Why We Should Leave Iraq Now

We face a paradox in Iraq: the longer we stay, the stronger our enemies become. We cannot defeat either the insurgency or the civil war resulting from our invasion and occupation; in fact, both have grown stronger. Nor can we protect the Iraqis we came to save. A corrupt Iraqi government wastes the billions we have allocated for rebuilding, while the middle class flees to avoid the danger. The Pentagon trains Iraqis to fight, but we may well be training the army of our future enemies.

We could have been spared this debacle had our government consulted the historic origins of Iraq. In search of empire and oil, England formed Iraq from provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire after World War I, but British officials ignored the ethnic and religious antagonisms dividing its peoples. Just as did our neo-conservatives who promoted our invasion of Iraq, Winston Churchill, then head of the British Colonial Office, believed Iraqis would greet the British as liberators. But when he tried to build a unified Iraq, experts warned Churchill that Iraqis would resist occupation by Christian “infidels” who threatened their traditions and values.

Like the Bush administration, Churchill ignored the advice. Instead, he picked the Sunni Faisal bin Hussein, king of Syria and a supporter of the British, to be Iraq’s constitutional monarch. Once in office, King Faisal denounced British domination and proclaimed “Iraq for the Iraqis.” As predicted, Sunni and Shiite clerics declared holy war against the British, and their followers assassinated British officials and killed British soldiers.

In only a year or two, the British press and public came to oppose Churchill for wasting lives and money to force Iraqis to accept an occupation they despised; even British troops agitated to return home. Churchill, President Bush’s role model, withdrew, knowing better than to “stay the course” of a failed policy.

But we have remained. Our Iraqi government survives only because it huddles in the Green Zone of Baghdad with a small army of bodyguards. Elsewhere violence rules and Iraqis increasingly lose faith in the prime minister, Nouri al-Malaki, who is unable to halt the violence. Yet we insist that Iraq can become a democratic model for the rest of the Muslim states of the Middle East.

But our faith in democratic elections is misplaced. In Algeria in 1992, Islamic militants won the elections, and in 2006 elections in the Gaza Strip, the home of Palestinians, gave victory to the violent Islamic terrorists of Hamas. Militants also did well in the recent Egyptian elections. Yet our leaders greeted the Iraqi elections as a success, although the winning Shia majority hoped to put Iraq on the road to becoming an authoritarian Islamic State.

Tragically, Iran, Iraq’s powerful neighbor and a looming enemy of the United States, is the main beneficiary of the chaos we have created. With 70 million subjects, support for terrorists and potential nuclear capability, Iran is a far greater threat than Iraq ever was. Moreover, the government we created in Iraq is drawing closer to Iran, while Iran, according to the American military, is arming Shia militias.

By killing tens of thousands of Iraqis, we have enraged Muslims everywhere and multiplied recruits for terrorism, as our own intelligence agencies recently reported. Given the consequences of our ill-considered invasion, it seems criminal to sacrifice more American soldiers and dollars to support our enemies and trap our troops in a civil war. Morality dictates that we repair the destruction we have caused, but we do not have the power even to do that.

Caught in our own trap, we should admit that we have brought ruin to Iraq, seriously damaged our own interests and aided our enemies. Such are the consequences of ignoring history when making present policy. We should leave, and we should leave now.

John Weiss is an emeritus professor of history, Lehman College and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a writer for the History News Service.

October, 2006