Excerpts from Destabilizer-in-Chief by Mario Loyola in National Review:
The most basic reason to keep forces in Iraq after 2011 was not to continue the war — which was already over by the time Obama was sworn in as president — but rather so that we wouldn’t have to fight a major war in the Middle East again. Granted, U.S. forces had become necessary only as a result of the 2003 invasion and the toppling of Saddam. But simply ignoring that necessity and withdrawing the troops could not undo the Iraq War, any more than abandoning open-heart surgery midway can undo the initial incision.
The Obama administration makes the excuse that because Iraq’s National Assembly refused to pass a law granting immunity from local criminal prosecution for U.S. troops, we were forced to leave. This is preposterous, and the media should stop repeating it. Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki offered to issue an executive order that would have satisfied U.S. concerns. Indeed, minimal U.S. forces are now back in Iraq under cover of just such an executive order. But the bigger point is that we had just won the war. We had defeated all the warring factions in Iraq. By 2009 virtually all the factions had some degree of dependency on the U.S., and they all understood that we were going to leave when we were good and ready.
The central position the U.S. had achieved in the Middle East by 2009 was not merely the result of victory in the Iraq War. It was a position carefully built up over decades. It started in the 1950s and 1960s with a de facto protectorate of the oil-producing Gulf Kingdoms. It was consolidated in the 1970s with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s success in gaining Jordan’s trust and turning Egypt away from the Soviet Union and toward peace with Israel. And it was further built up by both of the wars with Iraq.
The Persian Gulf War, in 1991, left the U.S. alliance in such a powerful position that dozens of states recognized Israel, and Arab leaders agreed, for the first time since “the three no’s of Khartoum” in 1967, to sit across from Israelis in direct negotiations. The Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” that started in Oslo in 1993 was made possible only by the shift in the regional balance of power in favor of the U.S. and away from the extremists.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed a proxy war between Iran’s Shiite extremists and the Sunni extremists of the Gulf Kingdoms, because we had taken down the dominant central power keeping that conflict at bay, namely Saddam. Al-Qaeda fighters from more backward parts of the Arab world streamed into Iraq through Syria and started murdering Shiites mercilessly. And when the reprisals came, all Sunnis were targeted — whether they were al-Qaeda or not, Iraqi or not. The Sunnis of Iraq, who are less prone to extremism than their brothers elsewhere, got caught in the crossfire.
But in 2007 and 2008, the U.S. decisively defeated all the forces that were actually fighting in this proxy war. By 2009, even Obama admitted that the U.S. had achieved a promising situation in Iraq. All the major political factions there overtly backed a long-term alliance with the United States. And the Sunni moderates in particular looked to America with desperate hope. We were the only force that could protect them from both al-Qaeda and the Shiite militias.
In short, we had assumed a role among Iraq’s factions similar to the central mediating role that the U.S. had achieved between Israel and Egypt during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Any peace agreement with the Arabs carries major risks for Israel — that is the essential problem in the Arab–Israeli conflict. It is also what makes the U.S. indispensable to any resolution. Only the U.S. can guarantee Israel’s security sufficiently to underwrite the risks of a peace agreement. Indeed, it is because we succeeded in that very role after the Yom Kippur War of 1973 that Egypt and Israel made peace at Camp David — in the United States.