In our opinion: In Iraq, the United States has the responsibility to address threats to American interests

Published: Tuesday, June 17 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, June 17 2014 8:07 a.m. MDT

President George W. Bush received criticism in 2003 for declaring “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. President Barack Obama’s 2011 statement that “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” is now just as infamous and embarrassing.

Greg Baker, Associated Press

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In Iraq, the mission still is far from accomplished.

Former President George W. Bush took a lot of justified criticism in 2003 for landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln beneath a banner that said “Mission Accomplished.” The invasion that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein may well have been finished at that point, but the mission of establishing a free, peaceful and self-sustaining government there was far from over.

That still is the case today, which makes President Barack Obama’s declaration in 2011 that, on the occasion of the U.S. withdrawal, “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” just as infamous and embarrassing. The United States withdrew too early, reacting more to political pressures at home than to the long-term dangers of an Iraq too unstable to protect itself.

Americans now face the real danger of Iraq becoming a radical Islamic state. ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now controls much of Iraq and is threatening to topple Baghdad. Its leaders released a video this week showing a man by the name of Abu Usama who, according to CNN, once was a pizza delivery driver in Germany and who hints of seeking revenge for the death of Osama bin Laden.

CNN quotes a senior U.S. official who says ISIS may be training people who have come to Iraq from other Western countries and who could be trained as terrorists and sent back to their homelands with clean passports.

ISIS likely wouldn’t have been able to gain such a foothold if U.S. forces remained in Iraq in sufficient strength to help the government establish itself. The more ISIS is seen as succeeding in its overthrow of Iraq, the more it is expected to be able to recruit and attract sympathizers who could be trained and sent abroad, sources say.

Late last week, Obama seemed reluctant to provide much aid to the Iraqi government, announcing that no ground troops would re-enter the country. Obama said Iraq has political problems, noting that the U.S. has made huge sacrifices (about 5,000 casualties, for starters) in an effort to give Iraq a representative democracy, but that the leaders of that country have been unable to overcome sectarian differences. Until that is corrected, he said, the U.S. won’t be able to fix things with “short-term military action.”

But a dysfunctional representative government is far better than what ISIS has to offer, and the president’s approach to the situation seems inadequate given the threats to the United States.

Americans are weary of war in Iraq. A Gallup poll taken last year shows 53 percent believe it was a mistake to invade in the first place. But the decision to invade cannot be recalled, and neither can its consequences.

“It is time for both American political parties to cease their ritualistic incantations of ‘no boots on the ground,’ which is not the same as ‘no combat forces,’ ” wrote L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq in 2003-04, in Monday’s Wall Street Journal. “Of course Americans are reluctant to re-engage in Iraq. Yet it is President Obama’s unhappy duty to educate them about the risks to our interests posed by the unfolding drama in Iraq.”

Perhaps one day the mission to subdue terrorism and establish a self-sustaining Iraq will be accomplished. Until that day, giving up the fight will result only in the threat of more misery and bloodshed in the homeland, and that is an unacceptable condition.

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