Tag: Iraq Withdrawal


The Chilcot Rorschach Test: Terry Glavin, National Post, July 6, 2016— Former British prime minister Tony Blair is a war criminal who colluded with former U.S. president George W. Bush to wage an illegal war against Iraq…

Crucible of Grief: Barbara Kay, The Walrus, July 3, 2016— I only saw Elie Wiesel in person once. He spoke at McGill University, when I was there doing graduate studies in literature.

Elie Wiesel Address to Yom Hashoah Rally at Durban II, 2009: UNWatch, July 4, 2016 —A story. Somewhere in Europe, during that time, one of the killers addressed his young victim, saying: “You want to live and perhaps you will live.

Fleeing the Czars, Defying Gravity: A Fourth of July Immigrant Tale: Warren Kozak, Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2016— On July 4, 1900, Samuel Hoffman and his father, Moshe, walked across the gangplank of a ferryboat that unceremoniously dumped them, along with a large group of fellow immigrants, at a dock on 14th Street in Manhattan.


On Topic Links


CIJR "Jewish Thought of Emil Fackenheim Conference" (Toronto, 2015): Prof. Elie Wiesel (Video): CIJR, Nov. 3, 2015

"Jewish Thought of Emil Fackenheim Conference" (Toronto, 2015): Prof. Emil L. Fackenheim (Video): CIJR, Nov. 3, 2015

After Fleeing the Nazis, a Legacy That Won’t Run Dry: Seth M. Siegel, Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2016

Inside the Nazi Camp on Long Island: Gil Troy, Daily Beast, July 2, 2016





Terry Glavin                                                        

National Post, July 6, 2016


Former British prime minister Tony Blair is a war criminal who colluded with former U.S. president George W. Bush to wage an illegal war against Iraq, which was based on the lie that then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was secretly preparing to deploy them, the long-awaited Chilcot report revealed Wednesday. Except it revealed nothing of the kind.


To fans of British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Chilcot report should be read as a kind of Rorschach test — those experiments psychiatrists sometimes use to determine what their patients imagine they are seeing in the shapes of inkblots. If you are virtuous and righteous and of upstanding progressive character, you are expected to see one thing — and one thing only. Blair is an unpardonable villain; a war criminal. Corbyn is a matchless anti-war hero.


There are lies involved in all this, of course, and a whole slough of fabricated pretexts for foreign policies that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Arabs, and indeed the massacres continue, as the Chilcot report notices. But these transgressions can just as easily be laid at the feet of the triumphalist anti-war leaders who are at the moment loudly and hysterically gloating over findings that appear nowhere in any of the report’s 6,275 pages.


There is much in the result of John Chilcot’s seven-year inquiry into the decision-making that led to Britain’s involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq that can be cited to excuse headlines that refer to his findings as “scathing” and “damning.” Blair overestimated his ability to influence American decision-making, attached a greater certainty to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein than was justified, committed nowhere near the resources necessary to stabilize a post-Baathist Iraq and didn’t adequately consider the possibility that the intelligence reports about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were faulty.


Fair enough. It is not as though Chilcot’s mandate included any contemplation of the circumstances that would have prevailed had the Iraqi strongman been allowed to remain in power. And Chilcot certainly wasn’t asked to wonder aloud about how much blood is on the hands of Blair’s fiercest political enemies for having succeeded in ensuring that the U.S. and Britain and the rest of the NATO alliance permitted Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to carry out relentless massacres of his own people for six long years.


In the narrower confines of his mandate, Chilcot concluded that Blair failed to fully exhaust “peaceful options for disarmament” before deciding to sign up with the American adventure. “Military action at that time was not a last resort,” states the report. Well, if you say so. But that requires ignoring quite a few subjects Chilcot wasn’t admonished to address himself to, sensationally or otherwise. Not least: the reasonable apprehension among Iraqi Kurds well before 2003 that anti-war sentiment was already weakening the Anglo-American resolve to continue enforcing a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, which was the only thing standing in the way of a revival of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal war against them.


Look away from Chilcot’s inkblot for a moment and you’ll notice the gaping wounds in Kurdistan that remain from what transpired in the 1980s: the 4,500 emptied villages from the days when Baathist forces slaughtered as many as 180,000 Kurds, most notoriously the 7,000 civilians who were suffocated to death by poison gas dropped by Saddam Hussein’s warplanes in 1988. You would need to expunge such things from your memory to wash the stain of guilt out of the triumphant anti-war faction of the British Labour Party for having had its way in the matter of Syria so thoroughly that roughly half a million innocents have been slaughtered, while NATO has stood by and watched since 2010.


