Even though US airstrikes and the arming of Kurdish Peshmerga forces are helping hinder the advancement of Islamic State militants, politics continues to prevent the leadership needed for a coherent strategy to emerge. As newly nominated Prime Minister Haider Abadi works to form a new government and lame duck prime minister Nouri al-Maliki fights to stay in power, the political establishment is far from reaching a point where it can even start developing, let alone implementing, a governance strategy capable of restoring order and shared, responsive governance. At the moment, the only major contribution to stop the collapse of Iraq by the Iraqi government has been al-Maliki’s efforts to position himself for a power grab, without regard for broad parliamentary and international support of Abadi, under the guise of a coup threat, thus creating an eventual need for the Prime Minister to institute emergency powers should the legal system fail him.
In the United States, bipartisan Congressional support for intervention is fairly solid with most vocal critics of Obama’s policies demanding greater intervention, yet necessary dissent is not being heard to the detriment of the emerging military mission. The instinct of most politicians is to use their constituent’s emotions to garner support for policies they support. Tax policy, for example, is often transformed from an economic debate into an emotionally charged fight by politicians who frame taxes as punishment for earning too much and businessmen who seek in a self-serving manner to legitimize their efforts to minimize their tax burden by complaining with “how-would-you-feel” statements over sound policy debates aimed at doing what is best for all Americans. In the case of Iraq, strong emotions over the sacrifice of American servicemen and women, as well as fears rooted in the September 11th terrorist attacks, muddy the need for an intervention strategy that does not set the US up for yet another doomed mission in Iraq.
Although humanitarian concerns are rooted in an emotional response, intervention to save civilians and prevent genocide as in the case of around 50,000 Yazidis under siege by Islamic State fighters, is part of America’s broader, long-term interests in maintaining an international order where stability and diplomacy prevent widespread armed conflicts between nations. Ironically, Congressional efforts, on the behalf of both Republicans and Democrats, to hinder limited military intervention in Syria, which this writer favored in regards to airstrikes against the Assad regime’s military, paved the way for a far broader, more costly intervention now. The inevitable collapse of Iraq, which this writer also predicted when the George W. Bush’s so-called “military surge” failed to address the social issues driving Iraq’s internal strife, is being confounded with the spread of the Islamic State.
While it seems individuals like al-Maliki are banking on the unwillingness of the US to allow his government to collapse no matter who is in charge and how Iraq is ruled, America’s vital national interests in Iraq are the threat of globalized terrorism and the destabilization of the region. There is no vital national interest in propping up Iraqi’s dysfunctional government at all costs. Quite frankly, Iraq is just one country where a radical group like the Islamic State can create instability and undermine other American interests. This means an American intervention strategy aimed at dealing with the advance of the Islamic State must focus on degrading its military prowess as well as boosting national/regional forces aligned with US interests. Ignoring the plight of Syria for too much intervention in Iraq, for example, would be too costly and too ineffective for the US as the Islamic State would simply retreat to fight another day in another land while doing so would do nothing to secure the region, except reinforce the dysfunctional, self-serving behavior of Iraq’s political elites.
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