The U.S. made huge mistakes after launching troops into Iraq in 2003. But the hugest mistake of all was getting out prematurely and immorally in 2011.
I am not interested in adjudicating the question of who is to blame for the pull-out. Bush, Obama, and the Iraqis themselves may all share responsibility. But that is beside the point I want to make.
At the time when we recklessly pulled out the defensive force of 50,000 that U.S. commanders determined to be the minimum allowable to maintain stability, the Second Iraq War had been won. After many mistakes and dead ends, violence had stunningly abated and stability had been won. A vibrant civil society had blown back to life. This stability was so surprising to many that Vice President Biden in early 2010 called it “one of the great achievements” of the Obama [!!!] administration.
As I noted in The American Spectator in 2007, victory left behind vast tangible benefits. Under Saddam, independent media had been banned. And yet in free Iraq after only three years there were fifty-four TV stations, 114 commercial radio stations, and 268 independent print organs.
With great bravery and under constant threats, Iraqi citizens carried out two free elections in succession. Iraq’s new constitution recognized religious liberties – not all such liberties, not sufficiently, but far in advance of the constitutions of many other Muslim countries.
Then, the unnecessary withdrawal of that residual force of 50,000 well-equipped and battle-hardened Americans left Iraq undefended against a future return of Al Qaeda – or, as events turned, an enemy far worse in size, ambition, bloodthirstiness, and massive cruelty: the Islamic State, ISIS. Without U.S. forces sufficient to provide a swift and deadly counterattack to drive ISIS back and into oblivion, that monster grew and keeps growing ever faster today.
ISIS announces its plans every day. It proposes a complete genocide of the Christian populations of the Middle East – through death (preferably by crucifixion), or through forced submission (dhimmitude), or conversion. The more public its announcements of military conquests to come, and the more ruthless (and unpunished) its public beheadings, the more voluminous its stream of bloodthirsty recruits.
Some writers have announced that persons like me, who supported the Iraq War in 2003, should be doing penance. Do they still not see that a premature departure of U.S. troops in 2011 cleared the way for an endless succession of cruel barbarians like Al Qaeda and ISIS, one after another?The souls of hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide are being divided by pressures to return to the barbarism of the seventh century, and by heartfelt desires for peace, compassion, prosperity, and the protection of human rights. As one young group of Muslim guerrilla fighters in Africa (fighting a Taliban-like regime) told me ten years ago, “It cannot be that the rights of every other group in the world matter, but not human rights among Muslims.”
How, they asked, can we turn hundreds of millions of young single men from lives of nihilistic violence and destruction, toward lives of prosperity, freedom, and respect for the dignity and rights of all humans? Their own human rights have been abused for generations by tyrants and their various secret police forces. The human rights of Muslims have been among the most neglected in the world.
A German Middle East expert pointed out another social reality. Polygamy leads to millions of passionate young men living in loneliness and despair. No wonder they dream that paradise will bring seventy-two sloe-eyed virgins of their own – on condition that they die martyrs while killing infidels.
The issue in Iraq was never merely bringing Saddam Hussein to trial for his hundreds of thousands of crimes – dropping poison gas on whole communities, gruesome tortures, horrific prisons. The greatest issue of all was changing the life prospects of Muslim young people, especially young males. All over the world, young males commit the majority of acts of violence and destruction. For some decades now, two-thirds of all military violence on earth has occurred among Muslim males of various factions. As many historians report, this wave started gathering force long before World War II.
For several valiant years, despite serious mistakes and failed strategies, the Allied Coalition finally grabbed the attention of young Iraqis and their leadership, who began to turn in a new and constructive direction.
Then our government abandoned those brave citizens who risked their lives to build a dignifying and prosperous democracy. We abandoned them, unprotected, to the tender mercies of ruthless nihilists. That was an awful betrayal.
It was a betrayal, too, of all those American heroes who gave their lives and limbs so that Iraqis might live with dignity and freedom.
And so now, in 2015, what should we do? Just surrender to ISIS? Just sit back and wait for still more violent and blood-lusting young men to attack the world, wave after wave? Shall we just stand by as all the Christians of the Middle East are exterminated? That does not seem to me the Christian or the brave thing to do. Certainly not the resolute course of action worthy of our creative and dynamic ancestors.