The strategy we should have had for Iraq was to slowly transition from military presence by building Iraqi capacity to maintain security and grow political institutions that would frame and ensure representative governance in Iraq. President Obama’s rush to the exits precludes that outcome. The arbitrary timelines for withdrawal coupled with desultory political engagement produced a predictable Iraqi political crisis. Politics at their highest level have seized up and are fracturing along sectarian lines, an occurrence precipitated and taken advantage of by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
This is not what Iraqis wanted, not what they voted for. The political culture of Iraq was trending toward trust beyond sectarian lines, political leaders seeing electoral benefit in reaching across religious communities and emphasizing the achievements of governing.
For the Obama administration, the exit is the strategy for Iraq. What can be done within the political, economic, diplomatic and military parameters set by the administration’s disinterest? First, we must stop turning a blind eye to Prime Minister Maliki’s creeping authoritarianism. Maliki returned from his White House meeting declaring the end of the war and issued an arrest warrant for his vice president. The White House was silent, as it has been on Maliki’s earlier unconstitutional arrogation of power and political machinations, such as arresting hundreds of Sunnis and striking candidates from electoral lists. While it is probably too much to expect the Obama administration to vigorously contest what is occurring in Iraq’s internal politics, we ought at least to bear witness. We have no less responsibility in Iraq -- more, in fact -- than in other countries where leaders abuse power to the detriment of their population.