Is Obama right over Iraq?

US President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, 28 May 2014 Not going it alone: Obama's recent foreign policy speeches have stressed regional partnerships

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The Obama doctrine, set out at West Point, appears to be in tatters as Iraq falls apart. The critics have been quick to point to what's happening there as another sign of the weakness of his foreign policy.

But there is another way of looking at it. That he's right.

Here's the case for the prosecution. That in his haste to proclaim the war over, he pulled US troops before the Iraqi government was ready to go it alone.

He failed to reach a meaningful military deal with the country. He's taken his eye off the ball, done little to encourage civil society and a more balanced political solution. He has not led the world in identifying a looming crisis and crafting a coherent response.

The Obama doctrine says the US will only go to war if its vital interests or those of its allies are threatened.

Well, Iraq is an ally. A radical caliphate in the heart of the Middle East, able to harbour potential terrorists, as ever Afghanistan was, is clearly a threat to the US.

Mardell on Obama speech: "The critics will demand real action"

Two-and-a-half years after ending the war, the US might want to impose some "shock and awe" once more. More than an irony, a failure.

But if his tactics are wanting, what about the strategy?

This is the case for the defence - although it is one that the leader of the "indispensable nation" cannot state.

US and Western intervention is unlikely to actually do much good. In fact, it created the problem in the first place.

After the first world war the imperial powers of France and Great Britain, greedy for oil, carved up the Ottoman Empire between them and created the French dominated state of Syria and the British dominated one of Iraq. The two men redrawing the map, Sykes and Picot, had little regard for what anybody on the ground felt or thought about nationality or tribe or religion.

Volunteers who have joined the Iraqi Army to fight against the predominantly Sunni militants, who have taken over Mosul and other Northern provinces, gesture from an army truck in Baghdad 13 June 2014 Recent volunteers to the Iraqi Army sign-up to fight militants

The countries now "falling apart" were stuck together in the first place by outside powers.

George W Bush and Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq toppled a terrible dictator. But Saddam Hussein was a secular terrible dictator keeping a lid on forces that, unlike him, were a real threat to the US and its allies.

The pressure from below would have probably blown the lid off by now, perhaps with similar results to Syria.

Turmoil was coming anyway, and the Iraq war brought it a little sooner and laid the responsibility at Western doors, creating more resentment in the Islamic world, and fuelling extremism.

Remember this view doesn't get much of a hearing - many journalists and think tankers are liberal interventionists and believe something must been done - whatever it is.

At least, those writers are from US, France and UK. You don't hear the argument for intervention so much from, say, Brazil or Sweden.

It is clear Mr Obama has not led, and has not imposed the US's will on the world.

But it is not so clear that a firm and muscular policy would succeed any more than imperial adventures of the past.

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Barack Obama: Ultimately it us up to the Iraqis to solve their problems

ADDED AT 17:15 GMT, following Obama's address on the White House lawn, in which he ruled out sending troops to Iraq and called on the Iraqi Government to unite the country...

This was not the swift deployment of military force that some critics in Washington want. But it was a tough-minded, even impatient, statement of the president's approach. As he put it at West Point, "because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail".

He said American sacrifices had given Iraqis the chance to claim their future - but their leaders hadn't seized it. He almost mocked the Iraqi army for running away, castigated the government for not trying hard enough to overcome the sectarian divide and made it clear that the US would not be "dragged in" to a return to Iraq.

There's a world view behind this statement that some Americans and others in the West may find uncomfortable - that US military might, as great as it is, cannot impose solutions on a complex world.

Behind his words, there is the strong feeling that changing Iraq by force has already been given more than a chance. It failed. And it mustn't be repeated.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    bepa @214

    Too easy to blame borders & players

    We all are 'educated' wearing same blinkers as our parents, the view even in retrospect inadequate, always missing the big picture afforded by real fundamentals, not as Mr Blair again insists, "within the region", but in the forces of nature, geography, biology & psychology. The drama is to be understood as global, and millennia in progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    AfA @212
    "ruin of all
    out of runway"

    Our captains unaware of take-off need, 'democracy' just a word for 'what we do', shamefully clinging to power at home, and blindly abroad. Tonight comes the call from Mr Blair, "they need to know that wherever they're engaged in terror, we will be hitting them". Once he bought our support with, "tough on the causes". Fatally, no more. He bats for Mammon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    "able to harbour potential terrorists, as ever Afghanistan was, is clearly a threat to the US." Mardell
    Imo we can keep terrorists at bay with careful surveillance Bush ignored warnings Let Iran deal with ISIS and divide Iraq into 3 parts Keep Kirkuk with the Kurds. No large numbers of US troops in Iraq...maybe small numbers of US special forces

    Iraq is too big for us to stay there indefinitely

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    I am from the U.S. I fully agree with the article as the problems that exist today started from decisions made in the past. We must (US) learn that power alone cannot solve complicated issues. Sadly I feel this must play out on its' own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    "never thought"

    I know Chryses, I remember!