This is what anti-war politics looks like to Syrians. Nobody is in the dock for that. The anti-war politicians who have risen to power in Washington, London, Ottawa and Brussels have never had to explain why they were offering the persecuted people of Iraq nothing that was in any way more useful to them than the shoddy, outrageously ill-planned intervention that was on offer from Blair and Bush back in 2003.


This is one of the main reasons the Chilcot report and the lies making the rounds about its contents are such a boon to Corbyn and his supporters. They have been salivating about the report’s release. Now they rail against the “Blairite vermin” they are so successfully driving from positions of influence in the party. It is the perfect distraction from Corbyn’s moral and intellectual vacuity and his catastrophic leadership, which only a few days ago resulted in his loss of a confidence vote among his fellow Labour MPs, 172 to 40.


Corbyn can now be cast by all his friends in the “progressive” press as having been right all along, as if his chairmanship of Britain’s Stop The War Coalition, which he vacated only two years ago to take up Labour’s top post, is something to be proud of, as if any association with that cesspit of Assad supporters and fanciers of Russian President Vladimir Putin is not something a proper socialist would be rightly ashamed about.


While we’re all seeing whatever we want to see in Chilcot’s Rorschach test, our gaze is conveniently averted from Corbyn’s abdication of leadership on every file — sometimes through sheer incompetence and sometimes on purpose — from his milquetoast advocacy of Labour’s “Remain” policy in the recent referendum, to his catastrophic indifference to the anti-Semitism that has been prominent in the party since the Corbynites took over in 2015.


Don’t worry about the thousands of pounds Corbyn has been earning through his gig with Press TV, Iran’s English-language propaganda channel. Let’s keep on telling ourselves comforting lies about how much we care about the deaths of Arab innocents, of Kurdish innocents, of gay Iranian men hanged from cranes. Let’s not even think about the hospitals Putin’s bombers have demolished — after all, we “provoked” him to annex Crimea, didn’t we? — or the millions of refugees pouring out of Syria, the tunnels our “friends” in Hamas (as Corbyn has described them) are digging in preparation for another wave of terror attacks against innocent Israeli civilians, which we will of course hail as heroic resistance. Let’s talk about Tony Blair the war criminal instead.           




CRUCIBLE OF GRIEF                                                                                                       

Barbara Kay                                                                                                       

The Walrus, July 3, 2016


I only saw Elie Wiesel in person once. He spoke at McGill University, when I was there doing graduate studies in literature. As I recall, it was the fall of 1964, but could have been 1965. I don’t remember his exact text, but Wiesel only had one theme, and I am sure he didn’t tell us anything he had not told many other audiences. But it was only partially the desire to hear Wiesel’s message that had filled the hall. It was the messenger we were curious to see, his aura to experience.


I had by coincidence just finished reading a novel by André Scwartz-Bart, The Last of the Just, a bestseller in 1959, following fairly closely on the dramatic overture of Holocaust-themed literature by Wiesel’s Night in 1955. Both books spoke to a burgeoning hunger to comprehend the Holocaust after the prolonged, anorexic silence that had followed it. (Throughout the 1950s, even such famed Jewish New York intellectuals as Norman Podhoretz, Alfred Kazin, Paul Goodman, Irving Howe, Leslie Fiedler, and others did not write, except glancingly, about the Holocaust. It was too dazzling a light; the pupil of their intellectual eyes contracted.)


Wiesel’s memoir grappled with the reality of the pure evil he had witnessed, and his struggle to maintain his faith in humanity. Schwartz-Bart, a Polish Jew whose family had been murdered by the Nazis, chose fiction and an old Jewish legend to channel his bottomless sorrow.


According to this legend—that of the thirty-six lamed vov tzadikkim—there are at all times in the world thirty-six just and righteous men, the best among us, on whose shoulders hope for humanity depends. Schwartz-Bart explained their purpose in his novel, in which he traces a family of lamed-vovs through eight centuries, ending with the death of the last in Auschwitz: “if just one of the were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed-Vov are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs.”


One Book-of-the-Month Club judge said of The Last of the Just, it was “the saddest novel I have ever read, almost as sad as history.” Yes, that was my feeling, too, and it set my mood perfectly for an encounter with Elie Wiesel, the man I, and many other Jews, perceived as a Lamed Vov for our era. That was indeed how Wiesel appeared to me: humble, righteous, luminous with memory, a man consumed by sorrow, but quietly, involuntarily afire with his received mission: to teach us to remember without falling into despair, to fully acknowledge the depth of human depravity without losing sight of the goodness, the justice and the love of which we are all capable.


