If Islamists win in Iraq, the U.S. loses
With no U.S. boots on the ground to protect our interests or the Iraqi people, Islamists see Iraq as easy pickings.
Yesterday President Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the White House to talk about Iraq's future after the United States withdraws all of its forces by the end of this month. President Obama said that our troops are leaving "with their heads held high." He went on to say,
"History will judge the original decision to go into Iraq, but what's absolutely clear is that...what we have now achieved is an Iraq that is self-governing, that is inclusive, and that has enormous potential."
Regarding the decision to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, there remains serious doubt about the wisdom of diverting attention from the Afghanistan War to engage one of the Middle East's most brutal dictators. Iraq's future without the support of U.S. forces is equally uncertain. With Iran and Turkey vying for hegemony in the Middle East and with Egypt's recent election results that catapulted the radical Muslim Brotherhood to the forefront, Iraq may become a central player in the Islamist movement in the Middle East. Even more disconcerting is the rise to prominence in Egypt of the Salafis, an ultraconservative religious order that wants "to further incorporate Islamic law, or Sharia, into legislation." None of these developments bode well for a free and open Iraqi society. In fact, they point to an Islamist Iraq.
Lurking in the shadows in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr has been biding his time until the withdrawal of U.S. forces is complete. According to the Council on Foreign Relations,
"Muqtada al-Sadr is a young, fiercely anti-American messianic cleric and the head of the Mahdi Army, an armed militia that has waged an intermittent insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces. Virtually unknown before the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government in 2003, Sadr has since emerged as one of the most important Shiite leaders in the country. Bolstered by a base of predominantly poor urban Shiites, Sadr has led a series of uprisings against U.S., Iraqi, and rival Shia forces. A series of violent clashes in Najaf, Basra, and Sadr City since 2004 depleted the cleric's forces, but experts say his influence as a military, political, and religious figure have climbed amid the U.S.-led occupation."
Recently al-Sadr sent fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar al-Assad, and he has close ties with radical Islamists in Iran. His anti-American credentials will serve him well if Iraq does go Islamist, and the people of Iraq may face another form of brutality that could make Saddam Hussein look like a moderate by President Obama's standards.
In his news conference yesterday, Obama warned other nations not to interfere in Iraq after U.S. troops depart. Iran is the president's primary concern, but as I have suggested, Turkey and Egypt may become equally threatening to the new Iraqi democracy. Will Obama's warning be enough to frighten away the Islamists? Indisputably, the answer is NO! Islamists have proven that they don't fear or respect the U.S. or Barack Obama. They regard the president's tough talk is just that -- talk.
This much is certain, though: the United States has invested almost one trillion dollars in Iraq. With no U.S. boots on the ground to protect our interests or the Iraqi people, Islamists see Iraq as easy pickings. Will President Obama's gamble that the fledgling democracy in Iraq can survive without U.S. military support pay off? My guess is that it won't, and the American people will have wasted almost a trillion dollars on a war that we could have won. Make no mistake. If Islamists win in Iraq, the U.S. loses.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily. His latest book is titled If You Voted for Obama in 2008 to Prove You're Not a Racist, You Need to Vote for Someone Else in 2012 to Prove You're Not an Idiot.