EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 22, 2014

Editorial: Iraq chaos illustrates the folly of 'nation-building'

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The chaos that is roiling Iraq, with an al-Qaida bred insurgency terrorizing the population, routing what passes for an Iraqi army, capturing cities and threatening Baghdad, has no easy solution.

But it does serve to illustrate the abject failure of certain foreign policy objectives of two U.S. presidential administrations.

President Obama is correct in his assessment that Americans would not support a second invasion of Iraq to quell the insurgency. Instead, the president said 300 military “advisers” will go to Baghdad to assess the situation and counsel the Iraqi government. Students of history will note that this strategy echoes that from a conflict on the other end of Asia 50 years ago.

But President Obama fails to acknowledge that he brought this problem largely on himself. The insurgency known variously as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been waiting in the desert of northern Iraq and western Syria for U.S. troops to leave. Now that the troops have departed and the Iraqi government has shown its own weakness, the terrorists have free rein.

The Taliban is waiting for its moment to do the same in Afghanistan. Yet the administration persists in its plan to leave just around 1,000 American troops in that country by the end of 2014.

Obama and his supporters are quick to blame President George W. Bush for all his troubles in Iraq. Yet the president forgets that as recently as 2010, his vice president was touting Iraq as the administration’s biggest success story.

“You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer,” Vice President Joe Biden said on “Larry King Live” in 2010. “You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”

But the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was made stable only by the massive presence of American troops. Their departure has reopened the old fissures between the Shiite-led government, Sunni militants and Kurdish nationalists.

The ideal of peaceful Iraqi self-government was a folly shared by the Bush administration, whose great strategic blunder was the belief that an Iraqi democracy would blossom from the desert as soon as the tyrant Saddam Hussein’s thumb was removed. This hopeful vision stems from our experience with Germany and Japan in the wake of World War II, an experience that has falsely colored U.S. foreign policy ever since. We have tried to recreate that result again and again without the necessary prerequisites: a country and its population blasted utterly into abject submission; a truly massive amount of monetary aid for rebuilding; and finally, a long-term American military presence.

We hope the current misery in Iraq at least imparts one valuable lesson: that war is not a means of “nation-building.”

There may come a time when the United States again needs to use military force against another, weaker nation to remove a government that threatens our national interests or security. Let us suffer no illusions about the process. Unless we are willing to commit the necessary forces, funds and most importantly, time, we will not “liberate” this adversary, we will destroy it.

The function of an army -- no matter how honorable and well-meaning its soldiers and commanders — is to wreck things, not build them.