I am not imagining the spreading glow in that room, as though we were dry tinder and every word a tiny spark. I remember where I sat. I remember my heart quickening under the spell of those haunted dark eyes and sweetly propulsive exhortations. It was a defining moment in my life. I had gone through a religious phase that lasted several years in my late adolescence. Although cognitively educated about the Holocaust, I had been numbed by its preposterousness and had not fully internalized it. My eyes were open, but not my heart.


Wiesel forced me to come to terms with how I was going to live as a Jew who had once believed there was a God who loved his people, Israel. My impulse, when the enormity of the Holocaust fully penetrated, had been to abandon God altogether, as He had abandoned His people. I did not take Wiesel’s spiritual fervour to mean a renewed relationship with the God of our ancestors. I took it to mean a renewed faith in the survival of the Jewish people, with or without God’s help, with or without God.  After I encountered Wiesel, I decided that I would also retain my faith in the destiny of the Jewish people, and lend whatever skills I had to supporting Israel’s fight for survival. As for God, I would not exactly abandon Him, but I would no longer be on speaking terms with Him. (This is a concept that my Christian friends find difficult to understand.)


It is a commonplace on these occasions to say things like “we will not see his like again,” when in fact we see “his like” again and again. But this is one occasion for which the platitude is truly apt. There are few living witnesses to the Holocaust left who were old enough to understand what they were seeing. Of them there were only a precious few who had the sensibility and the eloquence to convey what they witnessed in a memorable and consequential way. Wiesel was the last of the great witnesses to the greatest evil in human history. And perhaps the last of the lamed vovniks as well.



ELIE WIESEL ADDRESS TO YOM HASHOAH RALLY AT DURBAN II, 2009                                                 

UNWatch, July 4, 2016


A story. Somewhere in Europe, during that time, one of the killers addressed his young victim, saying: “You want to live and perhaps you will live. But one day, you will regret it. You will speak, but your words will fall on deaf ears. Some will make fun of you. Others will try to redeem themselves through you. You will call it a scandal, cry for revolt, but people will refuse to believe or listen to you. You will curse me for having spared you. You will curse me because you will have knowledge of the truth. You already do. But it is the truth of a madman.”


This story illustrates the fear and anguish of a survivor. How does one bear witness? Where does one find the words to say what we nowadays call the “unspeakable”? Whom must one remember first? The children? The elderly? The sick? Mothers who watched their children die? Older people who moved toward the flames with prayers on their lips? Which of these? Is it necessary to delve deeper and even ask how it was possible?


After all, we are talking about an event of cosmic dimensions. Everything had been programmed since the beginning, the first laws, the decrees, the various measures taken. The psychologists had to invent the means to deceive the victims, the architects to construct the barracks and gas chambers, the intellectuals to justify what had been undertaken, meaning to annihilate a people, the only people from antiquity to have survived antiquity. Just how was it possible for all this to happen in a civilized world, in the heart of Christian Europe, to take families, communities, to condemn them to death and then invent a kind of science: how to annihilate them most quickly? How is it possible that in 1944 the Hungarian Jews, who could have been saved, were not saved?


It began in our town three days after Passover. First, a way to build the ghetto – but we did not know its consequences yet. Eichmann had already arrived in Budapest at the head of a small commando unit of 200 people, which included the cooks, drivers, and secretaries. With 200 people, and the help of the Hungarian army, he had succeeded in deporting 500,000 to 600,000 men, women and children. Thus by Shavuot, seven weeks later, six weeks later, we were already in Auschwitz. In our town there was a woman who worked in our home, an elder illiterate Christian, but she brought honor to Christianity. She came to the ghetto to bring us fruit and other food. On the eve of the evacuations, she had come to our home, I remember, and she begged and cried while telling my father to accompany her to the mountains, where she had a small house, and she was saying: “All of you come with me – I will take care of you!”


And my father said, quoting in front of us all, “Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur,” we must not be separated from the community, this is a Jewish principle. What happens to all will happen to us. So it happened, there were the train wagons, the clubs beating us. And the journey toward the unknown. You know by now how it was carried out. Upon arrival three days later, the train stops at a station. My father looks out a small opening and reads the station’s name: Auschwitz. And he did not know what it meant, nor did we.


But here in Geneva, it was already known. At the Vatican, it was already known. In Washington, it was already known. In London, it was already known. In Stockholm, it was already known. But we, the victims, we did not know. I tell you that had we known, most of my community would have survived, because the good Christian woman was not alone. There were other Christians in our town who would have accepted to house and thus save families. But we did not know.


