It’s been a three year hiatus since the United States officially ended Operation Iraqi Freedom, better known as The Iraq War, removing combat troops from a country we occupied for nearly a decade. Images from the war are relatively vivid in the collective national consciousness, such as the “Mission Accomplished” banner on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and the visage of the captured and defeated Saddam Hussein. As powerful and poignant as these early-war images declaring victory in relatively short-order were, the end of the US military presence in Iraq itself was not a particularly swift or decisive event.
At the outset of the war in 2003, many doubted the validity of invading Iraq because they believed Saddam Hussein posed no apparent or imminent threat to the United States, and that we would possibly be entrenching ourselves against a rising insurgency and an Iraqi civil war. It took years of national debate, the loss of thousands of American lives, and painful realizations about the reality of the Iraq situation before President Barack Obama in 2009 began to pull back troops from an embattled Iraq. When the last of the US troops withdrew in December of 2011, the hope was that the Iraqi government would have the capacity to be responsible for its own self-sufficiency.
And now, we are back.
The rise of the Islamic fundamentalist group ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has prompted the United States to re-evaluate its position on Iraq intervention. ISIS, on a broader scale, is also known as ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – the larger region comprised of Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and Hatay. Rapid gains by the group in amassing territory and followers, a well funded and organized political and propaganda machine, and a well supplied military armament has prompted Obama to recommit US military force in the region. The rationale can be summed up simply as, “New Enemy, Old Threat.”
The events of 9/11 gave rise to sweeping changes in domestic and foreign policy revolving around national security, particularly the rise of the “Bush Doctrine”, which aggressively advanced national security via manifest destiny. The policy dictated that the United States will defend itself and its interests abroad against any country known to be harboring terrorists, or which poses an imminent threat. This includes the use of military incursions into those countries thought to be hostile. The policy was used to justify the Iraq War in 2003, under the justification that the country harbored weapons of mass destruction.
In 2014, Obama seems to have breathed new life into the Bush Doctrine, using it to justify a renewed military incursion back in Iraq and into the Levant. In a September 10, 2014 speech, Obama declared, “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are…I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
If ISIS truly presented a credible threat against the United States, recommitment of military force would be “justified” under the Bush Doctrine. However, in a Sept. 20, 2014 address to the nation, Obama confirmed, and military officials have independently verified, that ISIS is not an imminent threat to the United States. Despite this evidence pointing against the use of military force where unnecessary, this new incursion proposes airstrikes to ISIS targets, and military aid and strategic support to Iraqi and Syrian allies in order to stem the steady progress of the Islamic group throughout the Middle East.
Obama did, however, reaffirm his intent not to commit American ground forces in Iraq and Syria. He is quoted as saying “I won’t commit our troops to fighting another ground war in Iraq, or in Syria,” but instead will “help partners on the ground secure their own country’s futures.” While assisting countries in need against external aggressors is a laudable goal, in reality ISIS was born in the Levant and is comprised of natives of the area, thereby defining the conflict as a regional civil war, and the use of US military force against an enemy on foreign soil, in whatever capacity, is war.
The Iraq War was prompted by the threat of nuclear arms from Iraq. No such threat to the US exists from ISIS, nor any communicable threat at the current time, so there is a peculiarly tenuous connection between national security and the recommitment of force in Iraq. While Obama has stated he is not currently committing ground troops to Iraq, he has also not ruled it out. Instead he will evaluate how the situation evolves and come to a determination as new information becomes available.
As President Obama recommits forces to the country he advocated we withdraw from in years prior, it becomes apparent that the United States stands poised to intimately embroil ourselves in the future of the Middle East yet again. If we are to do so, and double down as a major stakeholder in the events and regimes to follow, we must establish a timetable and benchmarks which clearly define victory and loss.
About the Author
Eric C. Henry Jr. is a 2005 graduate of Binghamton University, where he double majored in Africana Studies and Philosophy, Politics and Law. Currently, he works for the New York City Council. He is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and serves as Chair of the Community Service Committee of the New York Urban League Young Professionals.