Monday, October 24, 2011

Libya and Iraq: results & consequences

Adding to the narrative of shifting continents, on Thursday, Libyan fighters captured and killed Muammar Gaddafi, and on Friday, Obama announced a complete drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end. It's always good news when a tyrant is toppled, and equally jubilant is the word of our military men and women returning to our shores from foreign hostilities. The cautiousness lies in what will come of the powers that now arise in these lands.

As in Egypt, albeit somewhat less bloody and arguably less deserving, where the Muslim Brotherhood has replaced Mubarak’s rule, we now have reports that as Libya celebrates its liberation from the Gaddafi regime, the Obama-encouraged National Transitional Council (NTC) states that Sharia will be the “basic source” of all law. I guess my cautiousness at the end of last week was justified? From The Daily Caller:

Libya’s transitional government, established as a result of President Obama’s intervention, announced its first rulings Sunday following the death of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi. They include reestablishing polygamy for men and banning Western-style interest on bank loans.

On Sunday, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil abruptly announced that Islamic law, or Sharia, would provide the “basic source” of Libyan law. “This revolution was looked after by Allah to achieve victory,” Abdul-Jalil, the leader of the Transitional National Council, said to a celebratory crowd in Benghazi.

Abdul-Jalil’s announced support for Islamic law could have meant anything between a symbolic nod to fundamentalist rebel groups and a promise for Saudi-style theocracy — complete with apartheid-style treatment of Muslim women and Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims.

Again, here’s something I questioned during the Egyptian uprising: for the Obama Administration, this is democracy? Or the Tunisia revolution, as the Islamists are set to grasp power: is this what we know of democracy?  Also to repeat myself, I’m glad that the wretched Gaddafi has been vanquished, but why would we promote this ‘transition’ as a democracy when it’s obviously not?  In fact, this Arab Spring-cleaning, replacing Islamic dictators (some of whom have rightfully needed to be) with potentially more extreme fundamentalist factions, reinforces the very real regional concerns of an Islamic Calliphate.

Moving to the Iraqi front, questions quickly arose shortly after Obama’s announcement of a complete drawdown of troops, a withdrawal timeline that was originally drafted under former President George W. Bush. Here’s more details from Heritage’s Mike Brownfield piece on the Morning Bell:

Speaking on Friday from the West Wing, President Obama wasted no time in reminding the American people that, “As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” and that as commander in chief, he was making good on that promise in time for the holidays. What the President didn’t mention, though, was the story behind the headline–that the Administration tried and failed to negotiate with the Iraqi government to extend the U.S. troop presence there in order to ensure the country’s security and stability. The sticking point for the negotiations was immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq. Heritage’s James Phillips explains:

“Up until Friday, the Obama Administration had insisted that negotiations were on track for extending the presence of a small residual force that U.S. and Iraqi military leaders agreed were necessary to support Iraqi operations in key areas such as counterterrorism, air support, intelligence gathering, logistics, and training. But Friday, in a hard-hitting article posted on The Cable blog, Josh Rogin reported that the Administration had bungled the negotiations.”

Those negotiations stalled, Phillips writes, because Iraqi political leaders didn’t want to risk the political consequences of extending immunity for U.S. troops. And given the Obama Administration’s eagerness to withdraw from Iraq and unwillingness to confront Iran they didn’t want to put their political necks on the line. Now, as a result, U.S. security interests will suffer–bilateral U.S.–Iraqi cooperation in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq and radical pro-Iranian Shia militias will be limited, and the ability to contain Iran will be weakened. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the Administration on Sunday, calling the withdrawal decisions “a serious mistake,” and faulted the White House for its failure to negotiate with the Iraqi government:

“There was never really serious negotiations between the administration and the Iraqis. I believe we could have negotiated an agreement. And I’m very, very concerned about increased Iranian influence in Iraq.”

In the wake of its decision, the Obama Administration is already anticipating the consequences of the power vacuum it has created. In a series of interviews on Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran that even though troops will be withdrawn, the U.S. will still maintain a presence in the region. “Iran would be badly miscalculating if they did not look at the entire region and all of our presence in many countries in the region, both in bases, in training, with NATO allies, like Turkey.”

Even McCain knows that a tongue-lashing from the paper tiger of the Obama foreign policy, delivered by Hillary or otherwise, won’t deter Iran from either intervening in Iraq’s governance or working with other interests, like Turkey, to break apart Iraq’s fragile sovereignty. However, the decision has been made by both the Obama Administration’s desire to withdraw all along, and the Iraqi government’s unrealistic assertion that U.S. troops involved in civilian casualties during the war could somehow be prosecuted. Obama took the politically convenient route, and instead of negotiating for immunity, opted for a complete drawdown to appease his base, whether Iraq is ready or not. As Heritage’s James Carafano astutely explains, “With Syria in turmoil, Iran on the march, a more isolated Israel, and Turkey’s ever-more ambivalent policies, now is the worst time to see a diminished U.S. influence in ensuring continued progress in Iraq. A total troop pullout will leave Iraqi security forces much more vulnerable to terrorism, sectarian conflict, and Iranian meddling, and it will leave them much less capable of battling al-Qaeda in Iraq and pro-Iranian Shia militias.”  Not to mention what might become of the U.S. Embassy and our remaining personnel  in Iraq...we don't need another helicopter-from-the-rooftops moment.

I’d agree with Mr. Brownfield's conclusion on this topic, “No American wants to see U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East and placed in harm’s way longer than they have to be. But unfortunately, their premature withdrawal from Iraq could jeopardize the progress that so many American men and women fought and died for.”  The campaign talking points shouldn't come at the risk of a more destabalized and dangerous Middle East, nor a similarly resulted expansion into African oppression masquerading as humanitarian.

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