In a recent piece on Foreign Policy, titled, “No One Talks About Liberating Mosul Anymore,” Michael Knights wrote about the necessity of training better Iraqi forces and unleashing U.S. airpower in Iraq to fight the so-called Islamic State (IS).
“It’s time to let the US military get creative with partners on the ground – and let pilots above open a can of whoop-ass on the Islamic State,” reads the epigraph of the piece.
Knights couldn’t be more wrong about a prescription for the situation. He’s doing what neoconservatives usually do in situations like this – ignore history itself.
This kind of bravado associated with caricatures of the American military has no foresight about the consequences of increasing military action. Let’s say we follow through on Knight’s proposal and bomb Mosul back to the Stone Age – then what? Reoccupy the country? And then what?
Knight would most likely respond that he favors drastically increasing the Iraqi Train and Equip Fund from its purportedly meager sum of $1.6 billion in 2015 to its previous levels during the 2005-2008 surge. But how successful was that strategy that he proposes for our Commander-in-Chief?
A recent look at the historical record confirms its partiality. Patrick Cockburn, writing in the London Review of Books, reports that in June 2014, 350,000 soldiers and 650,000 police, trained and funded by $41.6 billion of US taxpayer dollars, abandoned their posts and let Mosul fall to a paltry6,000 opposing IS fighters.
So, if the train-Iraqis-to-defend-themselves scheme is vacuous, then what? Why, I’d say, we’re back to the old neoconservative vision of nation building. And that’s exactly what the familiar voices of the Right, like Robert Kagan or Paul Wolfowitz, have been openly calling for since IS first came into the picture last year – bolstering up American hard power, reintroducing US troops, and funneling billions to fight what might now be called, America’s new unwinnable war.
It’s terrifying that history seems to be an inane throbbing sensation for these war hawks. They can’t realize that America has consistently failed to nation build over the last century. They regrettably cite the Marshall Plan without examining the vital differences between then and now – namely invading a nation unprovoked, as US forces once did in Vietnam, and did again in 2003.
Our first real experiment in nation building was, according to Jeremi Suri, Reconstruction – yes, the aftermath of Civil War, when the US tried to mend a nation torn by white supremacy. We failed (and here I express disagreement with Suri). The unresolved problems of the Civil War allowed for over a century of lynch mobbing, brutal racial violence, and intimidation against black Americans.
Nation building should not be something that we celebrate. But it is in our DNA as Americans.
The depressing and odd part about all of this is that war hawks like Kagan do in fact read and review these things. Their smug recognition and tacit approval for war, however, construct dreams of the future that are divorced from the past. In effect, they rewrite history for their present needs.
We shouldn’t keep haplessly training Iraqi forces in Iraq – the strategy did not win the war on the terror in 2008, and it won’t now. If anything, the so-called “moderate rebels” of Syria have been defecting to IS after receiving cash, weapons and training from – you guessed it – the United States.
It’s time to own up to history. Recognize the blowbacks of occupation for what they are: the greater problems of empire and the failure to learn as policymakers.
Jack Werner has been published by Foreign Policy In Focus, Informed Comment, Antiwar.com, the Lion’s Eye, the Signal, and State of Nature. He hosts a webzine at worldatlargemag.wordpress.com.