As an avalanche of former war-mongers and supposed experts made the rounds on cable news stations about the rapidly descending state of affairs in Iraq the past few weeks, there was at least one local voice of reason along the Front Range.
Not long after President Barack Obama held a press conference June 19 announcing up to 300 U.S. military advisers to be sent to confront the crisis in Iraq, Congressman Mike Coffman’s office stepped forward and reiterated the bitter truth: It’s not the right move for America.
“The President is wrong to provide any additional military assistance for the Shia-dominated government of Iraq until there is a process in place to bring about a reconciliation between the government and the disaffected Sunni Arab population,” read the Coffman statement on the Iraq decision. “Additional military assistance, at any level, prior to this, is fundamentally wrong and will only be seen as the United States intervening in a sectarian civil war.”
This sort of keen observation of the prospects for U.S. success in the region is precisely the kind that was in short supply more than a decade ago when American forces went into Iraq in the first place. And while plenty of political opponents of the president will use it simply for rhetorical fodder, Coffman is right on about the state of our ability to bring meaningful change to Iraq here and now.
Did U.S. forces leave Iraq too soon? That depends on to what end American troops were serving there. Coffman and others have suggested there could have been greater influence and stability in Iraq — as well as other neighboring countries beset by ISIL-militant violence — had President Obama maintained the sort of advisory force that is now being authorized for a return to the region.
The reality is, that sense of stability and influence that previously existed wrought the exclusionary politics of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which have exacerbated the sectarian tensions that have so tragically boiled over as so many cities have fallen to jihadists — more often than not, territories for which numerous American and even more Iraqi lives were lost conquering or defending.
It cannot and should not be the role of American military forces to babysit foreign leaders, ensuring that they don’t incite civil wars with their failed policies. Further, when it comes to propping up or supporting such embattled leaders and administrations abroad, the United States very rarely gets what we pay for — and at the $2-trillion-plus price tag estimated by the Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute for International Studies, we’ve gotten nothing except the expectation that investing any further military effort into Iraq will lead only to more wasted tax dollars.
Whatever actions are needed to secure the U.S. embassy in Iraq are worthwhile and necessary steps for our government to take. But we’re witnessing a situation in Iraq that won’t be solved by 300 military advisers, combat intervention or even the possible ouster of al-Maliki as prime minister.
While Coffman and other congressional Republicans can only speculate as to whether Obama mishandled the exit of American forces from Iraq, they and others sounding the warning over this move to send military advisers back to Iraq are absolutely right.