Dear Neocons: Why we’re not Sending Combat Troops to Iraq no matter how much you Pout

By Scott Corey

There are only three things wrong with the idea of sending combat troops to Iraq at this time, as a range of hawks from Bill Kristol to Sen. John McCain has suggested. It is foolish obedience to bad allies. It abandons President Obama’s wise doctrine of self-limited commitment. And it prematurely commits us to one side of what may become a region-wide war.

Beyond doubt, the current Sunni uprising is the fruit of abuses by Iraq’s President Malaki. Equally beyond doubt, he has done this despite years of earnest US warnings that exactly this would happen. Now, instead of demanding he rectify his misrule, we are supposed to kill and die to support it?

We have been here before. In Vietnam, we armed and trained the troops of President Diem to fight Communism. He sent them to kick in the doors of temples, declaring war on Buddhism…in Asia. When monks publicly burned themselves in protest, Diem’s sister-in-law famously dismissed them as “barbeques.” Diem confronted President Kennedy with a choice between “losing Vietnam” or supporting a self-destructive tyrant. Kennedy chose, instead, a coup against Diem. It didn’t help.

Obama has done better. In Afghanistan, President Karzai trashed progress toward democracy by hijacking his first re-election. Obama neither quit nor submitted to the “me or the Taliban” extortion. He set a self-imposed time limit, promising Karzai complete abandonment if he failed to reform. That worked better.

Self-limited commitment gives US power the flexibility to craft actions to fit real world needs. It finally tears the US out of the isolationism/empire dilemma that our most troublesome friends have exploited all to long, and all too well.

Practical flexibility is what we need to match clarity of principle in the Middle East right now. In principle, we genuinely support moderation and coexistence in the region. Even if this fails today, we may be remembered for it when bloody exhaustion sets in some years down the road. As a practical matter, committing American blood would increase the polarization, and harness us to one side or the other long before the shape of the regional alignments is truly clear.

And which side should we choose? The Malaki regime is Shia dominated and allied with Iran. Fighting for Malaki (instead of twisting his arm if he wants even limited support) means fighting on the side of Iran and their allies, Syria’s Assad regime. The Sunni uprising is still diverse but ISIS, the militant core, is an al Qaeda inspired group. It is also on the same side that we are in Syria.

No. If we can get moderation and negotiation, we should not miss the chance. If we cannot, we should keep the flexibility to tilt as we see fit, depending on the context, for as long as we are able to sustain our options. Now is the time to work for the best, be prepared for the worst, and ignore the advocates of impulsive war.

Scott Corey earned a PhD in Political Science from UC Berkeley. His dissertation was on the subject of revolution and political violence. He now works at a human services agency in California’s Sierra Nevada region.


Related video added by Juan Cole

The Young Turks: ” 300 Troops To Iraq – Is Obama On A Fool’s Errand?”

15 Responses

  1. The author’s understanding of our position and responsibility vis a vis the countries we illegally invaded is overly simplistic. Of course, we shouldn’t be sending troops to Iraq this time (or the previous time for that matter), but laying all the blame for the messy outcomes exclusively on the leaders like Maliki, Karzai and Diem is quite bold. Again, we are the good guys, that may be remembered as genuinely supporting moderation and coexistence. I think, not at this point.
    “Beyond doubt, the current Sunni uprising is the fruit of abuses by Iraq’s President Malaki. Equally beyond doubt, he has done this despite years of earnest US warnings that exactly this would happen. Now, instead of demanding he rectify his misrule, we are supposed to kill and die to support it?” Really? If only al-Maliki had listened to US earnest warnings….What about historical, geographical and ethnic/religious contexts to the current Iraqi fiasco, as well as, the role we’ve been playing in inflaming the divisions throughout the region? There is lots of blame to go around on this one and calming things down requires lots of nuance and understanding of those contexts. I didn’t find it in this post. Also, some self-reflection and humility would be appreciated.

