Iraq was a failure of the neo-conservative world view

Aaron Ellis 9.17am

Iraq is the centre of the world and crucial to the United States’ wider foreign policy. President Obama is a failure and President Bush is as wise and as farsighted a statesman as General Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan.

This is the context in which we must understand the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, says Tim Montgomerie.

Last week, Mr Montgomerie attacked President Obama’s withdrawal from the country. He contrasts it with President Bush’s decision in 2007 to ‘surge’ American troops in order to regain momentum against the insurgency. Typically, Mr Montgomerie presents the reader with black-or-white choices: Bush is good, Obama is bad; and if you support the withdrawal, you “hate freedom”.

Neo-conservatives possess a dated worldview – and it shows. They are stuck in the early 2000s and the language of the War on Terror. They show no appreciation of grand strategy in his article or the coming of the ‘Pacific Century’. This is in stark contrast to President Obama, which is why Iraq should be added to the list of foreign policy failures by neo-conservatives and not the President’s.

The two decisions of Presidents Bush and Obama that we should contrast are the former’s decision to invade Iraq and the latter’s announcement last month of a new American military base in Australia.

For no good reason at all, President Bush burdened the United States with a disastrous war in a country of only marginal importance; he handed “a massive gift” to Tehran as a result, and distracted Washington from a real challenge to its power: China.

With his own announcement, however, President Obama sent a signal to Beijing that the U.S. was no longer distracted. The new base, the President said, was “a deliberate and strategic decision – as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping the region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with allies and friends.”

The great scholar Walter Russell Mead has described President Obama’s announcement, and other diplomatic coups the U.S. achieved in Asia last month, as the “coming of age of the Obama administration and it was conceived and executed about as flawlessly as these things ever can be.”

If we understand the Iraq withdrawal in this context then it is obvious which of the two presidents can claim to be a wise and farsighted statesman. “Regardless of whether the twenty-first century will be another ‘American century’, it is certain that it will be an Asian and Pacific century”, Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, has written. “It is both natural and sensible that the US be central to whatever evolves from that fact.”

This undermines many of the neo-conservatives’ other beliefs. Tim Montgomerie is disappointed that the U.S. will not have a “foothold” in Iraq but he does not explain why such a foothold is important to the U.S. He has tweeted praise for a Mitt Romney line about whether a government scheme is so crucial that it is worth borrowing money from China to pay for it, but he hasn’t yet answered whether the same test can be applied to Iraq.

The fact that the interests of the United States are in Asia-Pacific also undermines the examples of post-war Germany and Japan as templates for American policy vis-à-vis Iraq. Those two countries mattered to U.S. security after 1945, justifying the time and money spent on developing them. You cannot make the same argument with regard to Iraq.

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