Obama faces the great Iraq dilemma

Updated: 2014-06-25 07:10

By Tom Plate (China Daily)

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US President Barack Obama, as senator from Illinois, opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2002 (much before it was actually invaded), and his dim view of this unnecessary war hasn't changed. Instead of criticizing and opposing Obama (as his sliding popularity shows), people should be applauding his consistency of vision and decision-making integrity. Obama didn't get the United States into the mess that is the "war on terror"; on the contrary, he courageously proposed to get Americans out of it. So people who say the US president has no vision or consistency or is decision-adverse are almost psychotically counterfactual.

Obama is now under pressure to re-send US forces into Iraq to help it stop the "triumphant" march of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants from the north to the central part of the country. Obama may not be able to resist this pressure, although he could end up sending a small, compact US unit for the task on condition of pulling it out as soon as feasible. And there is solid reason for Obama to take such a measure.

The Iraq war was a mistake right from the start and committing new mistakes will not right the wrong. The bull-headed George W. Bush administration concocted the mayhem in Iraq against the advice of some of its smartest allies, including Germany and France - not to mention the sincere but quiet reservations of China and opposition of Russia - and persisted with its folly even in the absence of the UN Security Council's approval, which it had desperately sought.

In September 2002, roughly six months before the US-led invasion of Iraq, I wrote in a column that appeared in newspapers in the US and Asia: "It (a US invasion) would be a cure far worse than the disease of Saddam (Hussein) if the result were a renewed and seemingly permanent geopolitical plague of terrorism... The Muslim world is already angry enough to produce terrorists who carry out suicide attacks. If the attack on Saddam Hussein is mounted, there will be more willing recruits in the terrorist ranks." I humbly stress that that is what has happened in Iraq and the Muslim world beyond.

The decade-long US occupation of Iraq has not been able to tame the destructive clash between Sunnis and Shiites, instead it has added fuel to the fire by fanning passions on both sides. The US entered Iraq allegedly to destroy Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist. But what did exist back then was the Iraqi state, which now is in danger of disappearing.

The US ignored the UN Security Council and acting as the world's policeman, despite a good part of the world not buying its argument. To quote from my 2002 column again: "Because the US' effort to imbue the anti-Saddam offensive with a paternal multinational patina seems insincere, the core policy seems inherently unilateral and self-centered."

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