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As the ultra-militant orthodox ISIS force has slowed in its drive to Baghdad and President Obama, usually fervent in his antagonism toward ‘terrorists,’ has appeared ambivalent about fulfilling the Maliki government’s request for emergency assistance, the American public is rightfully furious that 4,500 young Americans lost their lives and upwards of $2 Trillion of American financial assistance is down the tubes – all for naught. And none of this had to happen.
Iraq War – 2002
In August 15, 2002 as the country and the world debated a US attack on Iraq, Brent Scowcroft, a former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and a supporter of the first Gulf War in 1991 published “Don’t Attack Saddam” in the Wall Street Journal. Citing “ scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks” and that “ Saddam’s goals have little in common with the terrorists,” Scowcroft’s words fell on a nation of deaf ears unwilling to reconsider a pre-emptive military attack on a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks and would prove to have no weapons of mass destruction.
A graduate of West Point and former aide to Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s Secretary of State, Scowcroft went on to decry Hussein as ‘ruthless and unpredictable’ yet found “ there is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression.” In his professional opinion as a long time foreign policy analyst with top secret intel clearance, Scowcroft offered a realistic assessment that military action “would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive – with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy — and could as well be bloody” and further predicted “a large-scale, long-term military occupation.” Looking back on Scowcroft’s plea, his words speak to us like a no-brainer. Who did not see the obvious?
Of special interest was Scowcroft’s courage in daring to articulate an unspoken truth that Israel still wields an inordinate influence over US foreign policy when he added that “..the obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict — which the region… perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve — in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest. .. the results could well destabilize Arab regimes and “ at a minimum, it … could even swell the ranks of the terrorists. “
He could not have said it much plainer and still, one of the most respected foreign policy experts of his generation, no one listened to Scowcroft. No one bothered to debate the matter as if the concerns he’d raised were irrelevant and not worthy of consideration. One year later he was removed from the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board where he served as Chair and became a figure of ridicule in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and by the neocon community among others.
On August 24, 2002, Bill Keller, then New York Times editorial page editor, eschewed a professional response and instead wrote a personal denunciation insinuating that Scowcroft’s motive for opposing an invasion of Iraq was to benefit his consulting firm’s clients some of whom, Mr. Keller asserted, “would be gravely inconvenienced by a war in the Middle East” and that it would be “worth considering what baggage the critics bring” [to the debate].
Given the recent horror of the ongoing brutality in Iraq, it is not too late for Mr. Keller to clear his conscience with an editorial offering a posthumous apology to Brent Scowcroft.
It is inconceivable that the US so grossly underestimated the on-the-ground situation in Iraq on May 1, 2003 with President Bush’s presumptuous “Mission Accomplished” speech that ‘major combat operations in Iraq have ended.’
Iraq War – 2014
More than a decade later, Scowcroft’s words echo with a truth, relevance and sincerity not found in today’s political climate as President Obama declared the ‘global war on terror is over’ and that al Qaeda was ‘on the path to defeat” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is equally inconceivable that any policymaker would not expect al Qaeda to be so motivated as to be fluid and mobile and easily relocate its operations as the situation demanded.
Tracing the path of ISIS through Mosul, a predominantly Sunni city which offered little resistance, it is curious that the oil rich province including a major export pipeline in Kirkuk were by-passed as Kurd Peshmerga fighters took control. The Kurdistan Regional Government, autonomous from the Iraq government with its own militia, now benefits from the chaos with increased bargaining power over the Maliki government.
If it is accurate that ISIS is funded, in part, by the Saudis, (both represent extremist Sunni elements) we might assume that the Basrah oilfields in southeast Iraq are on their itinerary especially in view of a coordinated Iraq-Iran effort to surpass Saudi production. If they are independent of a geopolitical association with the Saudis, losing those fields to ISIS including Majnoon, one of the world’s richest oil producing fields, would be a cataclysmic blow to the US energy supply with OPEC nations unable to make up the shortfall and an energy crisis that would shake the international financial markets to its bones. If in fact ISIS is beholden to the Saudis, Middle East stability would still be threatened with disruption of the global economic order in a different way.
Another item worth scrutiny is whether the president’s less than enthusiastic response to Iraqi’s request for military support, rooted in Maliki’s refusal to grant immunity to US troops with approval of the Status of Forces Agreement which led to the US troop withdrawal in 2011, is used as a leveraging chip to force Maliki to sign the detested Agreement in exchange for emergency US military support.
The President’s earlier statement that ‘we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria” is tragically laughable. Does he seriously believe that ISIS is not already deeply entrenched in both Syria and Iraq? Is he not reading his daily CIA briefings or perhaps this is all part of the ‘act’ to convince Americans that the US government is still in control of a situation that they never really ever controlled from the first boot on the ground in 2003. Perhaps the president is unaware that the Jordanian Abu Musal al Zarqawi, acknowledged father of what became al Qaeda, organized the first jihadist cells in Iraq in 2002 in anticipation of the much-heralded Bush Administration’s invasion.
In one of the ironic twists of war, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US is prepared to discuss a coordinated response to the Sunni extremists with Iran, a long time US adversary on their possession of nuclear materials. Given the dire situation in Iraq with few plausible options available to the US, only Secretary of State John Kerry would publicly pique Iran with an indiscreet warning that any dialogue would ‘take place outside the mainstream of the nuclear talks” and that ‘we don’t want that linked and mixed.”
Renee Parsons was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and a lobbyist on nuclear energy issues with Friends of the Earth. in 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council and served as Councilor and Mayor. Currently, she is a member of the Treasure Coast ACLU Board.