Who Gets The Blame For Iraq’s Continuing Insecurity?

Commenting on yesterday’s massive attacks in Baghdad, Michael Rubin insists that blame “rests solely on the terrorists who planted the bomb.” Then there’s this huge caveat:

The terrorists, however, very much exploit an environment made possible by the “Anti-Surge” withdrawal timeline sought by Obama during his campaign and, unfortunately, agreed to by the Bush administration in its twilight weeks.

Whenever national security and military strategy is determined by Washington’s political calendar, rather than the situation on the ground in various areas of operation, the results are disastrous. Creating security vacuums is never wise.

Rubin is actually making two pernicious arguments here. The first, and most obvious, involves his attempt to cast the U.S. withdrawal as the “anti-Surge”. The assumption being that (Bush’s!) Surge succeeded, but that (Obama’s!) withdrawal will squander that success. But, of course, if the security gains achieved by the Surge were such that they require an indefinite U.S. military presence to sustain, then by President Bush’s own metrics its “success” is, at the very least, questionable.


As Eli Lake reported last week, a forthcoming report by the National Defense University “warns that the Iraqi army and police are becoming pawns of sectarian political parties — a trend that it calls ‘a recipe for civil war.’”

The report by Najim Abed al-Jabouri, a former Iraqi mayor and police chief who helped run the first successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, also concludes that U.S. forces have failed to use their remaining leverage as trainers to insulate the Iraqi army and police from the influence of powerful Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim and Kurdish parties.

“U.S. efforts to rebuild the [Iraqi security forces] have focused on much needed training and equipment, but have neglected the greatest challenge facing the forces’ ability to maintain security upon U.S. withdrawal: an ISF politicized by ethno-sectarian parties,” he wrote.

In a report for the Center for American Progress last September, Brian Katulis, Marc Lynch, and Peter Juul wrote that the Surge had “achieved important gains in reducing violence in Iraq,’ but “has not delivered on its central objective: achieving a sustainable power consolidation among Iraq’s different political forces.” Almost a year later, many of the key challenges outlined in their report remain.

While it’s fine, if unoriginal, to lament the influence of politics upon military strategy, Rubin seems curiously unaware that Americans are not the only political actors here. The Iraqis have, like, their own government, their own political considerations, and their own security imperatives. This is as much, if not more of, a constraint upon the U.S. in Iraq as anything else.


The Surge was always designed to be temporary — that’s why it was called the “Surge” not the “Open-Ended Escalation of U.S. Forces into Mesopotamia.” Surges ebb. Rubin’s attempt to portray Obama’s adherence to the Bush-negotiated, Maliki-enforced withdrawal as irresponsible stewardship of the Surge’s hard-won gains wanders dangerously close to Dolschstoss territory.

The second issue involves Rubin’s attempt to have it both ways in regard to culpability for violence in Iraq. On the one hand, Rubin wants to blame Obama’s (Bush-negotiated) withdrawal for creating an environment that terrorists can exploit. But at the same time, it seems that Rubin would like to absolve the war’s supporters and architects (such as himself) for having created, by invading an occupying Iraq, an environment that terrorists exploited, and continue to exploit.

The uncomfortable truth — for American supporters and critics of the Iraq war alike — is that the United States bears the far largest share of responsibility for what occurred in Iraq, and for what Iraq has become. As I’ve written before, it’s possible that Iraq may yet yield benefits to the Middle East — but one can’t ever seriously claim credit those benefits without also accepting some responsibility for the cataclysm unleashed by the U.S. invasion.