June 23

In general, I probably agree more with former vice president Dick Cheney’s worldview than with that of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky). But when it comes to the United States’ next moves in Iraq, I hope that GOP leaders and candidates everywhere will sound more like Paul and less like Cheney. 

The election in November should be about the economy and Obamacare, but it is inevitable that national security issues will be occupying some space — even if these issues don’t really drive many votes. With militant Sunnis on the march and Baghdad calling for the general Shiite population to mobilize, the stakes are high and the headlines are blaring.

Cheney’s recent interviews and op-ed make it clear that his view of Iraq is dated. The idea that our GOP candidates should support the United States getting “heavily reinvested” in Iraq is wrong on many fronts.  What would we hope to achieve through this investment? Should we send U.S. troops to prop up Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki government? Maliki is neither a reliable U.S. ally nor an effective leader. Is the goal to stop a Sunni takeover? A takeover of what? There is no such thing as the Iraq that existed in 2009. It’s gone for good.

After meetings in Baghdad this weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The United States would like to see the Iraqi people find leadership that is prepared to represent all of the people of Iraq.” Gee, that’s a great idea. I wonder why no one ever thought of that? I can’t believe he even said it. Anyway, apparently it is still lost on our top policymakers that the groups living inside what we call Iraq don’t want to get along and govern together. President George W. Bush was the first to advocate the naive view that everyone in Iraq would live together peacefully, but the Obama administration should end that line of thinking once and for all. The Shiite-Sunni rivalry isn’t akin to the Texas Longhorns vs. the A&M Aggies, as Bush wanted to believe. Each group wants to dominate the other — dominate as in subjugate or kill, not just be spirited rivals. The Sunnis don’t want to serve in a minority role in any Shiite-led government. Period. We have proved that no number of U.S. troops can solve that problem. We can only, at best, keep them apart for a while.

Unfortunately, there is more fighting to come in Iraq. The world should start planning for a disruption in the flow of Iraqi oil and for a lot more turmoil in the Middle East.

Obviously, we don’t want Iraq to turn into another safe haven for terrorists. We can learn good lessons from how President Obama has dealt with threats in Yemen and Pakistan without having to revert to Cheney’s playbook for nation-building.

Every good Republican has a natural bias to defer to the former vice president, but right now — at least on Iraq — it’s time to hear a new voice. Rand Paul seems to offer a fresh approach that might help us learn from our mistakes rather than repeat them.

 

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