That’s Ron Christie’s counter to two weeks of Republican candidates being forced to answer Iraq war counterfactuals. In the liberal narrative of Iraq, advanced most recently last night on Twitter by Jonathan Alter, every horror that’s occurred to the present day was foreordained by decisions made before January 20, 2009. Literally nothing Obama has done or hasn’t done since then has made the situation worse than it was fated to be. It’s a ridiculous idea, periodically demolished in print by people like Dexter Filkins and Peter Beinart, but it serves the left’s agenda of making the fate of Iraq exclusively a referendum on Republican policies, especially if they’re destined to face another guy named “Bush” in the election.
I can think of something that might have been done differently to Iraq’s benefit over the past six years, says Christie.
Rather than chase announced and presumed Republican candidates such as Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL)—gentlemen who weren’t in the Congress to cast a vote going to war with Iraq more than a decade ago—why won’t the media ask this question of America’s two top diplomats who have steered our foreign policy since 2009: If they knew then what they know now, would Clinton and Kerry still have supported President Obama’s decision to remove our troops in Iraq, which has led to a void now filled by ISIS? Do they agree that the president’s belief in December 2011 that the U.S. was leaving behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” that was a “moment of success” is still true today?
The media should demand that the current administration account for the deterioration in Iraq as well as ask potential candidates on either side of the aisle running for president how they would move to stabilize the region. The time for gotcha games is over—the time for serious journalism presents itself now more than ever. Are the media up to the task?
With a residual force of U.S. troops in place and looking over his shoulder, Maliki would have been more cautious about trying to marginalize the Sunnis, which in turn would have made Anbar province less hospitable to ISIS in its fledgling phase. But then, that misses an even more important point: With better diplomatic leadership from the president and his secretary of state, Maliki would have been forced out years ago, replaced by someone like Iyad Allawi who was more interested in national reconciliation than Maliki. Why Jeb, who had no say over Iraq policy, is getting the screws put to him while Hillary Clinton, who authorized the war as a senator and then sleepwalked her way through four years of Maliki’s premiership at State, gets to laugh off her refusal to talk to the press is media bias at its finest.
But as I say, this is an easy question to answer politically, if not strategically. Americans have grown less keen over time about Obama’s decision to yank the last U.S. troops out of Iraq but as of last summer that move was still highly popular. In late 2011, Americans backed withdrawal 75/21; as of June 2014, the month that ISIS declared its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, approval was down to … 61/34, including 59 percent support among independents. If and when Hillary is finally forced to answer the withdrawal question, she’ll say something like, “Americans spent eight hard years and endless billions of tax dollars to make Iraq a functioning state. At some point they had to stand on their own. It’s tragic that they’ve failed but it’s unfair to the U.S. military to ask them to guarantee Iraq’s security forever.” That answer should be good enough for now, but if ISIS continues to rampage across Iraq and ends up turning Baghdad into a war zone, who knows? And even if the public remains on Obama’s side on withdrawal, that doesn’t solve Hillary’s Maliki problem. Why did the White House and its top diplomat continuously shrug off Maliki’s attempts to expand Shiite influence inside Iraq, knowing the risk that posed for a new civil war? Why did they effectively disengage from the country, as described in gory detail by Beinart at the link up top? Bobby Jindal is right that Obama and his team appear to have overlearned the lessons of the Bush years, refusing to “meddle” in Iraq or tolerate any more American boots on the ground to the point where the country is now on the verge of disintegrating. Why isn’t Hillary called to account for that?
And while we’re on the subject of his, and Hillary’s, major foreign policy disasters, here’s another subject worth tackling via an unlikely source in Chris Hayes. Libya has decayed into anarchy thanks to the White House’s decision to intervene there followed by — tell me if you sense a pattern here — diplomatic disengagement as the country fell apart in the aftermath. ISIS is there now too, establishing a foothold to spread jihadism in Africa. Hillary cheered the Libya decision all the way. How many big intervention decisions does she get to be wildly wrong about before the media concludes that she’s not very good at foreign policy?