It wasn’t on the official agenda, but Canada’s security was very much a part of the Democrats’ final debate before the important Iowa caucuses.
As we’ve seen in recent days, what happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East. The world isn’t a collection of walled-off entities where events can be expected to remain within defined borders. Firing off missiles at enemies in deserts half a world away quickly leads to tragedy for hundreds of innocents who want nothing more than to live in peace in a less volatile part of the globe.
You wouldn’t know that from some of the comments by the remaining candidates to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency. Yes, everyone agreed that Americans are tired of “endless wars,” one of the few areas in which Democrats and Republicans appear to agree. It’s the solution that’s the issue.
Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who is battling Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for status as darling of the left, wants U.S. troops out of Iraq. Every last one of them. The war was wrong, and the way to solve it is to come home, right now. Period.
Sanders isn’t quite as unequivocal. He has dined out for years on the fact he opposed the war from the start, and any question in which the conflict is mentioned leads to one of his arm-waving lectures about how smart he was to say so. He now says he wants the troops out, but won’t say how or how quickly, other than that he’d “work with the government of Iraq, work with other allies in the region” rather than just fire off a tweet as the current incumbent likes to do.
Yes, it’s true, the George W. Bush administration should have stayed out of Iraq, given that it had no strategy for dealing with the aftermath once Saddam Hussein was driven from power. The result of that mistake has been a colossal mess, for which the Western world continues to pay a high price. It’s also true, as Sanders pointed out, that both of America’s two most disastrous wars — Iraq and Vietnam — were predicated on carefully nurtured falsehoods spread by the administrations of the day.
But simply going home is hardly the best option. What’s missing from the two senators’ proposals for Iraq is recognition of the fact that the U.S. started the war and retains responsibility for the results. It was U.S. policy — or lack thereof — that created a vacuum of power that was exploited by ISIL to create its murderous “caliphate,” and by Iran to establish militia forces bent on maintaining instability to further its own interests. It was the growing extent of Iran’s interference that prompted the Trump administration to order the strike that took the life of Gen. Qassem Soleimani. In doing so a truly evil figure was eliminated, but there are plenty of other bad actors in the wings ready to take his place, and the departure of the U.S. would only make their work easier.
Warren’s “solution” to Iraq would simply repeat the mistake made by the Bush administration in leaving others to deal with the consequences of U.S. actions. Sanders would at least try to involve Iraq and allies in the process, though if departure is the end game, it’s questionable how effective diplomacy can be in altering the impact.
The three other candidates who still have some chance of success — Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar — all counsel a continued presence in the region, but to a minimal degree. They’d see the U.S. leave a skeleton crew of troops to work with U.S. allies towards some sort of lasting solution, presuming any policy is capable of staunching the hatred and rivalries that permeate the Middle East.
Warren’s ‘solution’ to Iraq would simply repeat the mistake made by the Bush administration in leaving others to deal with the consequences of U.S. actions
Allies have been trying to help out the U.S. since the war began, only to find themselves left in the lurch time and again. European countries joined the Obama administration in its nuclear deal with Tehran, but have been left to pick up the pieces since Trump withdrew from the pact. Kurdish fighters were key elements in the struggle against ISIL, only to have U.S. forces shielding them from enemies in Turkey ordered out on a sudden whim from Washington. Canada, along with other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has had troops in Iraq as part of an ongoing training and “capacity building” operations, all of whom were put in danger by the strike at Gen. Soleimani, yet received no warning of the plan.
It was “a U.S. decision,” said NATO’s secretary general. “The U.S. makes its determinations,” Justin Trudeau told Global News as Ottawa struggled with the Canadian deaths that followed from the strike. “We attempt to work as an international community on big issues. But sometimes countries take actions without informing their allies.”
Should Democrats win the election, they will be confronted with the reality that the Trump administration’s cavalier approach to allies has forfeited much of the trust the U.S. could once count on from countries that considered themselves friends, but no longer feel Washington can safely be treated as a reliable partner. Even an administration that seeks to rejoin the international community may find reluctance in foreign capitals, wary that each change in U.S. leadership could signal a return to a detached, isolationist, unilateral attitude in Washington.
The leftist candidates will do nothing to mitigate this sense of distrust if their plans are to walk away from conflicts the U.S. set in motion, and for which they sought, and received, aid and assistance from countries like Canada. That would only be to extend the damage of the past four years. If Democrats want to do better than Donald Trump, they shouldn’t be promising more of the same.
• Twitter: KellyMcParland
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