Iraq wasn’t about al Qaeda before. It is now.
The terrorist organization that is now marching toward Baghdad — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — was formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq and claims the mantle of Osama bin Laden. It previously sought to work with al Qaeda central, a badly weakened network led by bin Laden’s right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri, but ISIS has clearly eclipsed al Qaeda as the premier militant extremist organization in the region.
We may want to say ISIS is Iraq’s problem, but an Iraq run by ISIS is everyone’s problem.
Acknowledging that reality does not mean the neoconservatives who criticized the 2011 pullout have been right all along. It’s their blunderbuss invasion that cracked open Iraq’s sectarian divides, and we have no obligation to accept their Johnny-One-Note militarism as the easy answer today. Replicating the mistakes of 2003 with another round of bloody unilateralism may heighten global suspicion of American imperialism, which is exactly what makes al Qaeda thrive.