Explain to me how this was possible? How is it that no one in the world had sent emissaries? The radio broadcasts, Roosevelt, de Gaulle in France, from London: no warning to us. It was two weeks – not even – ten days before the Normandy landing. Ten days! The war was finished. But we did not know. How is it that the Allies did not bomb the railroad tracks leading to Birkenau? I have known five United States presidents and I posed this question to each in the Oval Office: “Explain to me why the Allies did not bomb the railways – and I’m not talking about the camps, because some said that they did not want to kill the victims, the prisoners – but the railways? During that time, 10,000 people per day vanished in the ovens. Who can explain this to me? I just do not understand.”…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]    



FLEEING THE CZARS, DEFYING GRAVITY:                                                     

A FOURTH OF JULY IMMIGRANT TALE                                                                                         

Warren Kozak                                                                                                       

Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2016


On July 4, 1900, Samuel Hoffman and his father, Moshe, walked across the gangplank of a ferryboat that unceremoniously dumped them, along with a large group of fellow immigrants, at a dock on 14th Street in Manhattan. Independence Day for these newcomers meant liberation from czarist Russia. New Yorkers were used to seeing confused, freshly arrived immigrants walking through lower Manhattan, but these two stood out. It was a searing-hot summer day and both father and son wore winter overcoats and boots.


“Our clothing and awkward bundles on our backs, as we walked along 14th Street, drew everyone’s attention to us,” Samuel Hoffman wrote at age 83 in an account for his family. “I was 15 years old, bewildered and almost overcome by the alien and unfamiliar scenes that stretched and throbbed all around father and me.” Like most immigrants, they couldn’t speak the language. Coming from a small village in Russia, they had never seen anything even remotely like New York City. They could have arrived from another planet. All they had to guide them was a piece of paper with the address of a distant relative who lived on the Lower East Side.


After generations of extreme poverty and religious persecution, Moshe and his more savvy wife, Yetta, had decided to sell their house and borrow enough money to pay for two tickets to America. The plan was that father and son would then earn enough money in the New World to bring over the rest of the family. Constant hunger was a hallmark of Samuel’s childhood in Russia. His daily diet had consisted of one piece of black bread and a potato dipped in herring sauce for flavor. Occasionally there were onions and radishes and a glass of milk for the children. It had been that way for generations and there was little chance it would ever change.


Breaking with tradition, Yetta chose to send Samuel instead of her eldest son. Although Samuel looked even younger than 15, Yetta believed that he would fare better than his older brother. She knew her son. There was no government assistance for the giant wave of immigrants to America at the turn of the 20th century. Instead, like all the immigrants that had come before, they would fend for themselves. They also helped each other. The distant relative on the Lower East Side took in Samuel and Moshe, even though, with three children and two boarders in only three rooms, that was a challenge. Another distant cousin, with a larger home in Brooklyn, soon took them in until they could afford a room of their own.


After a series of jobs that brought in more money, and going to school at night to learn English, Samuel started his own business. He bought nine sewing machines on credit and hired employees. Many trades were closed to Jews, but the garment industry seemed to belong to them. After two difficult years, during which the 20-year-old businessman worked 20 hours a day and lost money, his business began to improve. He hired more employees, bought more sewing machines and moved to larger and larger spaces. A terrible experience with a sadistic foreman in one of his early jobs had taught him the importance of treating his workers with respect and paying them fairly.


By 1915, merely 15 years after Samuel had arrived, his  S.L. Hoffman manufacturing company occupied a seven-story, block-long building and was the largest producer of inexpensive women’s dresses in America, supplying Gimbels,  Macy’s,  Bloomingdale’s and Marshall Field’s. Samuel Hoffman would eventually serve on the boards of banks and educational institutions. At the end of his long life, Samuel believed that his real success lay not in business but in family. His only son, Burton, became an orthopedic surgeon. His grandsons: two doctors and two professors. This immigrant story might be like any of the millions of others in America—people arriving with nothing and succeeding beyond their dreams—except for one detail.


Samuel’s second-oldest grandson, Jeff Hoffman, to his mother’s distress, chose to study what sounded like a discipline with less-than-sturdy career prospects: astrophysics. But it worked out. Ninety-three years after his grandfather and great-grandfather had arrived in the New World wearing their winter clothes in midsummer, Jeff Hoffman donned another kind of unusual garb, left the space shuttle Endeavor, and floated 400 miles above the Earth in a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Jeff Hoffman’s grandfather, who died in 1976, didn’t live to see his astronaut grandson’s 1993 trip, but chances are that Samuel, amazed by his own flight from a two-room, dirt-floor hut in Russia, wouldn’t have been surprised. Anything seemed possible in America, even sailing across the stars.


CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Shabbat Shalom!




On Topic Links


"Jewish Thought of Emil Fackenheim Conference" (Toronto, 2015): Prof. Elie Wiesel (Video): CIJR, Nov. 3, 2015— Special Video Presentation by Nobel Laureate Professor Elie Wiesel on the occasion of the Conference "The Jewish Thought of Emil L. Fackenheim: Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, Israel", Chaired by Prof. Frederick Krantz (Toronto, Congregation Beth Tikva, November 3, 2015).    

"Jewish Thought of Emil Fackenheim Conference" (Toronto, 2015): Prof. Emil L. Fackenheim (Video): CIJR, Nov. 3, 2015— Special Video Presentation by Emil Fackenheim on the occasion of the Conference "The Jewish Thought of Emil L. Fackenheim: Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust, Israel", Chaired by Prof. Frederick Krantz (Toronto, Congregation Beth Tikva, November 3, 2015).    

After Fleeing the Nazis, a Legacy That Won’t Run Dry: Seth M. Siegel, Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2016—How does one overcome almost unimaginable horror and trauma? For Holocaust survivors Howard and Lottie Marcus, the healing came, in part, from the hope that they could help to provide refuge for other Jews who might find themselves at risk.

Inside the Nazi Camp on Long Island: Gil Troy, Daily Beast, July 2, 2016—For 14 million American kids and adults, summertime means camptime. Over these next two months, each of more than 14,000 day camps and sleepaway camps will initiate campers into their own particular, delightfully kooky, universes. The camps create 24/7 cocoons with their own lingo and songs, rituals, and codes, devoted to mastering computers or losing weight, to becoming better Zionists or learning golf, to recreating Native American traditions or designing software.






On Friday, October 21, US President Barack Obama announced that “the long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year,” marking the conclusion of a nearly 9-year war that cost the U.S more than 4,400 lives, more than 30,000 injured servicemen and servicewomen, and upwards of one trillion dollars.


As American troops in Iraq continue their phased withdrawal, many questions remain, primary of which is whether Iraq is in fact “safe, stable, and self-reliant,” as the White House claims, or whether a war-torn society, governed by a fractured and frail government, can resist and overcome the challenges that lie ahead. And lurking in the shadows is Shiite Iran. As described this past July by then-Joint Chiefs Chairman US Adm. Mike Mullen, “Iran is playing an out-sized role [in Iraq].”


The precipitate departure of US forces from Iraq stands to further empower Tehran’s mullahs, as another roadblock to their nuclear-weapon-fueled pursuit of nuclear weapons and Middle East hegemony will soon be removed.


Max Boot
National Post, November 7, 2011

Friday afternoon is a traditional time to bury bad news, so at 12:49 p.m. on Oct. 21, U.S. President Obama strode into the White House briefing room to “report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.…” He acted as though this represented a triumph, but it was really a defeat.… Why did we fail?

The popular explanation is that the Iraqis refused to provide legal immunity for U.S. troops if they are accused of breaking Iraq’s laws. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself said: “When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible.… Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started.”

But Mr. Maliki and other Iraqi political figures expressed exactly the same reservations about immunity in 2008 during the negotiation of the last Status of Forces Agreement. Indeed those concerns were more acute at the time because there were so many more U.S. personnel in Iraq—nearly 150,000, compared with fewer than 50,000 today. So why was it possible for the Bush administration to reach a deal with the Iraqis but not for the Obama administration?

Quite simply it was a matter of will: President Bush really wanted to get a deal done, whereas Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Bush spoke weekly with Mr. Maliki by video teleconference. Mr. Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations. Mr. Obama and his senior aides did not even bother to meet with Iraqi officials at the United Nations General Assembly in September. The administration didn’t even open talks on renewing the Status of Forces Agreement until this summer, a few months before U.S. troops would have to start shuttering their remaining bases to pull out by Dec. 31. The previous agreement, in 2008, took a year to negotiate.

The recent negotiations were jinxed from the start by the insistence of U.S. State Department and Pentagon lawyers that any immunity provisions be ratified by the Iraqi parliament—something that the U.S. hadn’t insisted on in 2008 and that would be almost impossible to get today. In many other countries, including throughout the Arab world, U.S. personnel operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that doesn’t require parliamentary ratification. Why not in Iraq? Mr. Obama could have chosen to override the lawyers’ excessive demands, but he didn’t.

