Dan Simpson / Get out of Iraq, again

Why should America fight for the Kurds and Iraqi Shiites?

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President Barack Obama’s decision to re-commit U.S. forces to war in Iraq is astonishing in light of the fact that he won office in 2008 based on pulling the United States out of Iraq.

I guess the American people should get used to their politicians, including some who started well like Mr. Obama, abandoning their principles once they reach office. It would help if they didn’t lie to us.

Mr. Obama’s told us he’s turned part of the U.S. Air Force into the Kurdish Air Force primarily for humanitarian reasons, to support the endangered Yazidi and Christian religious minorities in Iraq from the Islamic State extremists. What he left out was the fact that some 11 U.S. oil companies, including Chevron and Exxon-Mobil, now have interests and representatives in Kurdish Iraq. There is also a U.S. Army Irregular Warfare Fusion Center, with hundreds of U.S. forces — the “boots on the ground” Mr. Obama promised not to put there, unless the troops are padding around in flip-flops.

There is every reason for the United States to stick to the position it took in 2011 to withdraw all its troops from Iraq. The place is a snake pit of lethal, contesting elements, a place for us to stay clear of.

Arguably, the worst group there is the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Some IS arms are U.S.-made weapons that the Iraqi national army of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki abandoned to IS when confronted.

Mr. Maliki himself is wriggling desperately to hold onto power in Baghdad. He was left with a good political hand to play when the Americans pulled out in 2011, but he blew it, refusing to share power with Iraq’s Sunnis, Kurds and other minorities. He insisted on ruling as an Iraqi Shiite version of other regional monarchs, along the lines of Egypt’s former field marshal and now president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and the Persian Gulf kings and emirs.

Backing Mr. Maliki are Shiite militias, who have shown themselves ineffective in facing IS forces. What will happen next is that the Shiite militias backing Mr. Maliki will begin fighting the Shiites backing the new rival prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and while they are doing that, IS will take Baghdad.

America’s allies, whom we’re now backing with F-18s and drones, are the Kurds, and, in principle, the Shiite militias and the Iranian advisers who support the Shiite militias. In yet another supreme irony, the Syrian government forces of President Bashar Assad are also on the same side as the United States in opposing and being opposed by the Sunni Islamist forces of IS. That is to say that we are lined up alongside Assad’s Syrians and the Iranians in support of Iraq’s Shiites.

This would be considered crazy if we weren’t actually doing it. The idea of the United States spending money and committing forces to defend Erbil and Baghdad is insane. Is Mr. Obama, in abandoning his first foreign affairs commitment to get us out of the war in Iraq, seeking to cause his legacy to include the label: one of America’s worst presidents ever?

Which of his genius advisers is he listening to? Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, both Vietnam War veterans, should know better. Or is it his non-combat-experienced counselors — ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, National Security Adviser Susan Rice or Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes — who are now calling the shots for the bored president?

It is hard to imagine that he pays any attention to people like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., the Bobbsey Twin advocates of any war they can find. Or, perhaps, more credibly, Mr. Obama is listening to the representatives of the U.S. military-industrial complex who he hopes will help finance the Democratic 2014 and 2016 campaigns rather than having them try to kick out the Democrats in favor of a Republican Congress and then a Republican White House, both of which would love whatever wars they can tee up to improve their profits.

The other piece of this affair to watch is the threat from IS leaders that they will carry this war to the United States. This time they may not just be whistling “Dixie.” There are Americans and Europeans among their ranks who have gained combat experience and even knowledge of American weaponry, thanks to the U.S. arms they have captured from Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi government forces.

If we want to help the Yazidis or the Christians in Iraq, why don’t we just help them find refuge in the region, in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon? All three countries are used to providing safe haven to the Middle East’s religious minorities. Even Mr. Assad’s Syria back in the day had a decent reputation in that regard.

Preserving Kurdistan is for the Kurds to do, not the United States. U.S. airmen flying security for the Kurds is absurd. Preserving Baghdad for the Shiites is truly ridiculous.

Who in Washington wants American forces to do this? And why? What is in it for them? There is certainly nothing in it for the American people. The fact that our leaders have to lie to us to get us to buy it is clear evidence that it doesn’t make sense.

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (dsimpson@post-gazette.com,412-263-1976).


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