Bush Duh had his share of dumb ideas. To begin our analysis, it’s useful to be reminded why invading Iraq in 2003 was especially idiotic. Iraq contained no WMD and no terrorist organizations. Hussein was a brutal dictator, but he’d been contained for more than a decade, since the end of the Gulf War. He was furthermore a secular leader, whose regime would not have tolerated the rise of Islamists – while the US was containing Hussein, Hussein was doing the US a favor by containing radical Islam.
The notion that the US could invade Iraq, overthrow its government, and then oversee the installation of a liberal democracy, was unqualifiedly dumb, and not just in hindsight. The strong likelihood that Iraq – or any nation so constituted – would readily devolve into a melee of competing factions, was among the primary objections to the fiasco that became the Iraq War. Far from advancing the so-called “War on Terror,” the removal of the Hussein regime has been a boon to terrorists, who for more than a decade have been using Iraq as a recruiting tool and a training ground.
Unless you’re a foreign policy wonk, you’ll be surprised to hear that ten years ago, Joe Biden, among others, called for the breakup of Iraq into three entities – a Kurdish north, a Sunni central, and a Shia southeast – either bound together in loose confederation, or fully independent. That breakup has in fact come to pass despite US efforts – and anyone with an open mind who looks closely at the facts on the ground would see that Iraq quite naturally fractures this way. Since its 1932 genesis, the country was only ever held together by brutal strongmen, among whom Saddam Hussein was quite typical. Many analysts were skeptical that the country would hold together in the absence of such a tyrant. We should now consider the concept of a unified, democratic Iraq as having been tried and failed.
For the cause of liberalism and democracy, the US should turn the page and salvage what it can by recognizing Iraqi Kurdistan as a sovereign country, and aiding them in their fight against the Islamist insurgent group IS. The ongoing air attacks are a good first step. But the US and its allies should be willing to commit infantry to help defend an allied liberal democracy on the border of fellow NATO member Turkey.* One can hardly imagine a more appropriate application of US military force, than coming to the aid of an allied liberal state under siege by theocratic fanatics.
For all the bad that’s resulted from the Iraq War, at least one good thing has come out of it: Iraqi Kurdistan is a living, breathing democracy, liberal by the standards of the region, complete with elections, respect for minorities, and an effective military that is today fighting for that nation’s survival. The US should be willing to commit all resources necessary – including US troops – to make sure that the Republic of Kurdistan survives the assault of radical Islam.
How the US should proceed with the nominal “Iraqi Government” based in Baghdad is much less clear, and will be taken up by the Field Guide on Friday, when our analysis continues.
* Turkey is the main reason why the US has not thus far advocated for a fully independent Kurdistan. Turkey has a large and occasionally restive Kurdish population, and has long feared that the establishment of a Kurdistan on their border would stir nationalist sentiments among the Kurds concentrated in eastern and southern Turkey. However Turkey has over the past few years become economically invested in its southern neighbor, and has recently signaled its willingness to accept Kurdistan, particularly as an alternative to a fanatical Sunnistan. Turkey has itself been explicitly targeted by ISIS, whose advance could destabilize the nation of 75 million – more than 95% of whom are Sunni – with the world’s 17th largest economy. Turkey’s hold on secularism has always been tenuous, and is under particular stress today, as Islamist sentiments are gaining ground in Turkish politics.