In the years following Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist regime’s loss to the Chinese Communists in 1949, when U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy let loose his ill-founded accusations of communist infiltration in the United States, the country, eager to blame somebody, was wracked with questions about, “Who lost China”?
In the 1950’s, U.S. Senate committees studied what was seen as the failure of American foreign policy to prevent the Chinese Communist takeover. McCarthyism is remembered today as a broad attack on presumed communists and sympathizers in the U.S., but it was also a targeted attack on the State Department’s experts on China, the so-called China Hands, who had told the truth as they saw it. A broad swath of these experts were either forced out the Foreign Service or had their careers completely derailed.
If Iraq falls to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, after the loss of thousands of American lives and the expenditure of billions of American dollars, there’s little doubt that a new rallying cry will arise, “Who lost Iraq?”
Potential targets are legion, which may well lead to a convulsive period in American domestic and foreign policy.
The blame game is, in fact, already underway.
On June 12, Fareed Zakaria wrote a column in the Washington Post titled, “Who lost Iraq? The Iraqis did, with an assist from George W. Bush”. The Iraqi government is “corrupt, inefficient and weak, unable to be inclusive (of the Sunnis) and unwilling to fight with the dedication of their opponents,” just like the Chinese nationalists were, Zakaria said.
So Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the one who lost Iraq. But he came to power as a result of “a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration,” Zakaria said, so Bush lost Iraq.
But wait a minute. Things were much more settled in Iraq when Obama became president and his foreign policy team was hailing the country’s prosperity, embrace of democracy and relative quiet compared with earlier years. In 2010, Vice President Biden called Iraq one of Obama’s “great achievements”. In 2011, President Obama told troops at Fort Bragg, “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”
Wasn’t it the Obama Administration that made a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, encouraging adversaries and leaving the country’s elected government weaker in the face of continuing threats?
Or maybe it was the Obama Administration’s feckless foreign policy in dealing with Syria, with Obama insisting in 2012 that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad would cross a “red line for us” and might trigger a U.S. military response, followed by Obama’s failure to follow through.
Perhaps that emboldened not only Assad, but also ISIS, which is already perilously close to Baghdad.
Gary Alan Fine and Bin Xu, in “Honest Brokers: The Politics of Expertise in the “Who Lost China?” Debate”, note that much blame has been placed on the advice of a group of men and women labeled neoconservatives who got the U.S. embroiled in Iraq in the first place. “These policy experts have been targeted,” they say. “But more than just being wrong in their expectations, some critics, such as Seymour Hersh, suggest that these policy experts constituted a “cult,” and others allege that they were a group that placed the interests of the Bush administration, the Republican Party, or the state of Israel above that of the United States.”
Regardless of who made the decisions that have led to the current mess, hold on, because the atmosphere is going to get turbulent and all of America is going to feel it.