Friday, June 13, 2014

defeat has a thousand fathers

Iraq is demonstrating the opposite of what President Kennedy said when accepting blame for the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He said, "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan." In Iraq today, it's clear that blame for the collapsing security situation deserves to be widely shared.

Most culpable is Prime Minister Maliki, who failed to live up to his commitments to include Sunnis and Kurds in meaningful ways and to govern without sectarian bias. Instead, he concentrated power in his office and then used it to reward friends and punish those who could have been his allies. He also took a well-trained and equipped military -- thanks to $25 billion in U.S. spending -- and turned it into a hollow shell. The most professional officers were sidelined, replaced by loyalists who halted training and otherwise disregarded the advice of their American mentors. As the NYTimes reports, "The Iraqi army was crumbling long before its collapse."

The Obama administration failed to get an agreement with Baghdad to keep a few thousand American military personnel in the country to train, advise, gather intelligence, and be ready to help now. But the politicians who blame Obama for that outcome would have blamed him even more if the troops were there but subject to Iraqi courts. Immunity from prosecution was a nonnegotiable demand by the U.S. military, and the Iraqis were politically unwilling to pay that price for U.S. security assistance. Hence the mess we're in.

Maybe the situation is not quite as dire as most reports suggest. Doug Ollivant, a former official with both military and NSC staff experience with Iraq, says it's too early to conclude that Iraqi forces cannot recapture Mosul and other key areas.

Maybe U.S. air strikes could halt the jihadi advance. Maybe Maliki would agree to share power or even surrender it to a broader coalition. Maybe the Iraqi military would stage a coup. Maybe Iran would send in substantial forces and endure the problems faced by U.S. forces in prior years. There are clearly no easy answers and little good information to base decisions on.

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