“We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice.”George W. Bush
“We have no ambition in Iraq except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people. “
These were the words of a national leader, the President of the United States, who was acting in accord with the founding principles of his country.
The United States of America has long been accused by its detractors of desiring an empire. We, as a nation, have rejected that claim both in word and in deed.
Colin Powell, specifically asked about the war in Iraq, echoed this sentiment in his statement to the World Economic Forum in January, 2003:
“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in.”
The sentiment has been repeated over the years from prominent figures in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, though rarely as eloquently. The driving notion behind it is that America is a force for freedom in the world, for self-determination, for civilization.
Contrast that with recent events.
Consider the strike on Soleimani. Set aside the wisdom of the strike for a moment, and whether the killing was justified; those questions should be addressed, but they are not the only ones. Also key is the question of whether we had the moral authority to conduct a strike against an enemy on an ally’s sovereign territory without consulting them and against their wishes.
If one looks at the long history of America, the obvious answer is “no”. Doing so was an indication that our centuries of policy devoted to individual rights was over. We had moved beyond the government being able to tell its citizens how to live into the realm of our government being able to dictate to foreign citizens, as well. That is directly antithetical to freedom.
Still, it could be taken as a deviation from the norm, a one-time (or at least exceedingly rare) event which could be deemed acceptable under extreme circumstances. The test would be if Iraq, offended by the violation of their sovereign status, requested us to leave.
This is what happened, and when we were tested, we failed. The Iraqi Parliament voted to remove the United States from its land. The Iraqi Prime Minister agreed, and asked us to begin the process of leaving in an orderly fashion. We refused.
“We are happy to continue the conversation with the Iraqis about what the right structure is for our mission.”
“We’ve been there to perform a training mission to help the Iraqi security forces be successful, and to continue the campaign against ISIS … We’re going to continue that mission.”Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, quote via Military Times
This is not a situation where we believe that Iraq is not serious about their request. If it were, we would not be preparing to slash $250 million in military aid to Iraq – aid which has already been approved by Congress – as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Instead, we are ordering them to ignore the will of their people and to allow us to rule them. To that end we are leveraging the threat of pulling funds which were, in theory, tied to the notion of extending freedom and human rights throughout the world.
This is not the action of a nation defending freedom. It is the act of a conqueror.
The moves by this administration do not retroactively make George W. Bush and Colin Powell liars in their assertions about American intent. They meant what they said, and at the time it was accurate. It does make the United States into a liar, because we have placed someone at the helm who does not see any value in honesty and his subordinates mirror his views.
The decision to ignore Iraq’s demands will, like our recent abandonment of the Kurds, have ramifications far into the future. We are again demonstrating that we are a very poor ally, and that will cause other countries to ponder seriously the wisdom of allying with us.