Annals of Neoconservative Delusion: Leaving Iraq Edition - Spectator Blogs

14 November 2012

2:33 PM

14 November 2012

2:33 PM

Douglas Murray’s latest post is a rum ‘un indeed. He asks us to believe that Barack Obama’s “foreign policy boasts” are unraveling now that the American election is usefully out the way. I must say that the evidence for this is thin, not least since it seems to rely upon 1. A reported Iranian attack on a US drone, 2. General Petraeus having an affair, 3. The existence of long-planned Congressional hearings on the Benghazi nonsense and 4. The Iraqi government’s decision to release from gaol a suspected Hezbollah operative responsible for an ambush in which five American troops were killed.

If this amounts to “unraveling” then I guess the President can live with it. According to Brother Murray, however:

In 2007 the Lebanese terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq organised an ambush in Karbala in which five US soldiers were killed. Captured by UK forces he was handed over to American personnel. President Obama refused to allow Daqduq to be deported to face trial in Guantanamo and, of course, wanted American troops out of Iraq in time for the recent US election. Daqduq was handed over to the Iraqis. The Iraqi courts have since failed to convict this high-ranking Hezbollah terrorist, who has the blood of American soldiers on his hands, and have ordered him to be released.

On the campaign trail Obama was boastful about having withdrawn American forces from Iraq. Perhaps if the case of Daqduq had been discussed in the New York Times and elsewhere before, rather than after, the election, the American people might have had more opportunity to reflect on what the point was of boasting of withdrawal when it does not come with victory?

To which the obvious response might be: What is the point of boasting about being tough enough to stay in Iraq when staying does not come with victory either?

Moreover, I’m pretty sure that even if the New York Times and other peacenik papers had spent more time discussing the case of Daqduq before the election this would not have made any appreciable difference to either the campaign or the result.


The American people wearied of their Mesopotamian entanglement long ago. Obama was elected, at least in part, because he pledged to wind down America’s involvement in Iraq. True, campaign promises are conditional beasts but this was one from which it would have been awkward to walk away. And that’s because the voters, damn their eyes, wanted the United States to leave Iraq.

The alternative – implied by Douglas – is for some kind of permanent American rule in Iraq and to hell with the American people and their preferences. Again, I’m not sure how realistic that proposal really is.

Which means that, at some point, the Iraqi government is going to have to make its own decisions. Many of those choices are likely to disappoint pundits who supported the war. So be it. How can it be otherwise? The alternative is some form of impossible permanent occupation that is both militarily unwise and politically impossible.

What is victory anyway? We know that, in many ways, it has not been achieved in Iraq. But if the Americans could not win in nine years of fighting and occupation then why should anyone presume they might suddenly prevail after ten or eleven years?

In the end, Douglas’s argument falls back on the neoconservative belief that the United States can achieve anything if only it decides to want it badly enough. This is a lovely thought undermined by only one, small, detail: it isn’t true. You can believe in Mechanised Ponies of Heroic Willpower all you want but they still aren’t enough.

As for foreign policy and the election: well, just five percent of voters thought it the most important issue influencing their vote and Obama won those votes 56-33. Staying in Iraq would have done Obama much more damage than leaving. You may think that regrettable and that’s fine. It don’t change either the military or the political facts.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Good thought.

  • Bookworm

    With hindsite, President Bush’s intervention in Iraq does not look so disasterous – and if Obama is simply, (if ably), carrying out the programme left by Bush, then George Junior deserves some of the credit. The left tell us that Iraq was another Vietnam – it was never that. The Americans lost about 4,000 soldiers in Iraq, they lost 50,000 in Vietnam. Iraq was a very violent country with terrorist bombing campaigns against the Hussain goverment, well before 2003, which went entirely unreported in the west generally, and the left wing media in particular. Have there really been more people killed in Iraq( the figures quoted by the left reached hundreds of thousands!), than say in Iran, where the left wing media fear to tread? Or Syria, where the BBC choose to cover Israeli ‘atrocities’ in Gaza, rather than really tackle a news story where they might have to put up with some risk? The success of Bush’s intervention, or Obama’s withdrawal ought to be judged in the future, say about 20 years, maybe longer. The jury is still out on whether the collapse of Communism has resulted in democracy in Eastern Europe. Poland and the Czech republic seem to be genuinely democratic, Belorussia, seems to be a one party state, and most of the others somewhere inbetween. Russia looks to be almost as far away from democracy as it was under the Romanovs. Give Iraq the same breathing space.

  • BillRees

    “3. The existence of long-planned Congressional hearings on the Benghazi nonsense.”
    “Nonsense”, what do you mean by this? It’s a very strange way to describe the tragedy that involved the killing of the American ambassador and three others.
    There are many questions to be asked about this, and I hope that there will be a hearing that finally presents us with the truth about what happened.
    But nonsense it isn’t!

  • vix

    Have I misunderstood so badly?
    I thought that ‘victory’ would be the discovery and neutralisation of weapons of mass destruction?
    Ah well. Back to articles about MPs and Lords expenses, BBC slander and gay marriage.
    So uplifting. So honoured to be British in a special relationship.

  • Baron

    The messiah will have to live with other ‘unravling’, too, Alex, just give the guy space for the big unraveling of all, the displacement of the land of the free from the top rostrum in the world’s power ranking. With luck, he may preside over it.

  • JEB

    President Bush made the decision to withdraw all US military forces from Iraq. The US-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement of 2008 required US troops to leave Iraqi cities in 2009 and the rest of the country by 2011. Obama became President in 2009; since then, he’s simply (and ably) acted in accordance with the 2008 agreement.

    • Skipjack

      I’d also like to add that Bush signed this agreement after Obama was President-elect. This in effect tied Obama’s hands into a longer term draw-down than Obama had campaigned on. Bush I think wanted to give his strategy more time to work and basically Obama decided there were other fights worth having. It was particularly shabby of Bush, though he clearly believed in the mission of the US in Iraq.

    • Beefeater

      SOFA was a failure of negotiation by America (Biden, at the final moments) to leave, protected by American law, an American troop presence in Iraq. That was the final defeat.

      While it is true that America cannot afford to build, police, occupy and administer another nation, having succeeded in changing regime (but hardly to a neocon specifications) in Iraq, it was in America’s interest to leave an armed presence there. Outright victory is not something achievable by modern war – and hasn’t been achieved since the WW2. Limited missions – like regime change, whack-a-mole – can be accomplished. By the complete withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan we hand a “victory” to an implacable ideological foe. America’s foreign policy which has been based on its ability to project power, has unravelled.

      What is Obama proposing to substitute for projection of power in foreign policy? A projection of humility? Simply not recognizing hostility directed at America? An open question, I would really like to know.

      • xDemosthenesx

        Your problem lies in your assumption that the projection of foreign power is done solely with a ‘big stick’.

        This has been proven to be untrue in modern circumstances as you yourself have outlined.

        The new direction is based on the idea of the terribly named ‘soft power’ philosophy – in that American objectives can be attained cheaper and easier through cultural, ideological, technological and economic means.

        Before all the gung-ho brigade trash the idea it does hold some merit. I’ve lived in ‘third world’ countries all my life, most of them see-sawing between being friendly to the west. However, if one observes the growth of people watching Friends, drinking Starbucks and listening to Coldplay, it actually has a direct Correlation to pro-democracy protests and demands for freedom of the press.

        Seeing as the aggressive gun boat diplomacy of the last thirty years has proven such an expensive failure, I don’t see what the problem is of attempting a less toxic approach.

        They still retain the capability of destroying any military on the planet – and would still do so if they cut their armed forces by half.