Home/Daniel Larison/The U.S. Should Get Out of Iraq

The U.S. Should Get Out of Iraq

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters set fire to the wall as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Paul Pillar calls for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq now that they are no longer welcome there, and he chastises the administration for their arrogance in defying the Iraqi government’s wishes:

Iraqi nationalism is the most effective check on Iranian influence on Iraq — if only the United States does not mess up this dynamic with actions that turn that nationalist sentiment against itself. The Bush administration messed up with its invasion in 2003, and the Trump administration has messed up with its lethal attacks on Iraqi militias and its assassination of Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi security figure.

For all these reasons, the U.S. occupation of Iraq should end, and the American troops there should come home.

The Trump administration is very nationalistic in a way that exhibits many of the worst flaws of nationalism: it is arrogant, aggressive, dismissive of the rights of others, and oblivious to the equally strong nationalist views of people in the countries that they seek to bully. When confronted with an Iraqi nationalist backlash in response to the administration’s illegal and unpopular actions, the administration responds with imperialistic threats to punish Iraq for daring to stand up for itself. The smart and legal thing for them to do would be to accept that the Iraqi government doesn’t want us there. Our forces should be withdrawn promptly, and the next administration should then try to repair the relationship that this administration has damaged so severely.

American interventionists have a hard time respecting the sovereignty of other countries, because at some level they do not believe that these countries have the same rights that we have. The hawks in the Trump administration see Iraq primarily as an arena for competition with Iran, and they behave accordingly by dismissing Iraqi concerns and complaints and trampling on Iraqi sovereignty when it suits them. The U.S. should be helping to support a stable and peaceful Iraq, but this administration’s obsession with opposing Iran at every turn puts Iraq in the middle of the crossfire. Hawks still haven’t reconciled themselves to the reality that the Iraq war that they enthusiastically supported was a huge gift to Iran and ensured that Iran would have considerable influence in Iraq. They cannot reverse this no matter how hard they try, and they clearly don’t have the first clue how to reverse it even if it were possible, but they drive U.S. foreign policy in the region into another ditch in a vain attempt to erase the consequences of the last time that hawks drove it into a ditch.

There are few things that hawks detest more than the idea of withdrawing U.S. troops, and so they would rather keep them in a country where they’re not welcome than admit their own blunders. This is what happens when opposition to troop withdrawals hardens into an inflexible ideological commitment. The U.S. military presence won’t be able to do much that is useful now that the Iraqi government no longer wants them there, but the hawkish mythology surrounding the last withdrawal at the end of 2011 requires them to claim against all the evidence that the U.S. presence is stabilizing and necessary. “America is a force for good in the Middle East,” Pompeo says again and again, and the alarming thing is that he and a lot of other people in the administration really believe this garbage.

The U.S. doesn’t have a compelling need to keep troops in Iraq. The Iraqi government doesn’t want them to stay. Only a fool or a fanatic would insist that we keep troops in a country where they aren’t wanted.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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