By Ivan Eland
Rather than a contest between two or three viable candidates, U.S. presidential elections have historically been a referendum on the administration holding power. With at least some awareness of this fact, Republican candidates are busy criticizing President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and desperately trying to link Hillary Clinton, his former Secretary of State and still the most likely Democratic nominee, to it (for example, beating the inconsequential Benghazi incident to death). Obama can be faulted for many bad policies domestically—for example, increased government intrusion into the health care market, a massive pork barrel “stimulus” program, and socialization of some of the big American car companies—and an unneeded war to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that has brought chaos and terrorism to that country and destabilized surrounding nations. However, Obama cannot be blamed for the rise of Iran in the Persian Gulf region and the heretofore acceleration of its nuclear weapons program.
The fifth anniversary of Obama declaring that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq had ended should make us rewind even farther back to George W. Bush’s invasion of that country, which aggravated both of these major problems with Iran. Before this invasion, Lt. Gen. William Odom (Ret.), the general that was Ronald Reagan’s blunt-talking chief of the National Security Agency, was one of the few military men to oppose what turned out to be a predictable disaster. Although many military men are well versed military operations and tactics, fewer do strategy well—the late Odom was one of them. Even in the hysteria after 9/11 that led to the invasion of Iraq, Odom courageously objected to that invasion for the same reason that he had opposed the Vietnam War: such a war would help the main American adversary. In the Cold War, it was the Soviet Union, and in the Persian Gulf, it was Iran. Odom’s reluctance to fight these questionable conflicts shows that all wars are not patriotic or even smart. Odom couldn’t have been more prescient about either conflict.
And although the number of public voices objecting to Bush’s military adventure were few, many experts in the region certainly raised their eyebrows about Bush’s plan to democratize Iraq using military power and then use the example to create a domino effect in the Middle East. Iraq was probably one of the least likely candidates for democracy in the Middle East because of its historically ruthless political culture and because, as prior and subsequent events had demonstrated, it is an artificial country with severe ethno-sectarian cleavages. Even when the president’s own intelligence community blew another one of Bush’s justifications for the alleged preventive military action by concluding that even if Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his chemical and biological weapons—no one believed he had nuclear weapons, the only true weapon of mass destruction—he was not likely to use them unless backed into a corner (read: by a U.S. invasion). The last rationale for the war was that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and the other perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks in al Qaeda, which was preposterous dissembling. And so Bush foolishly marched to war.
A war conducted for no good reason, and with little thought to the predictable and adverse unintended strategic consequences, fulfilled Odom’s prediction of a resurgent, yet uneasy, Iran. In the Persian Gulf, overthrowing Saddam in Iraq removed the major counterbalance to the much larger and more populous Iran. Also, Bush’s lack of respect for non-nuclear Iraq made Iran accelerate its nuclear program to keep the same thing from happening to it. Obama, with a nuclear agreement containing a good inspection regime for enforcement has now put that nuclear program in the deep freeze for at least 10 to 15 years. Even though Congress’ rejection of the agreement likely would make Iran race toward getting a bomb as the international sanctions regime fell apart, Israel and Iran’s Sunni Arab enemies, supporting such a rejection, apparently aren’t worried as much about an Iranian nuclear weapon as they are Iran’s rise as a powerful regional adversary. A nixing of the agreement might result in the United States eventually bombing Iran, which would weaken their main regional adversary.
The Republicans complain about Obama not doing enough to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, nor enough to blunt Iran’s increasing regional influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, yet one of their own—George W. Bush—had a big hand in aggravating these problems in the first place. On the campaign trail, Republican candidate Jeb Bush recently became red-faced and flummoxed when a college student reminded him that ISIS originated as a derivative from opposition to his brother’s invasion of Iraq. Yet another unintended consequence of that same fiasco, however, is the rise of Iran and the acceleration of its nuclear program, which the Democrats should mention to the Republicans. But Hillary Clinton may not be the best candidate to do so, because while she was in the Senate, she gleefully supported Bush’s idiotic war of aggression.
This article appeared at The Huffington Post and is reprinted with permission.