    • I would certainly not minimize the fact that the US invasion started the mess now existing in Iraq. Nonetheless, under Petraeus and Crocker, we did get an alliance with Sunni forces, despite a strongly Shia government. Keeping that together was key for us, and should have been a goal for Malaki, but he did not accept that. Whether sectarian and ethnic schism would have grown this severe anyway, we will not know. But US foreign policy was right on this point, and I would not neglect to appreciate a moment of wisdom any more than I would fail to criticize the (in Iraq, catastrophic) moments of foolishness in US policy.

      • Unfortunately, that alliance was shaky to begin with, as it was based primarily on bribing the tribal leaders in Sunni areas. As soon the American cash flow was cut off, the tribes lost their interest in the alliance with the government. Petraeus and Crocker were not some kind of miracle workers there. The American taxpayer was. As I’ve said before, the situation in Iraq has many bad actors (internal and external) and piling the blame exclusively on al-Maliki, although convenient, misses the point. I think your analysis lacks depth, sorry.

        • No miracles claimed, and no dissertation attempted. The Sunni forces aligned with the government did not evaporate, but agitated long and hard for promised inclusion and money. In that respect, you help make my point. Maliki threw away the opportunity.

  2. The U S Government has two goals in the Middle East.
    1, Keep cheap oil flowing to the Oil Cartels.
    2, Support Israel.
    It is rank hypocrisy to talk about Democracy, or improving the lives of the people. It shouldn’t surprise people that Obama and Bush both go to Military Force to coerce the People of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush and Obama work for the Oil Cartels.
    It is our system that is rotten with corruption and until we change that, our Government will be working for the Rich who can buy anything they want.

  3. I wish I could believe that there won’t be boots on the ground by September. The more it’s denied, the more likely it seems. Maybe it’s just me.

        • It’s apparently all “we” know how to be…
          I am very hard pressed to come up with any significant, lasting activity by “us” that produced anything good for ordinary people, and “stability,” and stuff not leading to extractive or destabilizing corpoprofits, other than as some unintended and even antithetical fortuity…

  4. Ah, but according to the White House, the new and improved definition of “boots on the ground” = regular American military troops doing a tour of duty.

    Special forces and mercenaries from companies like Academi are apparently something else altogether. Perhaps we could call them “shadows on the ground”. These “shadows” can be sent into combat without notifying the American people of their deployment or of their return in boxes, which puts an end to that pesky thing known as the anti-war protest. If we don’t know we’re at war, we can’t protest. Right?

    And if you want to become a “shadow on the ground”, just go to this website for a list of all the available positions:
    link to

    And you can join the thousands of other shadows on the ground who are already in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, and who knows how many other places.

  5. If Obama wasn’t such a wimp, he would dump this whole mess on Congress, just as the Constitution requires. Because it is an election year, I suspect that most of congress would be backpedaling faster than the speed of light. The next time McCann opens his mouth, Obama should go on national TV and publicly tell McCann to draft a Middle East War bill and submit it to congress. The bill should have THREE components: (1) a massive tax increase of at least 2 TRILLION dollars to pay for the war and its aftermath (VA, etc.). (2) reinstate the draft with NO EXCEPTIONS. That is, every 19 year old American regardless of gender, marriage, school, religion or any other excuse would have to report for the US military. EVERY 19 year old man and woman would become cannon fodder. (3) an open ended declaration of war. Obama should promise to Veto any bill that did not have all three components, so it would require 67% of both houses to go to war without the draft and taxes to pay for it. I suspect that the bill would never reach the floor or get a vote. They every time anyone opened their mouth, the POTUS could say “well where is the bill?” and laugh. Obama lacks the”killer instinct” and lets the republicans and neocons hog the airwaves. Obama is just too nice and wimpy.

    • Clever idea. Not likely to happen, but I’d like to see someone from the White House or administration throw the question of a serious war proposal in the face of the critics.

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