War-torn Iraq has long suffered beneath years of bungled United States foreign policy and there is little evidence to suggest that U.S. President Barack Obama’s anti-ISIS coalition will be any different. Now, as the world scrambles to provide the coalition with fighter jets and ground troops, Obama’s hastily conceived campaign threatens to further destabilize an already volatile region.
Nobody can blame Obama for wanting to end the slaughter of thousands of innocent Shia Muslims, or to oppose a militarized and extremely violent religious organization that adheres to an anti-western interpretation of Islam. But now, as U.S. jets fly over Iraq and the President rallies for support against this common enemy, the question must be asked as to what could be done differently.
U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff’s murder at the hands of the Islamic State sparked the nation’s anger and spurred Obama into action. In the aftermath the President assured his people “‘those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget.”
But the U.S. government has a long and tragic history of forgetfulness. It has forgotten how former U.S. President George Bush Sr. urged the Shia and Kurdish Muslims to rebel against Saddam Hussein in 1991, and then made no move to intervene when their villages were devastated by Hussein’s chemical weapons. It has forgotten the UN sanctions in the aftermath of Desert Storm that systematically starved the country of food, water and medical supplies. And it has forgotten that Obama’s predecessor, George Bush Jr., led the first U.S. coalition, the “Coalition of the Willing,” into Iraq under the guise of searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction that did not exist.
It has also forgotten how the disbanding of the Iraqi army by Bush in 2003 ignited widespread violence and anti-U.S. insurgencies throughout the country. In the years that followed, the failure of the U.S. military to maintain control allowed constant clashes between Sunni and Shia Muslim factions. After years of civil warfare and over 4,000 American casualties, Obama withdrew his troops, claiming that he was “leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” In reality, President Obama was leaving a country torn apart by the aftermath of two decades of war to virtually fend for itself. During the next three years, with no effective governing body in Iraq and a poorly trained security force, violence between sectarian groups continued to rise, including daily shootings, bombings and kidnappings.
Thus, the subsequent rise to power of ISIS comes as little surprise. For the young men who have grown up in Iraq over the last two decades and suffered beneath a U.S. coalition and its destructive foreign policy, the idea of joining a militant extremist group, one that promises to deliver vengeance against the West, must be very appealing. If these young men have witnessed their country torn apart at the hands of the Western Powers, Obama really cannot blame them if they pick up a gun.
So, in a Middle East wracked by war, where the shadow of the Western world hangs heavy and oppressive and has done so since 1991, the question arises as to how the U.S. President can really expect anything to change, unless he changes it first. The United States responds to a threat in Iraq with targeted airstrikes, but it has forgotten the airstrikes that destroyed the schools and water towers in 2003. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accuses the Islamic State of “unfathomable brutality,” but he has forgotten the use of U.S. made, depleted uranium shells that caused the cancerous deaths of thousands of Iraqi children in the wake of Desert Storm.
This endless cycle of war and death must grow tiresome for the people of Iraq. But always the U.S. responds to danger with targeted airstrikes, with imposed no-fly zones and with invasions. And always, when the troops withdraw and the dust begins to settle, violence rises as furious Iraqi men and women oppose the western tyrant that continues to betray their country.
Now, as history begins to repeat itself and the threat of another possible war in Iraq looms, the question of what can be done differently must be asked. If Iraq is invaded, then its people must struggle to survive beneath another U.S. led coalition as their country suffers its third war in as many decades. In its eventual aftermath they may be abandoned once more to their fate, giving rise to another violent insurgency and another generation of angry, displaced Iraqi children. Or , after 23 years of warfare, controversy and disastrous foreign policy, the U.S. might finally learn from its mistakes.
Opinion By Mathew Channer