Americans elected President Barack Obama in 2008 partly because he consistently opposed the war in Iraq, voting not to authorize it when he was a senator. One of his key campaign promises was to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now Iraq is in danger of becoming a failed state and a haven for Islamist extremists.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice famously warned in the buildup to the second Iraq war, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” There were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, but the insurgents threatening Bagdad may pose a danger to the United States.
An al-Qaeda splinter group surprised Western intelligence organizations last week and took control of major Iraqi cities. “Given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well,” said the president, speaking at the White House.
Obama’s frequent critic, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.), said Sunday, “The next 9/11 is coming from here,” on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Graham is on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Negotiations to keep a small U.S. force in Iraq fell apart early in President Obama’s first term. Now the president is urging Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to seek a diplomatic resolution before America agrees to support his government with air strikes or arms.
The insurgents are Sunni Muslims, and the Iraq government is dominated by Shiite Muslims. Overthrown ruler Saddam Hussein was a Sunni. Conflict between the two groups far predates American involvement.
Obama said Friday that anything America might do to help Iraqi security forces must come with “a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences, to promote stability, and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq’s communities, and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force.”
Partnership With Iran
Graham said America should protect Iraq by forming a partnership with Iran, long estranged from the United States. Last year Graham called for air strikes against Iran.
Graham said Sunday it would be like the United States working with Josef Stalin in World War II against Adolf Hitler. He said the United States has to do what it can to keep Baghdad from falling to insurgents.
Iran, a majority Shiite country, said it has no interest in a destabilized Iraq as its neighbor.
Graham and Sen. John McCain issued a joint statement Friday in which they faulted the president for taking U.S. troops out of Iraq: “When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America’s enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever.”
Many American veterans are grieved to see the Iraq territories they won at such a high cost fall to Islamist insurgents. The cost was terrible. According to the Costs of War project from Brown University, 4,488 U.S. service members were killed in Iraq.
“At least 3,400 U.S. contractors have died as well, a number often under-reported.” Civilian casualties were far greater. “More than 70 percent of those who died of direct war violence in Iraq have been civilians—an estimated 134,000,” according to the project.
“What’s sadder still, the thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain,” stated McCain and Graham.
The Brown University Project found that the war caused an increase in terrorism and also led to the export of tactics and fighters to Syria and neighboring countries, making the region as a whole more unstable.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.