Kelley Vlahos reminds us that the U.S. would have faced an insurgency from Shi’ite militias if a residual force had remained in Iraq beyond 2011:
The war hawks argue that if Obama had renegotiated the SOFA (basically forced a longer occupation), the U.S. would have helped the Iraqis repel growing al-Qaeda elements before they morphed into the Islamic State. This completely ignores the fact that it was our friend Maliki’s suppressive and discriminatory treatment of the Sunnis that empowered the extremist elements. It also ignores the very real possibility that al-Sadr’s Shia army, which had been standing down per agreements, may have re-emerged to fight the Americans themselves, along with the Iranian-backed militias that are now fighting ISIS in places like Ramadi.
“Sadr said he would put his army back on the streets if we were to stay,” Hoh said. Furthermore, “even if we put troops back there, the Islamic State and the Sunni were going to fight against the Shia-dominated military anyway. So we would have our troops in the middle of a civil war.”
In other words, Iraq war dead-enders were arguing and continue to argue for a policy that would have left a fairly small number of American soldiers in a country where they weren’t wanted and where they would be attacked regularly. If the hawks had had their way, American soldiers would have continued fighting and dying in an occupation of Iraq that made neither Iraq nor the U.S. more secure. But then the point is that the hawks couldn’t have had their way without the cooperation of the Iraqi government, which was never going to be forthcoming. As with many other hawkish criticisms, the entire dead-ender argument about U.S. withdrawal and the later rise of ISIS relies on a fallacy. If ISIS made gains in Iraq after U.S. withdrawal, the hawks assert that it must have been because of U.S. withdrawal, and furthermore they take for granted that these gains could not have happened in the absence of that withdrawal. Hawks often attribute near-magical powers to the military and military action, and this is another example of that.
The heart of Iraq war revisionism is the belief of war supporters that the U.S. occupation was good for Iraqi security because they take for granted a U.S. presence anywhere is beneficial, and therefore the occupation should have been continued in order to keep Iraq secure. This is bound up with their mythology that the war was a “liberation” rather than an unmitigated disaster for Iraqis, and it is tied to their delusion that the “war was won” in 2008. The reality is that the U.S. military presence was destabilizing and harmful from the beginning, and it could not have been otherwise because the U.S. was the invader. Continuing that presence would only have continued to serve as a magnet for jihadists and a target for other insurgents, and that would have meant that even more Iraqis would have been caught up in bombings and sectarian violence.