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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

U.S. must not repeat mistakes in Iraq

I don’t know what the solution to the terrible situation in Iraq is, but I do know what it isn’t.

It isn’t sending troops back into the country, or re-occupying it. It isn’t airstrikes, or lending support to the corrupt and incompetent Iraqi government. It isn’t anything the U.S. can do, or might consider doing.

I might have a different attitude — though I doubt it — if the U.S. had a track record of success in the Middle East that it could point to. But it doesn’t.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban is making a comeback. Jihadist groups now control large swaths of Syria and Pakistan and are spreading in Africa. The Iraqi military, which received billions in U.S. support, has fallen apart, as soldiers flee the militants who now control much of the country. We’ve spent over a decade fighting the war on terror, and the Middle East has become more volatile and violent, not less.

A big part of the problem is that the war in Iraq has always been immoral — waged under false pretenses, for dubious reasons, by people with little grasp of the complexity of the situation or what we were getting into.

We were told that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that it was allied with al-Qaida, the terrorist group that masterminded the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And although neither of those things were true, it is true that an al-Qaida splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is wreaking havoc throughout Iraq, largely as a result of the war and its poorly managed aftermath.

Should anyone really be surprised that one of the worst foreign-policy blunders in U.S. history has yielded such rotten fruit?

Unfortunately, we can’t hop in a time machine, travel back to 2003 and revisit our catastrophic decision to go to war. But we can make better decisions this time around.

And by now it should be blindingly obvious that Iraq is a quagmire that has cost too much, both in terms of lives — over 4,490 Americans and 125,000 Iraqi civilians, according to estimates — and treasure.

I won’t deny that the Islamic militants rampaging their way through Iraq are bad news. They have vowed to impose Sharia law in the areas they have captured, and they have been carrying out mass executions and beheadings.

Their vision for society is not one I would wish upon anybody, and if I thought the U.S. could do anything about it, short of recommitting 100,000 troops for the next 40 to 50 years and spending trillions of dollars over there, perhaps I’d be more eager to help.

But we’ve been trying to help the Iraqis for almost 10 years, and it hasn’t worked.

The people clamoring for military action and intervention in Iraq are the people who thought the war was a good idea — who assured us it would be a cakewalk and that it would cause democracy to spread throughout the Middle East. Those people were wrong, and we should not make the mistake of listening to them again.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to see a lot of those people. They are going to tell us that the troops were withdrawn from Iraq too soon and that the crisis unfolding in Iraq can be solved militarily. They will ignore the fact that Iraq wanted us to withdraw, that the American public is weary of war and that our military is exhausted.

They will have few solutions, beyond dropping bombs and keeping troops there in perpetuity. They will ignore their history of being wrong, and they will try to convince us that nobody could have known how difficult it would be to turn Iraq into a safe and functioning democracy.

But there were plenty of people who knew how difficult it would be. We just chose not to listen to them.

Let’s not make the same mistake twice. The last thing we need is a third war in Iraq.

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