A new milestone of futility in America's engagement with Iraq seemed to be reached last weekend when it was reported that Sunni extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda had taken over the city of Fallujah and much of the country's al-Anbar province -- the battleground for the famous "surge" of George W. Bush's second term. Predictably, Senators McCain and Graham blamed the Obama administration for allowing this disaster to happen by removing American troops from the country. They were careful not to blame Obama entirely, but insisted that the White House must accept a share of blame, on the assumption that the U.S. retains some kind of responsibility for keeping Iraqis away from each other's throats and a duty to deny anything that might be labeled a victory to anything that might be labeled "al-Qaeda."
The largest share in any assignment of blame has to go to the Iraqis themselves, beginning with the government. From what I've read, the trouble in Anbar boils down to the usual sectarianism, the Shiite-dominated government, representing a majority of the population, apparently failing either to win the trust or simply to treat fairly the Sunnis who form a majority in Anbar. That troubled province is just one front in an escalating conflict between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the Middle East, the main action being in Syria. As it happens, the manifestation of al-Qaeda causing trouble in Anbar identifies itself with a wishful entity called "the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria." The same people have been fighting in Syria against the Assad regime, which has the support of the main Shiite powers in the region, Iran and the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon. To the extent that the U.S. has encouraged the destabilization of Syria, the Obama administration should share in any blame for what's happening in Iraq, but since the likes of McCain and Graham have pushed constantly for further U.S. intervention against Assad, they should get a share as well. Americans can protest that they've never aided anyone having anything to do with al-Qaeda, and they can split hairs over who the good rebels and bad rebels are in Syria, but any effort by a foreign power to exacerbate the destabilization of Syria that came with the "Arab Spring" was going to create opportunities for al-Qaeda or some entity unfriendly toward the U.S. in particular or liberal secular democracy in general. McCain and Graham live in a dream world where the U.S., if rightly governed by brave wise men like themselves, somehow could give the good rebels the exclusive means to win both the war against Assad and the peace afterward, without repercussions being felt in Iraq. Those who take them seriously now have learned nothing in the last decade, and may never learn.