The US’ complete withdrawal of its troops from Iraq is a tragic mistake. It jeopardizes the gains made by former US president George W. Bush’s (and former British prime minister Tony Blair’s) eminently correct 2003 decision to overthrow former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and risks the broader Middle East falling into chaos. Sadly, Bush himself initiated this mistake by agreeing to this endpoint in our status-of-forces agreement with Iraq, but it was consummated by US President Barack Obama, who never wanted to be in Iraq and who is now delighted to pull the plug.
However, those like Obama who welcome US withdrawal as vindicating their opposition to the Iraq war are profoundly misguided, ignoring the international coalition’s real successes in Iraq and the implications of their McGovernite “come home, America” strategy.
First, the world is safer with Hussein dead and his regime on history’s ash heap. Now, no longer will Hussein invade his neighbors and threaten the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or have his thumb on the world’s economic windpipe. With 20:20 hindsight, we should have overthrown him in 1991 after he invaded Kuwait.
Second, Iraq is a better place without Hussein. Anyone who believes differently has to argue that tyranny is better than representative government and rebut US founding father Benjamin Franklin’s observation: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty not safety.”
Good luck with that. Undeniably, the period between Hussein’s overthrow and today was grim, and deadly for too many. Bush’s 2006-2007 surge overcame many, but far from all, of the security threats that existed, again setting Iraq on the right path. It is thus particularly cruel to Iraqis that Obama is withdrawing according to an arbitrary, essentially ideological timetable, rather than one based on facts on the ground.
Third, and a fine irony, US withdrawal from Iraq will enhance Iran’s influence throughout the region. Iran has already increased its meddling inside Iraq, influencing the regime of Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki and enhancing the capabilities of terrorist thugs like Iraqi Islamic leader Muqtada al-Sadr. It is challenging its neighbors across the Gulf, threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz and target the US facilities there. Tehran is willing to shed considerable Syrian blood to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in power, and Hezbollah effectively in control in Lebanon. And Iran moves inexorably closer to its long-sought objective of nuclear weapons deliverable by intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The withdrawal of US forces from Iraq will increase Iran’s relative regional power. Containing and ultimately overthrowing the regimes in Iran and Syria could have been advanced during the US military presence in Iraq and will be more difficult after our withdrawal. Those who say they want Iran contained should have supported a substantial, long-term US military presence in Iraq.
In short, our withdrawal from Iraq presages a world where Obama-style policies of US decline and turning inward have prevailed. Be warned: You will miss us when we are gone. By then, of course, it will be too late.
John Bolton was US ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006.