It used to be pretty obvious that when your enemies were fighting one another, you stood back and watched. It’s called “divide and conquer,” and it’s been well known by smart leaders since the age of Sun Tzu. But our leaders, wedded to the superbrilliant idea of American “leadership” and “benevolent global hegemony” think now is the time to get knee deep back in Iraq, even when it’s clear a Sunni-Shia war is taking place that distracts both sides from their other perennial obsession with the “Great Satan.” This regional war is obvious in Yemen, Syria, and now Iraq. ISIS is just a pretty brutal proponent of Sunni power. It is worrisome and should be destroyed if it gets too powerful–like Napoleon facing the united European powers after the 100 days–but so far its chief focus is anti-Shia violence.
Instead of following this low-cost path, instead we’re told Iraq was a grand idea and a success that the evil Obama squandered, even though it was a low grade civil war before, during, and after the vaunted “surge.” Obama’s motives in withdrawing may have been an instinctual anti-Americanism and a desire to “empower the Third World,” hence his snubs of old allies and courting of the Third World street in the form of the chaotic and ultimately pro-Islamist Arab Spring movement. Nonetheless, Iraq turned out to be a colossal failure from a perspective of US security interests, not least because it undid the equipoise of Sunni and Shia between Iraq and Iran, but also because it cost a lot of lives and money and made our troops the main attraction of Jihad tourists during the 2000s, in the same manner as Bosnia and Chechnya were the attraction in the 90s and Afghanistan in the 80s. Just because Obama’s motives are insane does not mean doing the opposite is not also insane or unwise.
The worst thing America could do in Yemen, Iraq, or elsewhere is get involved, particularly in the modern US manner which is to remain aloof from both sides and be on the side of a chimera: nonsectarian democracy. It makes us a target, costs us a lot of money, alienates people who are otherwise fighting each other, instead of allowing them to grind each other down and distract themselves from us.
This is not a question of “human rights” or “pacifism,” just good strategic sense. We don’t help ourselves, nor do we improve our security, by being at war everywhere all the time, nor by assuming other countries with wealth and nationalist sentiment will not arm themselves and control their own neighborhoods, which they care about infinitely more than we do. Sometimes, the best thing to do is husband one’s resources, particularly when our enemies (or potential enemies) are using up theirs.