    Do you recall, I wonder, my attempts to explain democracy as equal partnership, my attempts to explain that inequality breeds fear & greed & corruption, the result being no-one in conscience in charge, our affairs dictated by blind Mammon, wealth concentration to the ruin of all. Look around. All goes in cycles, but runnng out of runway...

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.


  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    Chris A (209),

    Now that you've been shown to be inconsistent (abolitionist), unable to distinguish between an armored invasion and a no-fly enforcement (NeonHunt), and that you don't read the links you claimed to have read (me), the conversation has moved on without you.


  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    208. 207. 205. 204. 203. 202. 201. 200. 199. - perplexing, why the spiraling? The issue is straightforward: Sunni ISIS are attempting to take over in Iraq, and America does not want to engage militarily (Obama) as Malaki has engineered Sunni unrest upon the Shiite majority!

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    All for All (207)

    "... matching the UK in the collective product of ignorance & hypocrisy ..."

    I'm aghast! Rock me on my heels! Are you for a moment suggesting that ignorance and hypocrisy can be found anywhere in the history of international politics?!?!?!

    Wow! I'd never thought of that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Chryses @204
    "purpose of
    US Foreign Policy
    objectives & ideals
    indistinguishable in kind
    from that of other nations"

    Extent of power only 'exceptional' quality? Not the pitch for crowd-working.

    In elite teaching & popular conception, the US lays claim to highest of global aims, in the anglophone world matching the UK in the collective product of ignorance & hypocrisy. Distinctions in 'the mix'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Just to clarify - my starting point was Rouhani supporting Iraq: Then 155. Obama: "As he (Obama) put it at West Point, "because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail".".
    1 minute in: "If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem has to look like a nail."

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    AfA @203
    Apologies to
    Mr Nouri Maliki

    Devastating the extent of disaffection & hopelessness, fallout from such woeful ignorance of real democracy (of equal partnership), in both US and Iraq.

    Here in UK our conflicts and 'arguments' are cushioned by the Welfare State and Lottery, 'opportunity for all'. Message though clear: presume not too far on the adaptability of youth, even unarmed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    All for All (203)

    "Do they not support Chris A's starting point ..."

    Chris A's starting point is just another boring "blame it on the prior Administration" harangue.

    "US 'friendship' can fairly, at least arguably be seen of commerce ..."

    The purpose of U.S. Foreign Policy is to advance U.S. objectives and ideals, indistinguishable in kind from that of other nations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.


    Do they not support Chris A's starting point, of post-war US Sunni exclusion? And history worldwide supports sensitivity to friendly overstay, holy a code.

    US 'friendship' can fairly, at least arguably be seen of commerce (more even than of favoured kings) more than of 'the people' in foreign lands (or even of those at home & under arms). Hence non-democratic Malaki mistrust?

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Chris A (198),

    So explain again why your support @189, “Obama sends a message to the GOP” of non-intervention, and questioning @172 the non-intervention “Letting the ME sort-itself the answer?” are not contradictory.

    I like a good show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Chris A (198),

    You really should read the links you claim to have read but have obviously not, as you were unaware that there were more than one.

    Keep up? With what? The pretense that you are aware of other valid POVs? The other posters have shown you contradicting yourself, and your ignorance of modern history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    to defeat
    extremist Islam"

    Some wars perhaps ignited by careless or deliberate outrage of genuine or exaggerated religious sensitivities, but btwn oppressor & oppressed real causes to be acknowledged for hope of peace. From countries you list, all over the world former citizens are living & working in peace, religion no problem. Look to the aims of trade & their 'needful' support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.


    More knowledge, more argument: exactly what happened & why

    Of interest to know more of connections between some event(s) in US-Saudi interaction (however characterised), & any role(s) in provocation or excuse raising sectarian tensions. Wide 'capture of imaginations' by Al Qaeda today in aid of contemporary local fears & ambitions, caliphate again in use as 'star to guide'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    197. Do try to keep up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Chris A (173),

    "Your link summarizes what we have been discussing here ..."

    There were two. :)

    What a charming way to demonstrate that you followed neither, as neither links warrants your claim @165 that the situation in Iraq today is the result of something that may have happened 10+ years ago.


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