Iraq has had enough of US 'engagement'

As al-Qaeda gains control in Fallujah, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham demand more of what caused Iraq's instability. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, January 6, 2013 — As al-Qaeda-linked groups gain control of Iraq’s western Anbar province, establishing strongholds in cities like Fallujah, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the GOP’s most hawkish interventionists, are blaming the 2011 U.S. withdrawal and the lack of American intrusion into Iraq’s ongoing instability. 

“While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the administration cannot escape its share of the blame. When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America’s enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever,” McCain and Graham said in a statement.

“The Administration must recognize the failure of its policies in the Middle East and change course. America has lost time, options, influence, and credibility over the past five years, and we cannot afford to remain disengaged any longer,” they added.

One would think McCain and Graham might engage in some measure of self-reflection after being so wrong on absolutely everything about Iraq. These two men championed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, a campaign that was soon revealed to have been based on lies. Their indefatigable predictions of tranquility in post-Saddam, U.S. occupied Iraq were soon invalidated by the utter chaos that was unleashed as a result of the war of choice they so fervently advocated for.

Iraqis waged a bloody insurgency against their occupiers and jihadists from throughout the Middle East flooded into the country to fight. Peer-reviewed scientific estimates put the total death toll at around 500,000, with countless more lives torn apart. The vaunted surge, which McCain and Graham heartily defended, quelled violence for a while, but proved to be a shaky, unsustainable amelioration to the chronic horror and instability caused by the U.S. invasion. 

Washington lobbied for a war against Iraq to undermine al-Qaeda terrorists, despite al-Qaeda not ever having a presence in Iraq prior to 2003. America brought al-Qaeda to Iraq. And now McCain and Graham have the audacity to blame this resurgence on a lack of U.S. engagement. 

Iraq was injected with a poison in 2003 that contaminated its circulatory system and infested its vital organs. It has been fighting off the resulting disease ever since. Now McCain and Graham are demanding Iraq ingest, as a cure, the same venom that got it so sick in the first place. 

When Iraqis firmly rejected a continued U.S. military presence beyond 2011, the Obama administration had no choice but to pull out, albeit reluctantly. But Washington has by no means been “disengaged.”

Billions of U.S. dollars are sent to the government in Baghdad every year, even as the corrupt and authoritarian Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki imprisons and tortures his political opponents. Maliki has forcibly crowded out Sunni representation in the government, a systematic policy that has exacerbated sectarian tensions in the country and infuriated the Sunni population. Not only does Washington send enormous financial support to Iraq, but it continues to train and equip Iraqi security forces.

The Obama administration, for its part, has vowed to aid the Iraqi government in this fight, although boots on the ground have reportedly been ruled out. But America is essentially still fighting one side of the civil conflict in Iraq.

According to McCain and Graham, it just isn’t enough. 

Never mind the much more obvious take, which is that U.S. “engagement” has been destroying Iraq for more than two decades. After supporting the brutal Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf War decimated much of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure. The subsequent sanctions regime, described by United Nations envoy Denis Halliday as genocidal, was one of the stiffest in history, devastating Iraq’s economy and contributing to the death of up to half a million children under the age of five. The illegitimate, illegal invasion in 2003 was the nail in the coffin; a war of choice the country is still suffering from. 

It seems to me Iraq has had enough of American “engagement.”

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More from John Glaser: Entangling Alliances
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John Glaser

John Glaser is Editor of He has been published at The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, The American Conservative, and The Daily Caller, among other outlets. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

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