Iraq: Stay or Go?

November 27, 2011

Political Theory


President Obama announced on Friday, October 21 that the Iraq War, which began in March of 2003, will be over before the end of the year, bringing the remaining 40,000 troops, “home for the holidays”.  Just five weeks left of a nearly nine year war, one in which most Americans would call a long national nightmare. In 2008, Ryan Crocker, then the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said to Congress, “In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came.” Given President Obama’s statement that after the withdrawl of troops is complete, “America’s war in Iraq will be over,” it is now, more than ever, critical to answer Crocker’s question about, what, exactly, is America leaving behind in Iraq?

We should be worried. Iraq now faces a multitude of political, counter-terrorism, and civil challenges that may be too excessive to handle without the presence of the United States. Since the demise of Suddam Hussein, Iraq remains an unstable, problematic nation. This is not to say, though, that the new political class has not had some successes when faced with adversity. Controversial issues, such as the creation of a new constitution, and the role of Islam in government have been agreed upon peacefully, however, Iraq is still a nation ridden with major inherent instabilities.

The challenges confronting the Iraqi people are daunting and many factors are driving the future of its nation towards disorder. Amid all of these new political transformations, should we expect to see the Iraqi people resort back to a state of nature, and if so, what type might we see? Hobbes’ state of nature suggests that there is no injustice because there is no law, therefore man will do whatever is in his interest, perpetuating a state of war. I don’t expect to see a free-for-all in Iraq due to the fact that there are sects within Iraq that have been around for centuries and are too powerful as a whole to disband. Locke’s state of nature is rooted in natural law. In the state of nature, Locke argues that man is free to do as he pleases “within the bounds of the laws of nature.” This state of nature seems more likely than Hobbes’ state of war, however, Locke’s claims that the natural law demands that the punishment must fit the crime, but throughout Iraqi history, this has not always been the case. Instead, I believe that we might see a federalist state of nature. I agree with Madison in that human nature divides us into factions of people with similar ideas and goals, and because Iraq is already composed of several factions, it would be natural for a failing Iraqi government to be replaced by these factions.

Decades of subordination to the Sunni political dominance, have resulted in a deep insecurity of the Shia religious majority. Their insecurity has resulted in an unwillingness to compromise with the Sunnis on a number of major political issues and years of deadly violence. Clearly the continuation of U.S. military presence would not put an end to this history split, but its removal certainly increases the potential for sectarian violence and negative foreign influence. Obama issued his announcement after holding a video conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and said that the two were in agreement about how both nations could move forward towards a new, strategic, relationship. He did not, however, mention that their differing political priorities continue to exist. The U.S. administration, for months, has attempted to negotiate with Iraqi officials concerning the possibility of keeping 5,000 troops stationed in Iraq as military trainers. Yet, in the end, Iraq’s political leaders declared that any remaining U.S. troops would not be granted immunity from Iraqi law, which was a deal-breaker for the U.S.

Obama announces full withdrawal of American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011


The United States also leaves behind a less than ideal framework for future cooperation with Iraq. With an increased Iranian influence, it is more than likely that groups opposed to the U.S. will gain power, and thus promote and enforce American defiance. Recently, Iranian-allied Iraqi political leaders have declared all U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq to be “occupiers” who ought to be “resisted.” With a growing Anti-American influence, how can the U.S. possibly expect to maintain an effective strategic partnership with Iraq?

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6 Comments on “Iraq: Stay or Go?”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I really like your post; the analysis seems to be right on based on what I know. The Iranian presence, historical oppression of the Shia, and a weak economy lacking leadership all combine not only to create an unstable Iraq but to weaken the US’s hold on the nation.

    Bush 41 came under a lot of fire for not “finishing the job” in 1991. But Bush Sr. knew what his son and his advisers later failed to understand: Saddam is a bad man, but he is the only force holding Iraq together. There is indisputable evidence that Hussein used weapons of mass destruction in the late 80s and early 90s; he violently oppressed much of his population; he sent thousands of Iraqis to their deaths in a costly and ultimately fruitless war with Iran. In spite of this, he held the nation together with violence. The most successful Middle Eastern countries are probably Israel and Iran, and both benefit from having a stable government; once Iraq lost this at the hands of the US, the system collapsed and will probably not mend itself until another strong man rises to power.

    This moves me into one of the most central questions of the post: what will Iraq look like now? For a time, I think it will start to look a lot more like Afghanistan. Local leaders, largely along religious lines, will probably take control of the country, turning into a provincial system. Backed by Iran, the south will continue to sell oil, Tehran will exert its influence even more strongly, and the US will be able to do nothing to stop any of it. In the north, the Kurds will probably remain at least as poor as they are now thanks to a general lack of money and formal training. In general, the history of the Middle East is one of strong men ruling oppressively; I think that Iraq will ultimately take that approach again because nothing else will be able to unite a war-torn, politically divided nation that continues to suffer ill effects from Hussein’s war with Iran and subsequent invasion of Kuwait.

    The good news for the US is that it won’t matter too much in the long term. Oil is a finite resource, and when it’s gone, no one is going to care about the Middle East. We may send money to Africa, but do we really care about it that much? No. Why? Because it has little to offer us in return. Iran will try to use Iraq’s weakness to project its own power; that’s fine. Iran just wants to be seen as a force in the region; if the US gives it that, Iran will be able to exert influence on Iraq and stabilize it. The biggest potential complication that I can see is that Iran may want to use its de facto control over Iraq’s oil as a way to curb the Saudis, which has the potential to destabilize the world’s oil markets. Again, this is a short term problem and will not even be remotely possible in 30 or 40 years at the current rate.

