In March 2003, then-President George W. Bush let a multinational land invasion of Iraq. At the time, ethnically diverse Iraq — one of the sundry Middle East states haphazardly crafted by clueless Europeans in the World War I-era Sykes-Picot Agreement — was run by thuggish Ba’athist strongman Saddam Hussein. Within weeks, Baghdad was held by U.S.-aligned forces. Less than a year later, Hussein was captured.
But that was deemed woefully insufficient by Bush-era foreign policy hands. Operating under the intellectually hubristic and universal values-ridden guise of a White House “Freedom Agenda,” Bush-era foreign policy was not content to engage in Israel Defense Forces-style one-off “strike and maneuver” tactical hits against threatening jihadist outfits. Rather, the Bush administration, in tandem with its concurrent nation-building project in the third-world sharia backwater hellhole of Afghanistan, sought a more enduring physical presence in order to help birth a Madisonian republic in the war-torn, ethnically fractious Iraqi desert.
The rest — with the exception of an Obama-era full troop withdrawal between the end of 2011 and our troops’ return in 2014 to fight the ascendant Islamic State Sunni death cult — is, as they say, history. In the year 2020, the U.S. retains a substantial physical military presence in Iraq.
Following the just and proper strike last week of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force terrorist mastermind Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, it is now time for our U.S. troops in Iraq to come home.
There is simply no longer any compelling strategic reason for the U.S. to retain a troop presence in Iraq, which is increasingly dominated by pro-Iran Shi’ite militias whose fealty is to no one other than the Quds Force and its mullah overlords. The day has long passed where true American influence in Iraq has been anything other than symbolic; the nation is, at this point, hardly distinguishable from its “Shi’ite Crescent” fellow nations of Syria and Lebanon in its status as an Iranian satrapy. It was only a matter of days ago when Iraqi security officials seemed, at best, ambivalent about Soleimani loyalist Shi’ite radicals storming the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
The true threat in the region to the United States, as it has been ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, is the inherently jihadist regime in Tehran. Non-state Sunni jihadist actors, no matter the alphabet soup under which they organize, utterly pale in comparison. The threat of Sunni Islamist infiltration can largely be stanched by severely limiting entry visas from problematic Islamic nations, massively ramping up immigration interior enforcement, and engaging in occasional ad hoc drone strikes based from the U.S.’s already-manifold bases across the region. The strike that killed Soleimani, after all, was launched from Al Udeid Air Base in (deeply problematic “ally”) Qatar.
The issue with leaving large-scale numbers of U.S. military assets, from a hardened realist perspective, is that it is actually counterproductive to our over-arching goal of deterring the Iranian menace. As Daniel Horowitz quite presciently warned even before last night’s missile launches from Iran into Iraq, “[c]ontinuing to leave so many assets in Iraq itself will just make us vulnerable to Iran’s attacks and counterattacks in the future.” And a higher-level goal such as deterring Iran necessarily takes hierarchical primacy over a tactic such as deploying troops to Iraq. As famed Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz once said: First decide on one’s policy, then one’s strategy, and only then one’s tactics.
In taking out Soleimani, the Ayatollah Khameini’s most trusted servant, the Trump administration clearly communicated to the Tehran mullocracy that America will always zealously guard and defend our national interests, as we carefully demarcate and define them. We no longer need to be involved in the dreadful and feckless task of nation-building. As Lee Smith compellingly writes today at the New York Post, “Trump carved out his own exit strategy” via the Soleimani strike.
Let’s bring our troops in Iraq home. It will only help, not hinder, our continued efforts to defiantly stand athwart Iran’s aspirational regional hegemony.