Memo to the GOP: Get Iraq right
By Mark Alexander
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I set aside time to take account of the enormous cost of American blood and treasure paid to sustain Liberty. In addition to other activities, like placing flags at veteran headstones at Chattanooga's National Cemetery, I took time to mine YouTube for inspirational speeches and events devoted to American Patriots who sacrificed all.
One speech that captured my attention was from President George W. Bush — his remarks delivered on April 8, 2008, when posthumously awarding the Medal of Honor to the family of Petty Officer Second Class Michael A. Monsoor, a Navy SEAL.
Monsoor threw himself onto a grenade, saving other SEALs nearby. One of those he saved said, "Mikey looked death in the face that day and said you cannot take my brothers. I will go in their stead."
It was this tear-choked observation from President Bush that spoke volumes about Monsoor's death on his watch — and also revealed the devaluation of his sacrifice by Barack Obama: "For his valor, Michael Monsoor becomes the fourth Medal of Honor recipient in the War on Terror. Like the three men who came before him, Mike left us far too early. But time will not diminish his legacy. You see his legacy in the SEALs whose lives he saved. You see his legacy in the city of Ramadi, which has gone from one of the most dangerous places in Iraq to one of the safest."
Some weeks ago the Islamic State retook control of Ramadi (just 70 miles from Bagdad), having already overrun Mosul and Fallujah. IS now controls much of the ground that American forces liberated prior to 2009. And after seizing Palmyra, they control more than half of Syria. The Islamic movement is metastasizing throughout the region virtually unabated and is spilling over into North Africa.
In response, Obama timidly claims, "I don't think we're losing" against ISIL, which prompted Charles Krauthammer to dryly observe, "The administration is sounding like Baghdad Bob during the invasion of Iraq. They're losing. Everybody understands that." He added, "The administration is delusional or cynical. I would hope cynical because otherwise we are in deep trouble."
Indeed, this past weekend a friend who recently retired from an Army four-star command told me without reservation that there is no way we can restore the stability Obama abandoned, much less protect our critical national interests in the region, without a massive reinfusion of military forces.
That brings me to George Bush's younger brother Jeb and his fumbled response to Fox News host Megyn Kelly's question, "Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?"
For the record, "knowing what we know now" is generally understood to mean, "since there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." However, there most certainly were WMDs in Iraq, and, though nuclear WMDs were not recovered, concern that Saddam could provide weapons of mass destruction to Islamic Jihadists targeting the USA was not the only objective for invading Iraq.
The "Iraq Mistake" narrative is the liberal talking point that the Leftmedia have latched onto as a litmus test for 2016 GOP presidential aspirants. Unfortunately, as often is the case with Beltway news inbreeding, a substantial swath of more objective journalists are buying into the "Iraq mistake" thesis — including Kelly and others at Fox News.
Jeb told Kelly, "I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got." But he immediately began parsing his answer — not because he misunderstood the question, but because he was unprepared to answer it, given that in recent weeks more than a few talking heads have begun to equate Iraq with Vietnam. (Iraq equals Vietnam — seriously?)
Clearly, given the colossal failure of Obama's policy in the Middle East (whatever that policy was or is), Democrats and their media opinion shapers are attempting to divert attention from that disaster in order to insulate Hillary Clinton from the real question: "Who lost Iraq and who is responsible for the consequences?"
Jeb was pilloried because he did not immediately get on board with the Left's Iraq mistake charade. But within days he folded and declared, "Knowing what we know now, I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq."
Jeb's latest position is wrong, and his flip-flop undermines his otherwise respectable qualifications as a candidate.
What Kelly should have asked Jeb — and what Hillary Clinton needs to be asked — is this: "Knowing what we know now, would you have supported Obama's retreat from Iraq?"
GOP, get this right! Here is how every Republican candidate should answer the Iraq question.
The objective of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003 was 1. to remove Saddam Hussein from his reign of terror and disable his capacity to establish a regional hegemony; 2. to eliminate Iraq as a principal state sponsor of terrorism and find and remove any weapons of mass destruction that could end up in the hands of terrorists; 3. to establish a stable democratic government in Iraq; and 4. to establish a forward deployed military capability in Iraq to ensure regional stability.
