President Obama's failure to leave troops in Iraq is making it increasingly likely that the cost in blood and treasure of the American undertaking in Iraq, whether that undertaking was justified or not, will prove to have been a huge waste. Thousands of young Americans will have died and been maimed for no purpose because Mr. Obama wanted to be able to say that he ended American involvement in Iraq.
There is, of course, no guarantee that events would have played out any differently even if U.S. troops had been present, but the odds are they would have. After all the event that triggered the current cataclysm was Prime Minister Maliki’s vindictive and short-sighted attempt to persecute senior Sunni politicians – something he waited to do until U.S. troops had withdrawn. As long as U.S. troops were present in significant numbers, their very presence gave extra leverage to American generals and diplomats to influence the government and their aid, especially in intelligence-gathering, logistics, and mission planning, allowed the Iraqi military to more effectively target terrorists.It really is difficult to identify what Mr. Obama's foreign policy actually is, other than universal capitulation and disengagement. Nor is it any easier to identify a single foreign policy success of this administration or any area of the world which is better off today than it was in 2008 because of anything Mr. Obama has done. The last six years have been six years of retreat and growing American irrelevance on the world stage. Of course, that may be what Mr. Obama wishes, but, if so, it's very foolish. On the other hand, if it's not what he wishes then he is unprecedentedly incompetent.
Now all that is gone. The Iraqi military seems to be falling apart. Many Sunnis are embracing ISIS militants while many Shiites, for their own protection, are drawing closer to Iranian-backed militants. And what is the U.S. doing? It is selling Maliki F-16s that will only exacerbate the violence without addressing its causes.
This is all very dismaying, even heart-breaking, considering how close the U.S. had come in 2011, after so many early missteps, to achieving an acceptable outcome in Iraq. Now Iraq appears increasingly lost and the entire region is threatened by the growing power of the extremists.