The US political and military establishments have made numerous grave errors in judgment when it comes to Iraq policy, foremost of which is the choice to invade and occupy the oil-rich nation.
However, in hoping to save face with a history that will not forgive the blundering in Iraq, the White House is about to make another more fatal error.
The White House decision to formally end US combat operations and rebrand the mission in Iraq is as foolhardy and as short-sighted as Bush’s photo op debacle under a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
On May 1, 2003, CBS titled its coverage of the Bush speech as "President Declares End to Major Combat in Iraq". On August 30, 2010, more than seven years and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead later, CBS is reporting that Obama will not declare a mission accomplished.
Does Obama really think that avoiding the use of that phrase will make the situation better? In May 2003, Iraqi resistance was beginning to take shape and yet White House officials chose to ignore the reasons which fueled it, believing their cause was righteous.
In August 2010, Iraq is on the verge of a disaster. It has no political leadership. Its military cannot even take on a ragtag group of militias without running to the American cavalry for help, let alone police and defend Iraq’s borders. Iraqis fear civil war. Or worse.
In an astonishing show of stupidity and arrogance, the Obama administration is carefully following in its predecessor’s footsteps and choosing to ignore the pressures that will implode in Iraq.
US media, which was gung ho in the prelude to the war and blindly regurgitated White House press releases in a charade of investigative reporting, is this time a tad more skeptical.
Just a tad more. Reporting from Baghdad, Time’s Charles McDermaid says Iraq’s prospects are grim and alludes to Iraqi anger at leaving their country "a mess"; Reuters says the US is leaving Iraq in "instability"; The Guardian says violence is on the rise again.
Those who believe that Obama is bravely fulfilling a campaign promise should go beyond the pharaoh worship and realize that his administration’s Iraq policy lacks vision and courage. Obama has preferred to live with the status quo; a country nearly falling apart run by a hugely unpopular prime minister who has rewritten the Iraqi constitution to retain power.
US policy-makers excel at making promises, breaking them, then ushering in a barrage of propaganda willfully and gullibly swallowed hook, line and sinker by the ra-ra flag- waving Semper Fi crowd.
But history will not allow such Hollywood charades. Do not forget that the White House not only lied about the reasons for going to war, lied about the threats of the Baathists, and manipulated every ounce of intelligence to fool the American public, but also managed to get away with not having any plan whatsoever following the occupation of Iraq.
Instead, the Bush administration went from blunder to blunder. Chief among those blunders is the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and the de-Baathification laws enacted by Paul Bremer — at the behest of a number of former Iraqi exiles who it turned out later were connected to foreign governments.
This was followed by Bremer’s decision to bend knee before the clerical establishment, clearly signaling that the mullahs of Iran, by way of their proxies in Iraq, would hold power in Baghdad. This helped fuel the sectarian war we saw in 2005-2006; that danger yet lingers.
It is Washington’s rushed policies which tore the social fabric of a once stable nation apart and allowed neighboring countries to fill the gaps with their bloodlust agenda.
Between 2003 and 2006, I wanted the US out of Iraq. But then it became clear that US mismanagement had turned the political order upside down. Any hopes of a secular democracy in Iraq were dashed as the same politicos retained power; many of those running the government in Iraq are influenced by Iran.
Prime Minister Maliki and his predecessor Jaafari, were hosted, supported, and financed in Iran. At one point, Maliki chose Damascus as his base of operations. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a group opposed to Saddam in the 1980s, was armed by Iran. Moqtada Sadr, the junior cleric who runs a barbarous militia of ruffians and derelicts, has himself escaped to Iran numerous times when wanted by Iraqi and/or US forces.
Today, it is these aforementioned who are at an impasse with fellow Shia, but secular Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya bloc which won the March 7 elections.
The US broke Iraq; therefore it is incumbent upon the US to fix the situation. No other power can do that. The US must play an intrusive and involved role in shaping a future Iraq because in its current incarnation the war-ravaged country does not have the tools and political establishments with which to form a viable and secure state on its own.
The so-called handing over of sovereignty was by design ill-conceived because it never took into account grassroots institution-building, which any country recovering from war very much requires.
Bush promised a "secure, stable and free Iraq" as the culmination of US efforts there. But today, Iraq is hardly anywhere near such figments of imagination.
If the failure to set up a national power grid is not enough, Iraqis are astounded that much of their infrastructure remains in ruin. "Where is the reconstruction promised to us," they ask. Instead, report after report responds that tens of billions in reconstruction funds have gone missing.
Millions of Iraqis, battered by 13 years of debilitating economic sanctions, continue to live in squalor; there are one million widows in Iraq, some of which have resorted to prostitution, human rights groups say.
The health care system, which was the best in the Middle East, is in shambles; likewise, Iraq’s once proud education reforms perished in the fires which saw dozens of clinics, schools, and laboratories gutted.
Once rich historical and ancient sites have been pulverized, artifacts dating to 6000 BCE have been looted and sold on the black market.
The war has produced what the UN says is the worst humanitarian crisis since the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. There are two million internally displaced refugees in Iraq; another one million live in Syria and Jordan.
The list of failures and transgressions is far too many to list here.
Meanwhile, in the US, proponents of the 2003 invasion no longer speak of the economic transformations in Germany and Japan following post-WWII US occupations as examples of what Iraq could become.
They are silent.
It is in this silence that Obama seems to believe that the best way to correct the errors of his predecessor is to just walk away from the entire debacle. Obama, White House officials have signaled, wants to focus on the Middle East peace process.
As if peace and stability in Iraq were no longer relevant. They are relevant to the Iraqis, Mr. President.
Obama has chosen to take the easy road and rebrand the mission, sealing forever, perhaps, the legacy of America’s failed occupation of a once sovereign state.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is associate professor of practice at the American University in Cairo. A Canadian journalist who has covered the Middle East for 17 years, he previously served as senior editor with Al Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar. This commentary was first published by the Huffington Post.