Editorial: Iraq status quo is now safest path

Published 9:45 am Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Middle East has become more important to the U.S. not because of oil, but because of international stability and the defeat of terrorism.

The subject of the Islamic State has become a big topic in the presidential race. It’s easy to blame the current administration for the chaos of the Middle East that plays itself out everyday on our television sets, front pages and websites.

But international relations are not easily explained in sound bites, so it’s important for voters to understand a few facts about just why we might be in the extremely volatile situation existing from Libya, to Syria to Iraq and even Yemen.

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The U.S. pullout from Iraq as President Barack Obama took office in 2008 is often cited as the reason ISIS came to be. And that may be partially true. But that negotiation with Iraq for withdrawal of U.S. troops was completed by the George W. Bush administration, and the Bush administration is not entirely to blame.

The American people clearly wanted our troops withdrawn from Iraq after five years of war that seemed to be going bad after a good start. At the same time, tens of thousands of American troops were also committed to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. Keeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was clearly something Americans were not stomaching.

While we began to pull troops out, there was some momentum for leaving enough troops there, again tens of thousands, to help maintain order and the peace. But the Iraqi people were also growing impatient with the U.S. presence, and they too put pressure on their leaders for a withdrawal.

In the end, the Iraqis were willing to let us keep more troops in Iraq if we agreed American soldiers could be prosecuted for crimes under a new and very unstable Iraqi regime. We couldn’t agree to that. And rightly so. So the pullout began.

At some point, the American people had the attitude that we helped Iraq overthrow a brutal dictator, now it was their turn to build a democracy and defend themselves.

That was easier said than done. Hence the situation we now have.

The current U.S. strategy seems reasonable. We’re offering advisors, special operations troops, technology in weaponry and air support. And we’re making progress. The Iraqi Army is standing up, and even the Sunnis and Shiites appear to be working together a little bit more to defend their countrymen.

With any luck, the Iraqis and their partners will take back the major city of Mosul from ISIS within the coming weeks, thereby greatly reducing the ISIS influence.

Yes, the Bush and Obama administrations could have done things better. But veering significantly from the current path now would carry more risk than we now face.

— Mankato Free Press, Oct. 22