When President Obama declared Oct. 21 that he was removing all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year, my first thought was, That’s the end of Israel.
My second thought was, That’s the end of a democratic Iraq. It’s the return of the Iraq war.
I still feel that way. I hope I’m wrong.
The early signals aren’t good. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who could afford to be tolerant of minorities when U.S. forces held the balance of power in Iraq, on Dec. 18 ordered the arrest of his Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, on a charge of planning political assassinations.
That could be just the beginning of the splintering of Iraq, as many of the majority Shiites no longer feel tied to their constitutional obligations to share power.
So why did we leave Iraq after only eight years -- or really, only three years after the fascists lost the war? There’s no good reason, except that our State Department did not make it a high enough priority to reach an agreement that could have kept a U.S. stabilizing force there at least five more years.
We didn’t leave Germany three years after World War II. We didn’t leave Japan. We didn’t leave South Korea immediately after the Korean War. The result: All of those nations are free, prosperous and at peace.
For reasons of politics and incompetence, we’re out of Iraq, and despite headlines that the “Iraq war is over,” Iraq is seeing a new wave of violence.
Iraq easily could devolve into dictatorship or descend into civil war. The risks are unforgivably high, when there would be no risk had 30,000 or 40,000 U.S. troops stayed behind.
Democracy does not take root with one round of elections. The institutions of freedom and tolerance appear only after at least three changes of power at the highest levels. The first power change is a test; the second, the learning of a habit. By the third, a democracy understands its checks and balances.
Democratic Iraq hasn’t had one change of power. (Maliki is the second prime minister, but his Al Dawa party is the same as the first prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who wasn’t around long.) Iraq is going to struggle hard when the first change comes. The United States won't be there, as it was in Germany, Japan and South Korea, to help it along toward change that strengthens Iraqi freedom.
Then there’s Israel, that one long-established Middle East democracy. Even with U.S. influence and Iraq's democratic framework, Iraq would be difficult to hold back if a demagogue were elected prime minister with a promise to help Iran wipe out the Jewish state.
Without U.S. influence, count on Iraq to start planning the invasion itself. Iran and Iraq don’t have much in common with Sunni Egypt, but all three Muslim nations might very well cooperate on the Israel elimination plan. Must we now start the countdown to the massacres and mushroom clouds?
If this sounds alarmist, it’s because there is cause for alarm. If it sounds bitter, it’s because it didn’t have to happen. Iraq was free and fairly calm. It was on its way to becoming the proof that Arab Muslims, long abused by despots, could thrive in democracy.
But America’s leaders looked at Germany and Japan and South Korea, and saw no lessons to apply.