    It’s time to get out. The US isn’t going to get anything from pouring ever more money into Iraq, and this has really been the case from the beginning of Bush 43’s experiment with war in the region. Iran already has de facto control over the south, and it’s expanding even with a US presence in the region. We can no longer stop Iran’s wave in the Middle East, so we might as well cut our losses now and let them have Iraq.

  2. #jasonschwartz Says:

    Very compelling post here. There is something serious to be said about the american political system here too. Presidential elections are just a year away. Since you have ade it clear that we are leaving the country way too early, I am curious as to whether or not there were self promoting political pressures on Obama to pull the troops out. What does this say about the american political system? are we in a just social contract that has been laid out by the social theorists?

    Furthermore, the points you make about an iraq falling pray to a breach in a social contract are very compelling. When the arab states were given their independence in the 1940s, all hell broke loose with wars and chaos as the political and religious lines were crossed all over the land. As the lines have not been established here, it would seem fairly logical for people to abandon their new promises for old ties and old beliefs. I am very curious to see how this sticky situation will unfold.

  3. elotis Says:

    I agree with your post on many levels because a lot of it is true. Deep-rooted divisions between Sunnis and Shia will always exist, it’s just a matter of how to deal with it in the best way possible. However, when you say towards the end that we are leaving Iraq with a “less than ideal framework for future cooperation,” what do you propose was a better solution? Like I said before, these problems will always exist and it was our decision in the first place to remove Saddam Hussein, therefore, shattering really the only stable force that held the country together against total chaos. I am not saying in any way that Hussein was good; he was an evil man that needed to be removed. Essentially, we made this mess and it was our responsibility to clean it up. I think the US government underestimated just how difficult the Iraq war would be and they underestimated the level of insurgency and deaths that would occur. But, what are we really to do now? What is an alternative, realistic solution? Keeping more troops there and subjecting them to further harm? We have complained since the war began that we wanted out, and now we are leaving. Yes, this may be a less than ideal situation that we have left Iraq in, as you pointed out, however, I just don’t see any other resolution. Obama is giving Americans what they want: out. People should not entirely criticize Obama for this decision, because let’s remember who brought us there in the first place…

  4. adamstillman2011 Says:

    I think that we need to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. I think what we gain overseas is far outweighed by what we lose at home. This war is costing us millions of dollars. Our economy has still not fully recovered from the recession and we could use the money that we are currently using for the war to create jobs. We also could use that money for education and health care.

    No more lives need to be lost fighting over a war that never really should have begun in the first place. America was afraid of weapons of mass destruction after 9/11 but there were no weapons, we know that hindsight is 20/20, so now that we know that there are no weapons we should get out of Iraq as soon as possible, which I think we should have done years ago.

  5. blogger32 Says:

    This is a really well written post that tackles a very important issue. I think the point Ryan Crocker makes is very accurate, in saying that the way we leave Iraq is far more important than the way we entered it. One thing that I think we have succeeded in during this war is bringing a sense of democracy and a constitution to Iraq. As the world’s leader in democracy, we have successfully given Iraq the tools necessary to begin a democratic government. That being said, I do not think that our withdrawal from Iraq will lead them to revert to Hobbes’ or Locke’s states of nature. I think the Iraqi people have taken too many strides towards democracy to live without laws, but at the same time, I do not think that Iraq has become democratized enough that Locke’s world could exist.

    In my eyes, I view the end of this war as the final test for Iraq. They are at a crossroads, where they can either slowly revert back to their old ways of Sunni and Shiite clashing or they can continue to move forward, and eventually become a fully democratic nation. However, one of the things that America does not benefit from by leaving Iraq, is that we have no way to curb the influences of anti western nations such as Iran. I think that one thing President Obama should lobby for is a way to have U.S. troops in Iraq to maintain peace and on keeping a positive American influence in the area. One thing I do agree with you about, is that Iranian influence is increasing, and by withdrawing all of our troops from the area, that sentiment will only continue to streghten, which makes creating democracy even harder.

  6. blogger32 Says:

    This is a really well written post that tackles a very important issue. I think the point Ryan Crocker makes is very accurate, in saying that the way we leave Iraq is far more important than the way we entered it. One thing that I think we have succeeded in during this war is bringing a sense of democracy and a constitution to Iraq. As the world’s leader in democracy, we have successfully given Iraq the tools necessary to begin a democratic government. That being said, I do not think that our withdrawal from Iraq will lead them to revert to Hobbes’ or Locke’s states of nature. I think the Iraqi people have taken too many strides towards democracy to live without laws, but at the same time, I do not think that Iraq has become democratized enough that Locke’s world could exist.

    In my eyes, I view the end of this war as the final test for Iraq. They are at a crossroads, where they can either slowly revert back to their old ways of Sunni and Shiite clashing or they can continue to move forward, and eventually become a fully democratic nation. However, one of the things that America does not benefit from by leaving Iraq, is that we have no way to curb the influences of anti western nations such as Iran. I think that one thing President Obama should lobby for is a way to have U.S. troops in Iraq to maintain peace and on keeping a positive American influence in the area. One thing I do agree with you about, is that Iranian influence is increasing, and by withdrawing all of our troops from the area, that sentiment will only continue to streghten, which makes creating democracy even harder.

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