By Bonnie Kristian
It has become something of a ritual at this point: The Obama Administration announces more American troops are going to Iraq. We quibble over whether or not they’ll be in combat, and no candid answer is forthcoming. Orwellian word games ensue, and then the public forgets all about it as a dozens or hundreds more U.S. soldiers are shipped off to join an unknown number of forces fighting an undeclared war with an undetermined goal and no end in sight.
The latest iteration of this dangerous cycle came this month, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced 615 more U.S. troops are headed to join the fight to retake Mosul, the last major city in Iraq controlled by the Islamic State. Predictably, Carter’s comments included a dose of the usual obfuscation that allows President Obama to continue pretending he ended the war in Iraq. American forces aren’t in “combat,” Carter said, but rather “in harm’s way” and experiencing “a lot of violence” while “combatting” ISIS.
And we always will be, absent significant reform of American foreign policy. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) remarked following Carter’s announcement, this new deployment is “the incrementalism we used to call mission creep, showing that they really have no strategy.”
These additional troops have not been sent to defend any vital U.S. security interest, but rather to be bogged down in an aimless morass of unnecessary interventionism.
The recklessness inherent in our Iraq policy is amply displayed in Mosul itself, the subject of a recent investigation by Ret. U.S. Army Colonel Daniel L. Davis in Politico. As Davis persuasively argues, “Current U.S. strategy has clearly failed to produce stability in Iraq,” and maintaining the “status quo of U.S. policy is at serious risk of contributing to the fracturing of Iraq into a new and even more violent civil war.”
That hazard is evident on the ground in Mosul, where Davis reports discord between tenuously allied factions of Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias could all too easily devolve into mutual destruction instead of a united front with U.S. troops against ISIS. And even if the city is successfully reclaimed, he adds, lasting Iraqi stability “is contingent on progress among the political and ethnic entities within its borders that we haven’t seen yet”—and that the last decade has made clear is beyond the United States’ ability to foster.
Rather than more incrementalist intervention—a few hundred troops here, a few hundred there, and muddled pronouncements from Washington—we are overdue for a fundamental foreign policy rethink to develop a realistic grand strategy prioritizing restraint and diplomacy. There is no realism in sending 615 more troops to Iraq, and any apparent restraint is better termed the lack of strategy we would do well to expect in an endless war waged outside the rule of law and without regard for its grueling cost in blood and treasure.
After 13 years, we’ve run the gamut of interventionism in Iraq. We’ve surged and we’ve trickled. We’ve nation-built and we’ve evacuated. We’ve tried force and bribes, guns and butter. None of it has worked. Iraq today is more violent and less stable than it was when this misadventure began. Now, as Davis contends, “Unless we desire to see the war continue without end, a change in policy is required.” Now, perhaps, we can try the prudence it takes to provide humanitarian and diplomatic support to foster political reconciliation from within in Iraq, while we defend our own national interests and avoid policing the world.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, Politico, Relevant Magazine and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on October 13, 2016. Read more HERE.