Our military forces, at great cost in blood and treasure, accomplished the first of these objectives and largely accomplished the second and third under President Bush. The fourth was well underway and was left up to Bush's successor, Barack Obama. But out of pure political expedience, Obama chose failure.
Obama failed to negotiate a status of forces agreement with then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, withdrawing all U.S. forces in 2011 to satisfy a reckless campaign promise instead of keeping a residual force in Iraq as a check against precisely the kind of actions that the Islamic State is now engaged in.
To suggest now that the Middle East would be more stable today if Saddam had been left in power, or that he would not now have nuclear WMDs, is patently absurd. One need look no further for evidence to the contrary than the rise of the Islamic State (or Da'ish), whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appointed the remnants of Saddam's Baath Party to fill key Islamic State military and intelligence positions. As to the nuclear WMD question, one need look no further than Obama's acquiescence to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Tyranny does not tolerate a vacuum, and when Obama vacated Iraq the "JV Team" quickly filled it. It's motto is "Remaining and Expanding," and indeed IS has been on the front lines of the Iraqi insurgency, the Syrian Civil War, the second Libyan Civil War, the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, the war in northwest Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan, the Yemeni Civil War, et al.
In 2008, John McCain was skewered by Obama when, in answer to a question about how long we should stay in Iraq, he replied, "One hundred years." In 2012, Obama chastised his opponent Mitt Romney by noting, "Just a few weeks ago you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now. ... I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong."
Well, both McCain and Romney were right. As I have insisted since the onset of hostilities in Iraq, our long-term objective there was to establish an Islamic democracy and support that democracy, and thus stability in the region, by fortifying a substantial military presence within that country.
Today, the threat of a catastrophic attack on U.S. soil by Islamic extremists is much greater than it was in 2001, and certainly much greater than it was when Bush turned the keys over to Obama in 2009. (To borrow a favorite phrase from our current commander in chief, he drove our national security car into a ditch.)
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has clearly affirmed that threat assessment.
Clapper has testified that direct links between ISIL and domestic terror networks have created "the most diverse array of threats and challenges I've seen in my 50-plus years in the [intelligence] business." He added, "When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled. … I don't know of a time that has been more beset by challenges and crises around the world. I worry a lot about the safety and security of this country."
Two facts to bear in mind: The U.S. surge of troops in 2007 succeeded at routing Islamic terrorists in Iraq, and Barack Obama inherited a stable country and region from his predecessor in 2009.
GOP candidates must get Iraq right ahead of the 2016 election — because I hope one of them will be making critical decisions about Iraq after 2016.
Here is how every Republican candidate should explain what really happened in Iraq and the Middle East — that is, what we know about Obama's retreat from Iraq and the consequences that are tragically unfolding daily.
In 2008, Obama successfully campaigned on "ending the war in Iraq."
In 2009, he upended our long-term military objectives to establish a forward military operating capability in Iraq to maintain stability in a region where we have very critical national interests, and he set a new course for retreat and withdrawal from the region.
In 2011, having rejected the Bush strategy of establishing a status of forces agreement to secure our hard-won gains in Iraq and the region, Obama opportunistically declared, "Everything Americans have done in Iraq, all the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding, the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has led to this moment of success. ... We're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq."
In 2012, amid the cascading failure of his domestic economic and social policies, Obama centered his re-election campaign on his faux foreign policy successes, which hinged on two mantras: "Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. I did," and "al-Qa'ida is on the run."
Obama won re-election on those sound bites, but he lost Iraq and the Middle East, squandering the blood and treasure we expended in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Predictably, Obama's "Hope and Change" strategy left fertile ground for the resurgence of a far more dangerous incarnation of Muslim terrorism, which has displaced al-Qa'ida as the dominant asymmetric threat to our national security.
Will the GOP get Iraq right?
Between the hours of 0845 and 1048 on September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists murdered 2,977 people on U.S. soil, including 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters and 55 military personnel. Michael Monsoor was among the 4,491 U.S. military personnel who died when endeavoring to return the warfront to Islamic soil, and, through OIF, secure stability in Iraq and the region. Many more Americans sustained injuries prosecuting that war.
Barack Obama betrayed the service and sacrifice of these American warriors and abandoned OIF for the sake of a campaign sound bite and political expedience.
Shame on any GOP candidate who does the same.
GOP, get Iraq right!
Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.