Divided between neoconservative ultra-hawks and libertarian isolationists, today's Republican Party is hardly a steady influence on American foreign policy. But there is one thing that can be reliably expected from every right-wing faction in Washington: Whenever disaster threatens, they eagerly cast blame on President Barack Obama — and utter any falsehood that may be used to castigate him.
As the failed state of Iraq strains under attack from a jihadist force — the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — all the usual suspects are popping up on the Senate floor to denounce the president. Ignoring more than a decade of miserable history in which most of them played ignominious parts, these politicians now claim that if only the president had listened to them, the current disaster would have been averted somehow.
"Lindsey Graham and John McCain were right," said the Arizona senator, praising himself and his South Carolina sidekick. "Our failure to leave forces on Iraq is why Sen. Graham and I predicted this would happen."
Nobody with a functioning memory can take such arguments seriously.
By the time our troops left Iraq at the end of 2011, the war had inflicted such immense damage on our military and our communities that Americans were in no mood for further misadventures. Not since Vietnam had a ruinous policy come so close to breaking America's armed forces. The fiscal damage was equally serious — trillions of dollars in current and future costs, mostly borrowed from China. The American people wanted out.
Even if we had wanted to stay, the Iraqis no longer desired our presence — as they had made absolutely clear in their electoral choices and their subsequent negotiations with both the Bush and Obama administrations over keeping U.S. troops in Iraq. It was President George W. Bush who signed the status-of-forces agreement in December 2008 that set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2012, for the departure of all U.S. forces — unless the Iraqis negotiated and ratified a new deal to maintain our troops there.
No such deal was ever made, however, because the Iraqi people wanted our troops out, even the tiny force of roughly 3,000 advisers Obama hoped to provide. The president was left with no choice, because the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to grant legal immunity from prosecution to any U.S. troops. Imagine what McCain and Graham would have said had Obama decided to leave American officers and troops vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment by local Iraqi warlords — especially when such an incident inevitably would have occurred.
So when Republican senators leap up and start barking about Obama's refusal to leave troops on the ground, they either don't remember what actually happened or — sadly but more likely — hope to deceive this country's amnesia-addled voters.
Neither McCain nor any of the other trash-talking statesmen on the Republican side have much useful advice to offer the president. They say we shouldn't have pulled our troops out, but they sure don't want to send them back in. Drop some bombs on the jihadist camps, they suggest — knowing very well that won't do much to clean up this horrific mess.
Still they insist on talking about Iraq, loudly and constantly, as if someone else created the mess and they have the answers. They need to be reminded just as loudly that it is their mess, and they still have no idea what to do.
Americans should try to remember how this happened — even if the disgraced figures who promoted the invasion of Iraq will never accept responsibility for squandering trillions of American dollars, thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives for what could most charitably be called a massive, irreparable blunder. Never mind the nonsense about the weapons of mass destruction — which nobody has yet found there, by the way. Absolutely none of the predictions about Iraq by the neocons in and around the Bush administration proved accurate. None of their strategies provided real development or security. And all of their grand schemes for regional stability and democracy simply crumbled.
Instead of serving as a sturdy bulwark against extremism, the Shia-dominated government of Iraq immediately allied itself with the neighboring mullah regime in Iran. The curse of sectarian warfare, famously dismissed by William Kristol as a chimera, has exploded into a continuous catastrophic reality that threatens regional security and may create a fresh haven for terrorism.
It is hard not to wonder why anyone still listens to McCain, Kristol and company — especially on this grave issue. But if they insist on serving up blame, let them step up first to accept their overwhelming share.