Clearly, Dick Cheney has secured his legacy as the vice president who misled our country into war in Iraq under false pretenses, then imposed a number of governing policies there that utterly failed.
It is true that President Obama has made some mistakes. He did not pay enough attention to the sectarian abuses and divisive policies of Prime Minister Maliki, who may lose his power because he wasn't willing to share any of it. Maliki's intransigence prevented an agreement with the White House for a continuing American military presence in Iraq after December 2011, so now President Obama has no strong hand to play to impose more inclusive leadership in Baghdad.
But President Obama must not send American troops back to Iraq at this point, or re-engage militarily in the current sectarian and civil strife. That would make no sense. We cannot resolve Iraq's problems for them. We cannot make the Shiites like the Sunnis, or the Sunnis like the Shiites, or either of them like the Kurds. America has no acceptable or sensible military solution today to the problems in Iraq, and we must face that reality.
There is always a critical role to be played on the world stage by robust American diplomacy, and that is still true in Iraq. But those needed efforts to bring a more inclusive government to Baghdad will have to be made behind the scenes, because our active presence there now, particularly in any military capacity, would do far more harm than good. Thanks in part to Dick Cheney and his failed policies, many Iraqis and most Sunnis don't want America to meddle in their country anymore. The trick for our diplomacy will be to get those Iraqis to turn their backs on the insurgents and jihadists.
There is no question that the violent methods of ISIS in eastern Syria and western Iraq are a real threat to regional stability. The Muslim majorities in Syria and Iraq must be alarmed by the declaration of a conservative religious caliphate by ISIS in their midst. Such a caliphate claims the allegiance of all Muslims, yet the existing governments will surely not accept the extremism and brutality of this caliphate.
America should realize that the repressive leader Bashar al-Assad is going to retain his power in Syria for the time being, and that the conservative clerics of Iran are going to maintain their hold over Maliki in Iraq, and quite likely over any successor as well. Neither Assad, Maliki nor the mullahs of Iran are going to tolerate the caliphate created by ISIS in that part of the world.
The lesson of the 2003-2011 Iraq War for the United States is that never again should Congress authorize preemptive war without prior public disclosure of the key intelligence findings on which the President is relying to make the case for war. Had the intelligence been disclosed in 2002, I believe Congress would not have authorized the Iraq War.
The lesson for President Barack Obama in 2014 is that he must not order a major intervention in Iraq or against ISIS without prior public disclosure of the intelligence that would justify such a reengagement, and he must secure congressional authorization for such military action.
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