Responding to the call of Pope Urban II at Claremont in 1095, the Christian knights of the First Crusade set out for the Holy Land. In 1099, Jerusalem was captured.
As their port in Palestine, the Crusaders settled on Acre on the Mediterranean.
There they built the great castle that was overrun by Saladin in 1187 but retaken by Richard the Lionheart in 1191. Acre became the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and stronghold of the Crusader state, which fell in a bloody siege by the Mameluks in 1291. The Christians who had not fled were all massacred.
The ruins of Acre are now a tourist attraction.
Any who have visited this site, the last outpost of Christendom in the Holy Land before General Allenby marched into Jerusalem in 1917, cannot—on reading of the massive U.S. embassy rising in Baghdad—but think of Acre.
At a cost of $600 million, with walls able to withstand mortar and rocket fire and space to accommodate 1,000 Americans, this mammoth embassy, the largest on earth, will squat on the banks of the Tigris inside the Green Zone.
But a decade hence, will the U.S. ambassador be occupying this imperial compound? Or will it be like the ruins of Acre?
What raises the question is a sense that the United States, this time, is truly about to write off Iraq as a lost cause.
The Republican lines on Capitol Hill are crumbling. Starting with Richard Lugar, one GOP senator after another has risen to urge a drawdown of American forces and a diplomatic solution to the war.
But how can U.S. diplomats win at a conference table what 150,000 American troops cannot secure on a battlefield?
Though Henry Kissinger was an advocate of this unnecessary and unwise war, he is not necessarily wrong when he warns of “geopolitical calamity.” Nor is Ryan Crocker, U.S. envoy in Iraq, necessarily wrong when he says a U.S. withdrawal may be the end of the American war, but it will be the start of bloodier wars in Iraq and across the region.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also warns of the perils of a rapid withdrawal: “The dangers vary from civil war to dividing the country to regional wars. … the danger is huge. Until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete their readiness, there is a responsibility on the U.S. and other countries to stand by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to help build up their capabilities.”
In urging a redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq and a new focus on diplomacy, Lugar listed four strategic goals: Prevent creation of a safe haven for terrorists. Prevent sectarian war from spilling out into the broader Middle East. Prevent Iran’s domination of the region. Limit the loss of U.S. credibility through the region and world as a result of a failed mission in Iraq.
But how does shrinking the American military power and presence in Iraq advance any of these goals?
Long-time critics of the war like Gen. William Odom say it is already lost and fighting on will only further bleed the country and make the ultimate price even higher. The general may be right in saying it is time to cut our losses. But we should take a hard look at what those losses may be.
It is a near certainty the U.S.-backed government will fall, and friends we leave behind will suffer the fate of our Vietnamese and Cambodian friends in 1975. As U.S. combat brigades move out, contractors, aid workers, and diplomats left behind will be more vulnerable to assassination and kidnapping. There could be a stampede for the exit and a Saigon ending in the Green Zone.
The civil and sectarian war will surely escalate when we go, with Iran aiding its Shia allies and Sunni nations aiding the Sunnis. A breakup of the country seems certain. Al-Qaeda will claim it has run the American superpower out of Iraq and take the lessons it has learned to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States. The Turks, with an army already on the border, will go in to secure their interests in not having the Kurdish PKK operating from Iraq and in guaranteeing there is no Kurdistan. What will America do then?
Here at home, the argument over who is responsible for the worst strategic debacle in American history will be poisonous.
With a U.S. defeat in Iraq, American prestige would plummet across the region. Who would rely on a U.S. commitment for its security? Like the British and French before us, we will be heading home from the Middle East.
We are about to witness how empires end.