We have just marked the 10th anniversary of the second time America went to war with Iraq. There are different views on whether it was a good idea in the first place or whether it accomplished enough to be worth the lives and money that were spent.
Some who supported the war argue that it accomplished a few goals – got rid of Saddam, eviscerated a large portion of Al Qaeda, ended the persecution of the Iraqi people by a tyrannical leader. Others who supported the war based on the issue of chemical weapons changed their views once it was discovered that there were none.
Many who opposed the war from the beginning point to what they predicted – a collapse of the whole country into three separate entities – the Kurdish, the Sunni, and the Shi’ite regions that are semi-autonomous now. Internal strife between the Shia and Sunni is being fueled by Iran and there is a great worry that Iran will become too influential with a Shi’ite government. Controlling the Shia in Iraq has long been a goal of Iran and would greatly disturb the balance of power in the region. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia feel particularly vulnerable to the Iranian potential influence over Iraq.
It will take a great deal more time before historians will be able to accurately judge the American decision to invade Iraq and topple Hussein, but as of now, the region certainly has gotten more chaotic and more dangerous than it was before the war. In addition to the instability brought about by the Arab Spring and the current political turmoil in Egypt, there is a civil war in Syria that could destabilize the entire region depending on what happens.
This White House is trying to decide how to deal with the situation in Syria. Once again some are pushing the U.S. to get into the middle of the problem and there are those who are saying stay out completely. The best solution is probably somewhere in the middle. Arming the opposition, special operations teams, much more intelligence work and participation, etc. are some of the options for us to exert more of a role and to become a major player in the outcome. Neither boots on the ground nor the other extreme of little leadership is the best answer.
Critics of this Administration will point out the overall distance and disinterest shown for a leadership role anywhere in the world. “Leading from behind” often has been interpreted as waiting until there has been no choice or not leading at all. The problem is that without strong American leadership – not to be confused at all with force – problems do not melt away nor are American interests promoted.
So now we all have to wait to see what happens. Will Iraq continue on its path to three separate countries? Will a leader emerge to reunite Iraq? Will Iraq’s future governments become more inclusive and democratic? Or will Iraq fall back into old patterns of dictatorial leaders or persecution of whatever group is not in power? How will the Syrian situation resolve? What role, if any, will America play in the solution of the civil war there? Will the war in Syria spill over into their neighbors? We will have to stay tuned to see what this White House decides to do.