Obama's Iraq Failures as Bad (or Worse) Than Bush's

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The fall of Ramadi, Iraq’s fourth-largest city, 64 miles from Baghdad, to the vicious terrorists of the so-called Islamic State has renewed interest in an old controversy.

“Knowing what we know now,” invading Iraq was a mistake, say most GOP presidential candidates —including the brother of the president who ordered it.

Many generals thought so at the time. Invading Iraq “was the dumbest thing we ever did,” said retired Marine Gen. James Mattis.

We were right to go into Afghanistan and Iraq, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, but we went wrong when we stayed to “nation build.”

The Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime were ousted in quick, nearly bloodless campaigns. If after them we had left Kabul in the hands of the Northern Alliance and turned Baghdad over to (more or less) friendly Iraqis, our two longest wars would have been among the shortest.

The fundamental mistake in Iraq — creating the Coalition Provisional Authority — was compounded by slow recognition of and slower response to the insurgency, and a “strategy” which didn’t include protecting civilians from terrorists.

With the troop surge and the change in strategy that accompanied it, the Bush administration eventually got things right. By the summer of 2008, five years into the war, the insurgency was over.

Iraq was in “good shape” in 2010 and early 2011, said Robert Gates, who was secretary of defense at the time. Such good shape that President Barack Obama claimed credit for a victory he had nothing to do with.

The unraveling began with the war in Libya. After Moammar Gadhafi’s regime fell, weapons from Libya were shipped to rebels in Syria, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch May 15.

Extreme Islamists dominate the rebellion in Syria, said a Defense Intelligence Agency report in August, 2012. They pose a “dire threat” to Iraq, which was vulnerable because Mr. Obama — over the protest of his generals — withdrew virtually all U.S. troops the year before.

“We had all our intelligence capacity there. We knew where the enemy was,” said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane. But when U.S. troops left Iraq, “that screen went blank.”

The sudden interest in what GOP candidates think about the decision to invade Iraq is an effort to blame George W. Bush for what’s happened since he left office.

Mr. Bush has been accused of going to war “unilaterally,” of lying about weapons of mass destruction.

But Congress — including most Democrats — approved military action in Iraq. Twenty-one countries sent troops to Iraq.

That fears of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction were overblown was an intelligence failure, not deceit. All Western intelligence services, friendly Arab states and most of Saddam’s generals thought his WMD programs were robust.

What President Bush was falsely accused of doing, President Obama has done.

• He went to war in Libya without authorization from Congress and continued it in apparent violation of the War Powers Act.

• A DIA report written the day after the attack on our consulate in Benghazi said it was planned 10 days in advance by Islamists who sought “to kill as many Americans as possible.” Mr. Obama misled the country by initially claiming it was a “spontaneous” reaction to a YouTube video.

• The sluggish response to the insurgency in Iraq was lightning fast compared to Mr. Obama’s tardy recognition of the Islamic State threat. Tactical errors made during the Bush administration pale compared to the bungling of the fight against the Islamic State.

Iraq was relatively peaceful when Mr. Bush left office. About 73 percent of the 2,357 Americans killed in Afghanistan were still alive. Deaths from terror worldwide have more than doubled since 2008, according to Australia’s Institute for Economics and Peace. The Middle East is in chaos. Intelligence officials say Islamists are a greater threat to Americans now than on 9/‚Äč11.

The world’s going to hell in a handbasket. Journalists should focus less on what Mr. Bush did in 2003, more on what Mr. Obama is — and isn’t — doing now. 

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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