By: Seth Moulton
For all the wrong reasons and failed decision-making that brought us to Iraq, we might not know for 30 years whether it was a success or failure. Today, the war does not seem worth the blood and treasure it has cost, but if Iraq does in fact, become a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, a historically influential regional player that uses its influence for good, for a change, then we may look back one day and see President Bush’s policy as visionary. As unlikely as that seems right now, and for all of Iraq’s continued problems, today it at least has the framework of a democratic government. The shameful thing for America is that we could be abandoning that government–and more importantly, the Iraqi people–just before it is able to stand and prosper on its own.
The news is filled with troubling signs that the Iraqi democratic institutions we set up, and worked so hard for a decade to foster, are beginning to crumble along with our support. The potential results of a devolving Iraqi state, which we saw when the war was at its worst in 2006, could be catastrophic for the broader Middle East: refugee crises in Jordan and Syria; active support of opposite sides of the sectarian conflict from Syria and Iran; aggressive, cross-border raids by Turkey; and military buildups in Iran and Saudi Arabia, enemy nations fearful of losing the historic buffer between the two.
Ironically, we began taking all this risk with a hasty withdrawal in the name of shifting troops and resources to Afghanistan, President Obama’s promise to ‘get out of the wrong war and focus on the right war.’ Why is this ironic? The problem is that for all the right reasons that we went to Afghanistan, and despite all the wrong reasons we went to Iraq, now that we are in both, the consequences of a devolving Afghanistan are far less dire than those of a collapsing Iraq: Afghanistan has never been a strong and secure state, so its neighbors don’t rely on its stability in the least. And we can prevent terrorist training camps with a much smaller troop presence than we have there today. Indeed, the Administration already seems to be admitting that it is willing to give up whatever gains we’ve made in Afghanistan as well. Meanwhile, the increased State Department support promised to see Iraq through our withdrawal has never materialized.
Having seen both wars (though admittedly spent far more time in Iraq), I think that the long view will show that Afghanistan will take a decade or more to truly “win,” while we may be giving up Iraq just as it is on the cusp of a true democratic transformation. For all of us who fought so hard to bring Iraq, not to where it is today, but to where it might be tomorrow, it is hard to see America give up.
Seth Moulton served four tours in Iraq as a Marine infantry officer, first as a platoon commander and later as a Special Assistant to General Petraeus. He studied at Harvard University.