Barack Obama has never hidden his profound disdain for the U.S. war in Iraq. As an Illinois State Senator, Obama took to the podium to denounce the war as a mistake. Later, as a U.S. Senator, Obama spoke often about the folly of the war, joining Harry “the war is lost” Reid in unequivocally denouncing the Bush Administration’s 2007 “surge” as a certain failure. In 2008, as the Democratic presidential candidate, Obama said repeatedly that unlike Afghanistan (the “necessary war”), Iraq was a costly “war of choice”. Indeed, in a speech in July, 2008, Obama said the following:
“This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe.”
So it is no surprise that since becoming president, Obama has presided over the final removal of all U.S. forces in Iraq, and now is set to watch all of the hard-earned gains there fall apart. Just hours after the last U.S. troops left Iraq for Kuwait, the government of Shiite Prime Minister Maliki launched a very public campaign against his Sunni Vice President for organizing the assassination of Shiites, including government officials. The Iraqi Vice President has now fled Baghdad. At the same time, a number of Sunni-dominated provinces are seeking more autonomy from Baghdad — a process that is likely to intensify in the coming weeks as Shiite and Sunni tension increases. Over the past several weeks, sectarian conflict has resulted in multiple suicide attacks and targeted violence, including a massive bombing in Baghdad on January 5 that left 69 Iraqi Shiites dead.
And now it seems that one of America’s chief nemesis during the bloody pre-surge days, Moqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, is now poised to reassert himself as a destabilizing force. The result may very well be a return to the dark days of the insurgency, when Iraq faced disintegration and all out civil war.
This was, of course, all but predictable. A number of current and former U.S. military leaders — including former JCS Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen — warned Obama that leaving Iraq without a sufficient U.S. security presence was exceedingly dangerous. And many Iraqis stressed the same thing: As former Shiite Prime Minister Allawi said this past week, “The Americans have pulled out without completing the job they should have finished. We have warned them that we don’t have a political process which is inclusive of all Iraqis, and we don’t have a full-blown state in Iraq.”
The Iraqis may have warned Obama, but the president made a calculated decision to put politics over policy, and leave anyway. In doing so he has burnished his anti-war credentials with his base, which is still smarting over the fact that Guantanamo remains open. And it reinforces his plan to reduce defense spending by an unprecedented amount, a savings he plans on redistributing to his union benefactors.
In an age where it is hard not to be cynical about politics, Obama has proved to be the Cynic-in-Chief: he has forsaken the 4,000 American lives that were lost in creating the opportunity for a working democracy in Iraq, all in name of reelection. And he has left Iraq in a position of extreme vulnerability — both to internal sectarian strife and to external incursion from Iran and Al Qaeda.