won’t go. No one knows what will happen.

What we do know is that we were told — time and again — that getting out of Iraq was a matter of rebuilding Iraq’s military, and so we spent many tens of millions of dollars in that effort. And we watched as that army, which seems to be no army at all, fell apart as soon as ISIS appeared.

And because Iraq is falling apart, we’re back, in a limited way, because we do have some responsibility there. But can our role stay limited? As minorities were threatened with genocide and as Americans seemed at risk in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, Obama decided to bomb ISIS positions. In the Kurds, he had a reliable ally, but Obama has worried that giving advanced arms to the independence-seeking Kurds would help them separate from the rest of Iraq. Now it seems he has no choice.

Still, Obama has said he won’t “allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq.” I don’t doubt his intentions. But we are getting into a war, in however limited a way, and there will be pressure to stay involved. What if things go badly for the Kurds? What if Baghdad is threatened?

What if — and I know this is a long shot — something unexpected happens and things really go wrong?

[ Image of Iraq by the US Army. ]


  1. Hi. “What could go wrong?”, well, the direction you took with your analysis. After I read your “go wrong” article I watched the NY Times video “Iraq’s factions and their goals” (8 13 14 or close). The video points to an Iraq that maybe is ready for politics other than ideas imposed by extortion. The U.S., with its drones, advisors, warplanes, CAN create a temporary vacuum if its doesn’t “like” the side that is winning. This isn’t bad, i.e. the situation with ISIS in NE Iraq. Being upset by the U.S.’s sale of arms that end up pointed the wrong way is naive. The arms business is powerful because it makes money. Like any business, it is self-serving, particularly its rationales for the buying and selling weapons, at home and abroad. Witness Sandy Hook. This isn’t meant as a defeatist lay-down but to induce clarity: war, tribalism and weapons are as human as art, drama, and religion. The political drama with al-Maliki’s presumed exit goes back to the Bush II war. Bush II probably didn’t think of “vacuum policy” (This is funny.) but rethink your facts in “What could go wrong?” We depose Saddam, get rid of the army, post US military for 10 years, then exit, leaving the Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis free to engage with U.S. weapons available en masse. ISIS imposed a new reality upon Baghdad (apparently Sharia Law?). Hopefully this moderates the Sunni, Shiite, Kurd discussions to consider people who want a right to an opinion other than one imposed by guns, war, and extortion.

  2. What exactly is Mr. Littwin advocating? Isolationism? Non-interventionism? Neutrality?

    Does he believe no action should be taken unless it is absolutely, positively, unequivocally, 100 percent guaranteed to cause no unforeseen consequences? Good luck with that.

    As usual and as expected, Mr. Littwin doesn’t say.

    Monday morning quarterbacking comes almost naturally to a former sportswriter like Mr. Littwin who made a living second-guessing decisions made by others because he didn’t agree with or—and this is the more likely case– didn’t understand them. But Mr. Littwin can kick that hindsight habit by enlightening his readers with what he would do in Iraq. Does he agree with President Obama’s decision to begin bombing?

    I don’t expect an answer anytime soon.

    Mr. Littwin also forgets to mention that inaction also has consequences. In 2012 President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by Syria would cross a “red line for us” and might trigger a U.S. military response. Well, they did and it didn’t.

    Did President Obama’s, uh, timidity embolden ISIS to move into Iraq? Hillary Clinton thinks so.

    What’s most troubling is the sincere and abiding compassion Mr. Littwin has expressed for the children arriving at our southern border apparently does not extend to children outside the Western Hemisphere.

    “I think Obama understands people’s concerns. After spending the day at the beach, he said, ‘this has been fun but I should really get back to the golf course because priorities are priorities.'”
    Jimmy Fallon
    Veterans Day – November 11, 2014

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