All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Iraq back together again

President George W. Bush, in an address to the nation on Jan. 10, 2007, announces a surge of troops into Iraq while warning that "the U.S. commitment is not open-ended."

President George W. Bush, in an address to the nation on Jan. 10, 2007, announces a surge of troops into Iraq while warning that “America’s commitment is not open-ended.”

In a recent column, Charles Krauthammer added his voice to those of Jeb Bush** and others who are claiming that President Obama inherited a stable, secure Iraq in 2009 that he subsequently abandoned, thus leading to the creation of ISIS.

“The fact is that by the end of Bush’s tenure, the war had been won,” Krauthammer wrote. “You can argue that the price of that victory was too high. But what is not debatable is that it was a victory.”

Now, Krauthammer has a history of saying and writing the most profoundly silly things, while disguising that silliness with a gravely serious tone.**** To demonstrate just how silly this most recent statement is, let’s start with a basic discussion of what stability actually means.

Simply put:

If a nation needs tens of thousands of heavily armed foreign troops occupying its cities on a permanent basis in order to keep its people from perpetrating mass slaughter against each other — if that’s the only thing that keeps them from each other’s throats — then no, that nation cannot be considered “stable” under any definition of the word. And that describes Iraq in 2005, 2009, 2011 and today.

And even with tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq, how “stable” was it when President Bush left office? H.A. Goodman, writing in The Hill, makes a pertinent point:

“The U.S. Department of State records that in 2008 alone, 3,256 terrorist attacks occurred in Iraq. As far as Bush “winning” the war, 19,077 people were “killed, kidnapped, or injured as a result of terrorism” in Iraq during George W. Bush’s last year in office. Prior to 2008, the U.S. Department of State cites a total of 12,841 terrorist attacks in Iraq from 2006 to 2007, resulting in the death of 82,891 Iraqis. Apparently, Jeb Bush and others never read the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2009, which states that “Since 2005 [until 2009], Iraq continues to be the single country with the most attacks and fatalities due to terrorism.”

Now, let’s bring President George W. Bush onto the stage, not to blame him but to allow him to explain something that is too often overlooked. Here is what he told us on Jan. 10, 2007, in announcing what became known as “the surge,” with tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops being committed temporarily to Iraq:

“I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq’s other leaders that America’s commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not keep its promises, it will lose the support of the American people, and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.”

Read that again, because Bush’s warning was quite clear and appropriate: America’s commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not keep its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and of the Iraqi people as well.

The Iraqi government did not keep those promises.

After a tense form of peace was imposed by the U.S. military, the Baghdad government did not use that respite as an opportunity to reconcile with its Sunni and Kurdish brethren; it used that peace to further suppress them. To this day, it still has not adopted the mythical, much-discussed “Iraqi oil law” that would fairly divide up revenues among its people. And despite repeated optimistic assurances over the years from U.S. officials about how professional and effective the Iraqi military was becoming, with all the billions of dollars that we were pumping into it, to this day it remains utterly incompetent.

Now, this is not a mere rehashing of old arguments. It is much more important than that. Today, we hear voices rising again, calling for the reintroduction of U.S. troops into Iraq, this time to take on ISIS. This, I suppose, would be “Surge II: The Return,” but I have to ask: What has changed that would make the end result of this “surge” different from the previous one, and different from the initial invasion as well?

Do we now have more leverage over the Iraqi government? No, we have considerably less.

Have the Iraqis shown any willingness to reconcile among themselves? No, they have demonstrated the opposite.

With ISIS on its doorstep, is the Iraqi government even willing to consider the return of U.S. combat troops? No, it is not.

As terrifying as ISIS might be, its success on the battleground is still preferable in Iraqi eyes to allowing a return of American troops to fight on Iraqi soil. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi repeated that position this week at an international conference in Paris, sternly ruling out the possibility of a return of U.S. combat troops.

And as Reuters reports:

“In a sign of persistent factional divisions, Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region criticized Baghdad for “excluding” it from the Paris talks, saying the snub demeaned the sacrifices of its peshmerga forces also fighting Islamic State.

In a further sign of internal tension, a meeting of Sunni tribes in Paris was canceled and Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari, a leader of the prominent al-Zoba tribe, said Abadi could not deliver since he was a puppet of Iran.”

As al-Dhari told Reuters, why should Sunni Iraqis fight against ISIS, when doing so means they would be helping the Shiites cement their grip on Iraq? Likewise, why should Iraqi Kurds fight for a united Iraq when that united Iraq would deny the Kurds autonomy and control of its oil reserves?

Those deep schisms — not the absence of U.S. troops — explain what is happening in Iraq. All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men, cannot put Iraq back together again.


** In a recent confrontation with a college student over Iraq, Jeb Bush claimed that “We had an agreement that the president could have signed that would have kept 10,000 troops” in Iraq. There was never such an agreement. There was never anything that could plausibly be described as such an agreement. It is pure fabrication, and when you have to resort to pure fabrication to support your argument, you must have a bad argument.


****For example, Krauthammer in April 2002:

“Time is running short. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He is working on nuclear weapons. And he has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us. We cannot hold the self-defense of the United States hostage to the solving of a century-old regional conflict.”

There was no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, and the notion that Saddam would have passed a nuclear weapon onto terrorists was silly on its face.

Then there’s his work in June 2003:

“The inability to find the weapons is indeed troubling, but only because it means that the weapons remain unaccounted for and might be in the wrong hands. The idea that our inability to thus far find the weapons proves that the threat was phony and hyped is simply false.”

Note again the absolute certainty in which Krauthammer makes such statements. And note again how silly they have proved to be.