Outgoing Marine Corps commandant General James Amos believes the precipitous drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 opened the door for radical Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists to overrun the country. This unveiled swipe at the White House Amos launched during an address at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, where the sorry state of the foreign policy establishment was made clear by the complete lack of laughter. For the historical irony is quite bitter, that is, in touting how a larger U.S. military presence in Iraq could have blunted the advance of jihadists in 2014, whose very existence can be credited to the U.S. military invasion and occupation of same country in 2003.
Let us be clear: Al Qaeda and its ilk were not in Iraq to any significant degree previous to the Bush administration's campaign to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, ever elusive WMDs and phantom international terrorist organizations. These are not simply antiwar talking points but the conclusions of the Defense Department's own intelligence review. According to Peter Bergen, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency had by 2006 translated 34 million pages of documents from Hussein's Iraq and found nothing to corroborate a "partnership" between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
The Institute for Defense Analyses two years later, after examining 600,000 documents and several thousand hours of audio and video, also concluded that there was no direct connection. Further, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2008 found no relationship between the two while stating that, "most of the contacts cited between Iraq and al Qaeda before the war by the intelligence community and policymakers have been determined not to have occurred."
The invasion of Iraq and subsequent power vacuum afforded Al Qaeda and its affiliates the golden opportunity to secure a foothold in Mesopotamia, where in 2004 it officially established itself as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and decided to provoke a Sunni-Shia civil war. Fast forward to present day and the war in Syria has allowed AQI to rebrand itself into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has become an even more sadistic version of the parent corporation. In short, it's not your father's Al Qaeda.
But not only does Amos believe U.S. military might could have saved the day, he also insists that our political and diplomatic prowess might have made a considerable difference: "I have a hard time believing that had we been there, and worked with the government, and worked with parliament, and worked with the minister of defense, the minister of interior, I don't think we'd be in the same shape we're in today."
But between 2003 and 2011 when we did "work with" the aforementioned government officials and bodies the results were catastrophic. The mechanisms of "democracy" we established helped usher in a Shia tyrant whose sectarian repression helped fuel the Sunni extremist backlash. The U.S. also "worked with" corrupt Iraqi politicians and exploited a fragile governance structure to line the pockets of Western oil companies.
As Antonia Juhasz points out, before the 2003 invasion Iraq's domestic oil industry was "fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies" until legislation in 2007, crafted by the likes of Exxon, BP, Chevron and Shell, was pushed onto Iraq's government by Bush officials. Now most of Iraq's oil industry is in the hands of foreigners, with over 50% of sales going to Western corporations. U.S. oil companies in particular went from zero before ousting Saddam to over $1 trillion in per annum revenue. Today 80% of Iraq's oil is being exported "while Iraqis struggle to meet basic energy consumption needs." And, to add insult to injury, despite the country's wealth of natural resources, the oil and gas sectors account for less than 2% of total employment because "foreign companies rely instead on imported labor." The twisted logic that withdrawal caused the conditions for the Sunni extremist resurgence and not the original invasion itself is an impressive contortion of reality that many in the media and academia have been peddling upon the American public, as if we were Orwellian sheep ready to embrace as dogma that "2 + 2 = 5." Unfortunately, the actual facts of the situation have been so obfuscated and glossed over that one now risks appearing like a conspiracy theorist should he or she dare to shed light on reality.
The consequences of Bush's decision to invade Iraq continue to reverberate more loudly by the day, the sounds of which the Obama administration should take as admonition and not as a call to exacerbate the travesty by sending more weapons, drones, "advisers" and troops.
Even a cold-blooded realist would have to admit U.S. policy in the Middle East, specifically with respect to Iraq and Syria, serves the raison d'État of no one except antediluvian-minded extremists. What the foreign policy establishment is missing a few commonsense folk are recognizing on both sides of the political divide, namely, that the U.S. needs to leave the Iraqis alone. The bottom line is most Iraqis likely do not buy Amos' assertion that Iraq would be in better "shape" if she were again blessed by America's benevolent overlordship.