The bitter truth about Iraq: we can’t fix it

Our hearts ache for Iraq. It’s hard to imagine anything sadder than its return to brutal conflict so soon after a decade of war, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and untold hardship for its families.

Perhaps it was wishful thinking to believe it could have turned out better. But two years ago, there was genuine hope that Nuri al-Maliki’s government could pull the country together, govern reasonably, and begin to heal the many wounds of war.

Now those hopes have evaporated, and left Americans who served, and especially the families of those 4,487 service members who perished, profoundly conflicted. Our hearts ache for them, too.

There’s no doubt that al-Maliki has been a lousy, corrupt and sectarian leader, and that he and the Iraqi parliament bear a good measure of blame for this turn of events. A week ago, the Iraqi parliament could not even muster a quorum to discuss its own response to the insurgency.

And al-Maliki has so alienated the Sunni population that even many moderate Sunnis are welcoming the ISIS insurgents and their rabid brand of Islamic fundamentalism.

But the original sin here was committed by George W. Bush, who started a war under false pretenses, and then failed to plan what to do after the mediagenic toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein.

Today, the Republican establishment and the Tea Party blame President Obama for leaving Iraq too soon, rather than persuading al-Maliki to sign up for an extended, low-grade U. S. occupation, and for not projecting American military might more forcefully around the world. Whether either would have produced a better outcome is pure speculation.

What we really seek is a way to undo the harm U. S. intervention has done to Iraq, and the sad fact is that there is no way to achieve such redemption.

The tangled web of deception and high-level incompetence that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq sprang from pure hubris, and if there is anything to be learned from the consequences, it ought to be humility. Iraq has descended again into a world of darkness and pain, and though we bear a large measure of the responsibility for that, the bitter truth is we can’t fix it.

The Obama administration faces a terrible dilemma. We hope the President approaches it with caution, in collaboration with our allies, and with a deaf ear to those who believe that more military intervention can fix what military intervention has broken.