He also undercut his own negotiating team by regularly bragging—in political speeches delivered while talks were ongoing—of his plans to “end the war in Iraq.” Even more damaging was his August decision to commit only 3,000 to 5,000 troops to a possible mission in Iraq post-2011. This was far below the number judged necessary by our military commanders. They had asked for nearly 20,000.…

When the White House then said it would consent to no more than 5,000 troops—a number that may not even have been able to adequately defend itself, much less carry out other missions—the Iraqis understandably figured that the U.S. wasn’t serious about a continued commitment. Iraqi political leaders may have been willing to risk a domestic backlash to support a substantial commitment of 10,000 or more troops. They were not willing to stick their necks out for such a puny force. Hence the breakdown of talks.

There is still a possibility for close U.S.-Iraqi military cooperation under the existing Strategic Framework Agreement. This could authorize joint exercises between the two countries and even the presence of a small U.S. Special Operations contingent in Iraq. But it is no substitute for the kind of robust U.S. military presence that would be needed to bolster Iraq’s nascent democracy and counter interference from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional players.…

Iraq will increasingly find itself on its own, even though its air forces still lack the capability to defend its own airspace and its ground forces cannot carry out large-scale combined arms operations. Multiple terrorist groups also remain active, and almost as many civilians died in Iraq last year as in Afghanistan.

So the end of the U.S. military mission in Iraq is a tragedy, not a triumph—and a self-inflicted one at that.

(Max Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.)

Charles Krauthammer

National Review, November 3, 2011

Barack Obama was a principled opponent of the Iraq War from its beginning. But when he became president in January 2009, he was handed a war that was won. The surge had succeeded. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had been routed, driven to humiliating defeat by an Anbar Awakening of Sunnis fighting side-by-side with the infidel Americans. Even more remarkably, the Shiite militias had been taken down, with American backing, by the forces of Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. They crushed the Sadr militias from Basra to Sadr City.

Al-Qaeda decimated. A Shiite prime minister taking a decisively nationalist line. Iraqi Sunnis ready to integrate into a new national government. U.S. casualties at their lowest ebb in the entire war. Elections approaching. Obama was left with but a single task: Negotiate a new status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) to reinforce these gains and create a strategic partnership with the Arab world’s only democracy.

He blew it. Negotiations, such as they were, finally collapsed last month. There is no agreement, no partnership. As of December 31, the American military presence in Iraq will be liquidated.

And it’s not as if that deadline snuck up on Obama. He had three years to prepare for it. Everyone involved, Iraqi and American, knew that the 2008 SOFA calling for full U.S. withdrawal was meant to be renegotiated. And all major parties but one (the Sadr faction) had an interest in some residual stabilizing U.S. force, like the postwar deployments in Japan, Germany, and Korea.

Three years, two abject failures. The first was the administration’s inability, at the height of American post-surge power, to broker a centrist nationalist coalition governed by the major blocs—one predominantly Shiite (Maliki’s), one predominantly Sunni (Ayad Allawi’s), one Kurdish—that among them won a large majority (69 percent) of seats in the 2010 election.

Vice President Joe Biden was given the job. He failed utterly. The government ended up effectively being run by a narrow sectarian coalition where the balance of power is held by the relatively small (12 percent) Iranian-client Sadr faction.

The second failure was the SOFA itself. The military recommended nearly 20,000 troops, considerably fewer than our 28,500 in Korea, 40,000 in Japan, and 54,000 in Germany. The president rejected those proposals, choosing instead a level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

A deployment so risibly small would have to expend all its energies simply protecting itself—the fate of our tragic, mission-less 1982 Lebanon deployment—with no real capability to train the Iraqis, build their U.S.-equipped air force, mediate ethnic disputes (as we have successfully done, for example, between local Arabs and Kurds), operate surveillance and special-ops bases, and establish the kind of close military-to-military relations that undergird our strongest alliances.

The Obama proposal was an unmistakable signal of unseriousness. It became clear that he simply wanted out, leaving any Iraqi foolish enough to maintain a pro-American orientation exposed to Iranian influence, now unopposed and potentially lethal. Message received. [Last month], Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurds—for two decades the staunchest of U.S. allies—visited Tehran to bend a knee to both Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It didn’t have to be this way. Our friends did not have to be left out in the cold to seek Iranian protection. Three years and a won war had given Obama the opportunity to establish a lasting strategic alliance with the Arab world’s second most important power.

