Speed Reads

Crisis in Iraq

Is Obama to blame for losing Iraq? Not so fast.

As Iraq slides into open sectarian warfare, the Obama administration has come under an onslaught of criticism for pulling U.S. troops out of the country in 2011, allowing insurgents to unravel a fragile peace. Critics, including David Brooks at The New York Times, have cited Dexter Filkin's reporting in The New Yorker that negotiations to keep American troops in Iraq fell apart "in no small measure because of lack of engagement by the White House."

But of course the story is not that simple. In a column at The Washington Post outlining the sectarian authoritarian tendencies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — a Shiite with no love for his former Sunni oppressors — Fareed Zakaria writes:

"Here's what a senior Iraqi politician told me in the days when the U.S. withdrawal was being discussed: 'It will not happen. Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that its No. 1 demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them.'" [The Washington Post]

In other words, it's complicated. Maliki wanted the U.S. out, and the U.S. did not trust him to form an inclusive government.

And to speak to a broader point: if George W. Bush opened a Pandora's Box of sectarian tensions, is it the responsibility of the Obama administration, and the administration after that, to keep those tensions in check, in perpetuity? And if America managed to secure the peace, could we expect Maliki and his fellow Shiites to share power with Sunnis and Kurds in a way that would allow for a peaceful, stable Iraq?

When you think of it that way, the contention that any of this is Obama's fault starts to sound absurd.