Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering junior and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
There’s no sugar coating or silver lining that covers up the wasted efforts of our brave troops during eight years of fighting in Iraq. With new ISIL threats and an unstable government, Iraq is hardly (if at all) in better condition today than when we left it three years ago.
People can argue all they want against the United States’ invasion of Iraq to begin with, but look at the facts: In 2002, 70 percent of Congress voted to authorize military actions in Iraq. From all the intelligence reports we had, it looked almost certain Saddam Hussein was holding “weapons of mass destruction.” And today’s nauseating gas prices make all those initial complaints about “just going into Iraq for oil” seem crazy.
When troops first crossed the Kuwait border into Iraq in 2003, their first mission was to topple Saddam Hussein and his military. Easy enough … that took all of two weeks. As Saddam’s statue came falling down and Iraqis celebrated, it became our mission to invest in the country and create an opportunity for democracy within Iraq.
At some point, the American opinion switched from one of patriotism and excitement to one of questioning: how long it would be until we withdrew from Iraq? A likely combination of factors including the rise of cost, social media and media’s constant reporting of negative news contributed to making withdrawal the war’s main focus.
The timeline of withdrawal is as follows: Back in 2007, before his final troop surge, President George W. Bush continually said leaving Iraq too early could create a serious power vacuum. In 2011, President Barack Obama seemed quite sure we had succeeded as he told the United States, “We’re leaving behind a stable and self-reliant Iraq.” And today, it’s the opposite story: President Obama admits he and his administration “underestimated ISIL” as our military begins to perform airstrikes on ISIL targets in Iraq.
It’s easy for me, a conservative columnist sitting at a desk 2,400 miles from Washington D.C., to criticize the handling of Iraq from afar. Being president of the United States is the most difficult job in the world — I understand that. But as I began researching the subject, I realized I’m not the only one criticizing the Obama administration’s Iraq dealings.
Recently, Politico published an article written by former Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill. His article claims Obama’s administration, especially the Secretary of State, continually ignored anything related to Iraq. Hill sent weekly memos to both President Obama’s office and the State Office over the course of his one-year tenure in Iraq. Not once did he receive a response.
Criticism doesn’t end with Ambassador Hill, either.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta used part of his upcoming autobiography to discuss pulling troops out of Iraq. He argues that he and other top-ranking military officials made the pitch to President Obama and his inner circle to leave a small number of troops in Iraq for peacekeeping and Iraqi troop-training purposes.
His suggestion was rejected.
Now, Panetta worries the new ISIL offensive will lead to a new safe haven for other terrorist groups in Iraq, namely al-Qaeda.
In the meantime, President Obama’s decision to rally our allies and begin airstrikes at ISIL targets is a good one. With our air technology and intelligence, air strikes are a low-risk way to continue combating terrorists.
My worry, though, is what will happen if the air strikes aren’t enough.
Iraq has a well-equipped (thanks to us) yet untalented military that’s already shown it can’t defend against terrorists. Would we allow Iraq to get overrun by terrorists? Would we put “boots on the ground” again? There’s no way the American public would support putting troops back on the ground in the near future. It took planes flying into iconic towers and over 3,000 deaths for the public to support a war in the first place.
However, one thing is for sure: The odds of Iraq becoming a stable democracy are not good. Between leaving Iraq unstable in 2011, secular divides and a weak military, Iraq seems to be heading away from what we wanted for it when we entered in 2003.
But maybe there’s hope.
President Obama cites a change in prime ministers and a generational shift as hope for a brighter future in Iraq. As seen in the Arab Spring, youth in countries such as Egypt and Libya can have an extremely powerful effect on government if they rise up together.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. We can’t go back on the decisions we’ve made, but we can learn and improve upon them. Let’s hope our future decisions are more successful. Let’s hope that against all odds, Iraq will have a stronger, brighter future.