He failed, though he hardly tried very hard. The excuse is Iraqi refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. forces. But the Bush administration encountered the same problem, and overcame it. Obama had little desire to. Indeed, he portrays the evacuation as a success, the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

But surely the obligation to defend the security and the interests of the nation supersede personal vindication. Obama opposed the war, but when he became commander-in-chief the terrible price had already been paid in blood and treasure. His obligation was to make something of that sacrifice, to secure the strategic gains that sacrifice had already achieved.

He did not, failing at precisely what this administration so flatters itself for doing so well: diplomacy. After years of allegedly clumsy brutish force, Obama was to usher in an era of not hard power, not soft power, but smart power.

Which turns out in Iraq to be…no power. Years from now we will be asking not “Who lost Iraq?”—that already is clear—but “Why?”

Harold Rhode

Jerusalem Post, November 9, 2011

Most Iraqi political leaders of all factions have privately said that they want US troops to stay. In Baghdad, you could hear them time and time and again imploring us to do so. Cultural pride, however, a major component of Middle Eastern culture, does not allow them to say so publicly, lest they appear weak in a rough neighborhood. They can, however, respond to a request that appears to be from others. We might, for example, say that we would like to stay in Iraq in order to help ensure security, and the Iraqis would then be appearing to be to “acceding to our request,” and their cultural pride would remain intact.…

Absent such a statement from Obama, the Iraqis had no choice other than to ask the Americans to leave.

What alarms the Iraqis is precisely that bad neighborhood, where almost all of their neighbors—Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and even Jordan—have been doing their utmost to make sure that the remarkable experiment of a democratic country…totally fails.

As long as some Americans remain in Iraq and are willing to do what is needed to do counter the negative involvement of Iraq’s neighbors, especially Iran, Iraq’s politicians believe they have the maneuverability to stand up and continue working towards a system of government that that includes every ethnic and religious group, and that at least quietly could stand up to its neighbors.

Anbar, for example—the Sunni-dominated area in western Iraq—was, until President George Bush’s surge in the mid-2000s, well on its way to becoming an al-Qaeda-dominated statelet. Before the surge, only three of the 21 major tribal groupings supported the US in some way. When President Bush sent in the Marines, who demonstrated that America was serious about eliminating the terrorists, however, within less than a year almost all of the Sunni tribes had switched from supporting the fundamentalists to supporting the Americans—all because America had demonstrated that it was the strongest power in the area. As the locals put it, the Marines were the strongest “tribe” in the area. Of course, as Osama bin Laden observed about people respecting the “Strong Horse,” everyone wanted to be allied with the winner.…

How come all the Iraqi leaders are now jumping on the bandwagon to demand that the Americans leave, even though the Iraqis are at the same time quaking in their boots at the prospect? Iraq’s leaders know that in reality, they are too weak stand up by themselves to the despotic rulers of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

They also know that President Obama repeatedly declared during his campaign and in the first year of his presidency that he wanted America out of Iraq. They must have correctly heard it as an announcement that America was not to be relied on. If the Americans say they are leaving, then the Iraqis have no choice other than to make deals with whoever they are stuck with.…

[This] is potentially a recipe for disaster in Iraq. If we do not wish the entire region to be overrun by Muslim extremists sitting on half the world’s oil and using it to fund the Islamic obligation of a worldwide Caliphate—as is being implanted now in Europe, Africa and North and South America—we will need to return to Iraq. At that time, though, it will be at even a greater cost of life and treasure—which probably means that we will not.

Instead, we shall probably continue accommodating the Islamists, as we have already been doing in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and South America.

Obama’s desire to bring American troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of making a commitment to leave a small force as his military emphatically recommended, may instead spell failure for our missions in both places. But evidently Obama’s political agenda matters more to him than the security of the West.

(Harold Rhode, a Ph.D. in Islamic History, worked on Iraq in the office of the Secretary of Defense. He is now a senior adviser to Hudson Institute, New York.)

Michael S. Schmidt & Eric Schmitt
NY Times, November 5, 2011

As the United States prepares to withdraw its troops from Iraq by year’s end, senior American and Iraqi officials are expressing growing concern that Al Qaeda’s offshoot here, which just a few years ago waged a debilitating insurgency that plunged the country into a civil war, is poised for a deadly resurgence.

Qaeda allies in North Africa, Somalia and Yemen are seeking to assert more influence after the death of Osama bin Laden and the diminished role of Al Qaeda’s remaining top leadership in Pakistan. For its part, Al Qaeda in Iraq is striving to rebound from major defeats inflicted by Iraqi tribal groups and American troops in 2007, as well as the deaths of its two leaders in 2010.

