If you thought 2019 was strange, 2020 just showed up and said hold mah beer.
While the President was fully within his rights to take out Qassim Suleimani, the terrorist leader of the IRGC Quds Force, the response from various governments in that part of the world has been “mixed” to say the least. And one of the least expected outcomes was the rapid passage of a non-binding agreement by the Iraqi legislature calling for the immediate removal of all foreign troops from the country. Their caretaker Prime Minister described the demand as “an urgent matter.” Obviously they’re referring to the 5,000 American and allied forces still in the country.
Allahpundit made a good point about this yesterday, noting that it’s not really an official order for us to leave yet and it may never turn out to be. It was only the Shiite lawmakers pushing for this resolution, with the Sunni and Kurdish members boycotting the affair. But seeing any significant movement in this direction is worrisome.
And yet, the response from President Trump was, perhaps, even more strange. He quickly threatened to hit Iraq with sanctions “like they’ve never seen.” (Associated Press)
President Donald Trump insists that Iranian cultural sites are fair game for the U.S. military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so could constitute a war crime under international law. He also warned Iraq that he would levy punishing sanctions if it expelled American troops in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian official.
Trump’s comments Sunday came amid escalating tensions in the Middle East following the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force. Iran has vowed to retaliate and Iraq’s parliament responded by voting Sunday to oust U.S. troops based in the country…
“We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” he said. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”
In addition to sanctions, the President declared that we would want Iraq to repay us for all the money we’ve invested in their nation since 2003. Not to put too fine of a point on this, but we invaded their country and essentially broke it for years. Doesn’t asking them to cover the costs seem to be a bit over the top?
I think we need a referee to blow the whistle here and ask the President to put this idea on hold. Slapping Iraq with sanctions just as they’re in the middle of threading a needle in terms of making nice with both Iran and the United States will very likely trigger the law of unintended consequences. And those consequences could be severe in the long run.
First of all, what justification could we reasonably offer in terms of imposing sanctions? Iraq is back to being an independent nation with its own duly elected government. No matter what impact it has on our own objectives in the region or what we may think of their reasons, surely they have the right to say whether or not they want foreign troops inside their borders. If we truly hope to treat them as allies going forward, if they ask us to leave we clearly need to leave. The solution to this impasse is better diplomacy and the chance to convince them that our troops are still acting to their benefit. (And besides… hasn’t Trump been promising to pull our troops out of their anyway? They’re just begging to give him an excuse to do so.)
We impose sanctions on many countries for a variety of perfectly valid reasons. We’ve done it to nations that invade their neighbors (Russia), develop dangerous nuclear weapons programs (North Korea and Iran) or commit human rights abuses against their own people (Venezuela and, again, North Korea). But Iraq isn’t credibly accused or really even suspected of doing any of these things. They’re still picking up the pieces from the war.
Beyond that, if we really do want Iraq to be a lasting ally and remain a rare beacon of actual democracy in that part of the world, we can’t allow them to fall fully under the influence of Iran. It’s true that those two nations have recently friended each other on Facebook, but their relationship status is still listed as “it’s complicated.” The death of Saddam Hussein didn’t just erase centuries of antagonism between the Sunni and the Shiites overnight. But at the same time, there’s no arguing that Iran’s influence inside of Iraq has been growing and not everyone in Iraq is unhappy about it. That doesn’t bode well for the west or the future of a stable, democratic Iraq.
Things may still heat up quickly in Iran if they decide to retaliate for the death of Soleimani. And that could involve additional military action on our part. But this is the time for cooler heads to prevail in Iraq, with diplomacy being vastly preferable to provocation. A failure to handle this delicate situation correctly could result in Irag returning to being a hostile state at odds with America and the west. And if that happens, all of the time, resources, treasure, and American and allied lives lost in that desert over the past seventeen years will wind being essentially for nothing.