Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
NewsOpinionOp-Eds

Bush isn't to blame for Obama's latest Iraq problems

IraqAfghanistanBarack ObamaGeorge W. BushWars and InterventionsWhite HouseNouri Maliki

As Oliver Hardy used to tell Stan Laurel is those old black-and-white movie comedies, "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!"

That continues to be Barack Obama's refrain to his predecessor, George W. Bush, as he struggles in his sixth year in the Oval Office to bring about the change in Washington he promised in 2008.

Mr. Obama's latest quandary is how to cope with Iraq's Islamist insurgency and revived sectarian conflict in the war he essentially declared over in 2011 by withdrawing the last American fighting troops. He is talking about dispatching some sort U.S. military power short of "boots on the ground" as critics fill the air with we-told-you-sos about that combat pull-out.

President Obama's failure to get desired guarantees of security for residual American forces from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is blamed for the current fiasco and the resulting crumbling of the U.S.-trained Iraqi army, bereft of American supervision. His adversaries have not quite yet accused Mr. Obama of cutting and running, but predictably that will come.

Some regard it as sour grapes when Mr. Obama as Ollie reminds his fellow Americans that Stanley got us into this mess with his invasion of Iraq 11 years ago. Then was then and now is now, and Harry Truman's declaration of where the buck stops still holds.

Six years after Mr. Bush left office, his misadventure has faded into the background like a bad dream, and he has kept his head down and his mouth largely shut. He pops up only occasionally, as in showing up to witness his 90-year-old father, the 41st president, complete his latest bizarre parachute jump.

But there's nothing particularly comical about the continuing quagmire in which Obama's presidency struggles. Except for his historic achievement in enacting broad health-care insurance reform, his domestic record has been slim. Even that accomplishment was seriously marred by the bungled rollout, giving the Republicans a political get-out-of-jail-free card looking to November's congressional elections.

In general, President Obama has found himself increasingly cast as a well-meaning but overwhelmed young president often trapped in his own rhetoric. Good intentions have not been matched by decisive action, particularly in his handling of foreign affairs.

Except for the imperative response to the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil, American involvement in wars abroad for more than a decade, with no end in sight, has not been clearly in the national interest. As Mr. Obama strives to focus his second term on domestic needs and concerns, the world beyond our shores continues to pull him back into conflicts, in ways he can't so justifiably blame on his White House predecessor.

For a while Ukraine appeared to be the scene of the next international crisis, but the latest insurgency reawakened in Iraq and yanked Mr. Obama back, even as he proceeds with plans to pull troops from Afghanistan. He can't blame that on Mr. Bush, either.

Yet, after publicly declaring his determination to become more selective about where and when to use American military power, current events are facing the president with unpleasant options across the board.

In agreeing to the much-criticized prisoner swap with the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan without prior congressional notification, Mr. Obama has opened yet another door for his critics to question his judgment, and his timing.

In all, the president does have ample grounds to lament the foreign policy landscape so badly torn up by President Bush's ill-conceived and bungled war of choice in Iraq. But like it or not, dealing with it comes with the job he sought. How Mr. Obama works his way out of his sea of challenges will determine how history will record the quality of his presidency, and time and events are not on his side right now.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
IraqAfghanistanBarack ObamaGeorge W. BushWars and InterventionsWhite HouseNouri Maliki
  • U.S. had role in Iraq's chemical weapons
    U.S. had role in Iraq's chemical weapons

    I want my local newspaper to be fearless and to report the unvarnished truth. I am aware that opinion writers have a different role from reporters. However, in expressing an opinion, one must place everything on the table. This came to mind when I read Jules Witcover's commentary,...

  • Why must media use the term ISIS?
    Why must media use the term ISIS?

    I was elated to see the article, "U.S.: Airstrikes in Syria, Iraq change Islamic State tactics" (Oct. 18), use the same terminology as President Barack Obama when referring to the Islamic State that we are currently combating. I wish I could say the same for the media. Prominent...

  • Iraq was lost by Obama [Letter]
    Iraq was lost by Obama [Letter]

    As a 93-year-old retired educator who also had spent eight years as a U.S. Naval Officer on active duty (five during World War II in the Pacific and more than two aboard the USS Enterprise) and later was recalled for three more years during the Korean Conflict, I'd like to comment on...

  • Stop wasting money on war [Letter]
    Stop wasting money on war [Letter]

    In addition to Max Obuszewski's prescient observation of what has become President Barack Obama's war, this perpetual war with no borders has gotten the support of much of the media and Congress ("Has President Obama undergone a chance of heart?" Oct. 3). What began as a...

  • Has President Obama undergone a change of heart? [Letter]
    Has President Obama undergone a change of heart? [Letter]

    Columnist Jules Witcover claims that "many fellow Democrats" were of the opinion that President Barack Obama lacked a spine but that his recent call to the international community "to step up to the challenge of global terrorism" now suggests he has acquired one...

  • Our murky mission in Syria [Editorial]
    Our murky mission in Syria [Editorial]

    Our view: Congress needs to debate a separate authorization of force for our action against ISIS

  • Compare and contrast: Israel in Gaza, U.S. in Syria [Letter]
    Compare and contrast: Israel in Gaza, U.S. in Syria [Letter]

    Israel, attacked by a few thousand rockets fired from the neighboring territory of Gaza, fired back and launched missiles, airstrikes and the like to try to eliminate the rockets and rocket launchers. Many countries attacked Israel for doing so and pressured Israel to stop and are now taking...

  • Is ISIS' rise the start of World War III? [Letter]
    Is ISIS' rise the start of World War III? [Letter]

    My heart is very saddened today as I listen and read the media reports related to the radical and terrorist units in the Middle East who are speaking out as they describe various avenues by which they eventually hope to destroy the U.S. units in that area, particularly by the leaders of the...

Comments
Loading