The American Legion is one of the last places you would expect to find criticism of this nation’s involvement in war — any war. But a few days ago I came across an article in The American Legion’s Magazine (June 2015) which does exactly that. Louise Shelley, Professor of Government and International Affairs at the conservative George Mason University, has taken a hard look at the events that have brought us to a near take-over of Iraq by ISIS, and concludes that having sown to the wind, we are reaping the whirlwind. And the roots of this disaster clearly lie in the policies of the George W. Bush administration, beginning with the decision of the President to invade Iraq.
Following a disastrous military defeat in Vietnam, our national leaders should have realized that getting involved in someone else’s civil war is a recipe for national disaster. Nevertheless, for reasons which have never been clear, the Bush-Cheney cabal decided to destroy a nation which had never fired a shot at us and did not even have the capacity to do so. So began the second great military folly of our recent history. These last few weeks, the potential Republican candidates for President have been falling all over themselves trying to find ways to say that if they knew then what they know now they would never have gotten us into this quagmire. But their cronies got us into it, and distancing themselves from that decision has been hard going.
Shelley picks up the argument as she details other thoroughly-covered errors the Bush Administration continued to make. Having declared that the war was won, instead of realizing that we had to rely on a puppet regime without resources, we proceeded to dismantle the entire Iraqi military establishment and the Sunni leadership we believed we had defeated. We replaced it with a thoroughly despised and unbelievably corrupt Maliki government that could not succeed and had no way to defend the nation against any of the boiling cauldrons in that part of the world. But the Sunni leaders were the only Iraqi force that knew how to run a country. Instead of making use of their expertise, we not only isolated them, but also built a prison, Camp Bucca, for 100,000 of them. This facility became the incubator which is largely responsible for the whirlwind we are currently facing.
It has become increasingly clear that the Sunnis and their ousted Baathist party were not through. Shelley has it that a major factor in the generation of ISIS and the new civil war threatening to take over not only Iraq, but other places throughout the near east, was the dramatic resurgence of Sunni vengeance. The ISIS armed force did not fall out of the sky nor were they substantially recruited over the social media. They were basically recruited as the result of the decisions made years ago in Washington. If the Sunni forces did not actively join the ISIS movement, they have refused to fight it, leaving the war up to an ill-trained, ill-committed and ill-led Iraqi government army.
ISIS is not a nation, nor does it represent any national entity. Shelley suggests that it is more like an international corporation that draws its strength from a wide variety of sources and marketing strategies.
While it is possible in a war against a competing nation to take over its territory and depose its leadership, the United States has no strategy for dealing with this insurgency we have created. Congressional conservatives insist that eventually it will take American troops to turn the tide and drive ISIS into oblivion. If that is what we do we will have learned nothing from our history, have repeated a sad mistake and will have only compounded the tragedy. On the other hand, to allow this aggressive movement to capture not only Iraq, but Syria and who knows what else, is to face just another impossible problem. Maybe the lesson is that when you have made a series tragic blunders, you can’t turn back the clock and start again, but can only face the whirlwind you have created. If Shelley is right, there may be no way to get out of what we never should have gotten into.