Although the organization is certainly weaker than it was at its peak five years ago and is unlikely to regain its prior strength, American and Iraqi analysts said the Qaeda franchise is shifting its tactics and strategies—like attacking Iraqi security forces in small squads—to exploit gaps left by the departing American troops and to try to reignite sectarian violence in the country.… “I cringe whenever anybody makes a pronouncement that Al Qaeda is on its last legs,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the American military’s top spokesman in Iraq.…

The Qaeda affiliate’s nascent resurgence has helped fuel a debate between some Pentagon officials on one side, who are seeking a way to permit small numbers of American military trainers and Special Operations forces to operate in Iraq, and some White House officials on the other, who are eager to close the final chapter on a divisive eight-year war that cost the lives of more than 4,400 troops.…

According to General Buchanan, there are 800 to 1,000 people in Al Qaeda’s Iraq network, “from terrorists involved in operations to media to finance to fighters.” A document released by the military in July 2010 said Al Qaeda had about 200 “hard core” fighters in Iraq. The weak Iraqi economy is providing a large pool of young and vulnerable recruits, analysts say.… Foreigners make up only a small percentage of the organization’s membership base.…

Although the United States is withdrawing all but a handful of its remaining 33,000 troops, leaving a few to guard the American Embassy, both governments are discussing a continuing military partnership. Among the main American goals is for the Iraqi government to approve a contingent of American Special Forces that would train and assist Iraqi security forces.… The White House [has] announced that President Obama will meet with [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki on Dec. 12 to discuss the continuing “strategic partnership” between the United States and Iraq.…

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Pajamas Media, November 2, 2011

As the U.S. troop presence in Iraq continues to diminish, it is worth examining what sort of political system has been left behind. Is Iraq really a democracy?… Sadly, the answer to this question cannot be in the affirmative.

It is of course true that in March 2010, Iraq conducted elections recognized as free and fair by the UN. However, as Osama al-Nujayfi, the Sunni speaker for the Iraqi parliament, astutely observed, democracy is more than just about holding elections. In many of the other essential aspects of a truly democratic society, Iraq’s status is far from satisfactory.

Absence of rule of law: Most Iraqi politicians still think they are above accountability to the law. Illustrating this tendency is the case of the arrest warrant that was issued against Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers form a key part of the ruling coalition, concerning his suspected role in the killing of moderate Shi’ite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf in April 2003.

The case has now been dropped entirely, with the Supreme Judicial Council claiming that it had no evidence against al-Sadr or any reason to interrogate him. Bizarrely, the council’s spokesman, Abdul Sattar Bayraktar, is denying that there was ever an arrest warrant issued by an Iraqi court, additionally affirming that “no lawsuits exist originally against the leader of the Sadrist movement in the Iraqi courts.” In fact, a senior Iraqi judge, Raed al-Juhi, issued an arrest warrant against al-Sadr in April 2004, and the al-Khoei family filed a lawsuit against al-Sadr at the Court of Najaf in 2003.…

Persecution of political opponents: Following Obama’s announcement that all U.S. troops would be home for the Christmas holidays, reports emerged of a large number of arrests of “Baathists,” with generic accusations of plotting to destabilize and overthrow the political system.… However, being a former member of the Baath party is not the same thing as a being a terrorist, and as Article 135 of the Iraqi constitution stipulates, simply having been a member of the Baath party is “not a sufficient basis for transfer to the court.…”

It follows that the current wave of arrests is likely to be yet another attempt by the Shi’ite parties to crack down on political opponents with vague allegations of Baathism, a key part of their electoral campaign in 2010.

Squabbling among the politicians: More than 19 months after the elections in March 2010, a government has still not been fully formed, owing to the preoccupation of the country’s politicians with their own rewards of power. This is not merely a problem of sectarianism, but also a case of personal power struggles, particularly evident in the manner in which the premier, Nouri al-Maliki, has tried to win as much control of the government as possible for his State of Law bloc.

Indeed, in violation of the compromise agreement forged by Massoud Barzani in December 2010 that allowed al-Maliki to have a second term as prime minister, the premier is still attempting to take control of the Defense and Security ministries that should have been awarded to Ayad Allawi’s al-Iraqiya bloc, which won the largest single number of seats in the elections (91 seats as opposed to 89 for State of Law).…

The only conclusion to be drawn from the above observations is to agree with Freedom House’s comment that Iraq is still “not an electoral democracy” and the think-tank’s classification of the country as “Not Free.”