Friday, June 20, 2014

Part One: The Road Back to Baghdad

Three years after the American withdrawal from Iraq, the broken country we left behind has reared its ugly head and threatens to descend into sectarian civil war. In many ways, the United States is reaping the seeds it sowed in the manner of its exit from Iraq as well as our nearly total non-involvement in Syria’s civil war next door. The road back to Baghdad has been coming for the US ever since we withdrew from the country in 2011 (and, arguable, ever since we waged an uncoordinated mess of an invasion and occupation in 2003). 

Part one of this essay delves into what many have taken to calling “The Iraq We Left Behind,” and possible US strategies to address some of these issues. Part two will discuss the interconnected Syrian conflict’s ramifications in Iraq, and address the question of whether or not Iraq (or any of Syria’s neighbors) will find stability if civil war continues to rage next door. Part three will discuss the US opportunities to eek some good out of this international and regional disaster, especially with longtime adversary Iran.

 Part One: The Road Back to Baghdad

Central in the story of Iraq’s re-descent into civil war (if, arguably, it ever left it), Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki looms as both villain and longtime partner. Allegedly selected for the Prime Minister post in a shadowy dealing between a CIA officer and the US Ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, Maliki went from being a relatively unknown but zealous activist in the pro-Shi’ite movement to Prime Minister of Iraq in three months’ time in 2006. Having fled Iraq after his political activities on behalf of the Shi’ite Dawa Party (now his political party) threatened to get him killed, Maliki directed anti-Saddam operations from abroad until the US invaded in 2003. According to Khalilzad in an article by Dexter Filkins, the US only exerted its influence in Iraq to help the election come to the result it wanted. Although American officials had been assured Maliki was "independent" from Iran, it became apparent that he was closer to the Islamic Republic than informants had admitted, and it is now rumored he was hand-picked by the Iranian Al Quds commander Qassem Suleimani. Yet from sideline supporter, America's relationship with Maliki grew in the coming years until the US openly supported Maliki in the subsequent 2010 elections against his secular opponent, Ayad Allawi.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Obama’s Foreign Policy (or “Lack Thereof”?)

My colleague Colin Wolfgang recently addressed the perceived shortcomings in Pres. Obama’s foreign policy, many of which speak to legitimate concerns. He suggests that the Obama administrations failures on foreign policy have not come from policy itself, but a lack of clear vision for America’s position in world affairs. Yet in doing so, he uttered a telling phrase about Obama’s “inability to project American dominance on the rest of the world in the same way his predecessors have done before him.” This history of American power projection and its detrimental effect on America’s credibility, coupled with the changing nature of the global balance of power, have resulted in the Obama administration’s current perceived inability to negotiate a better position for the United States. The administration’s policies, however, reflect both the wishes of the American citizenry and a new paradigm in international relations, one that places primacy not on power but on peace, not on the winning of wars but the avoidance of war by other means.

Pres. Obama riding a velociraptor. Because reasons.
 As he took office in January 2009, Pres. Obama was faced with a global financial crisis largely brought on by the policies of prior administrations, two unpopular and unsuccessful wars in the Middle East, and an increasing threat of Islamic extremism throughout the world. Despite these obstacles, for many observers Pres. Obama’s first term was a success in terms of his foreign policy initiatives, and foreign policy was considered one of his strengths vis-à-vis Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. He oversaw the final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, established a timeline to wind down the Afghan war, attempted to close down Guantanamo Bay, and pursued a policy of limited drone warfare against terrorist groups. As his second term dawned, however, increasing political violence in Iraq clouded the success of troop withdrawal, a political stalemate with the Afghan government hindered the creation of a comprehensive transition plan, Guantanamo remained open (and still does), and the policy of drone warfare came under fire as the civilians affected by drones as well as drone operators spoke out about the program’s human costs.