This March, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit was deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Inherent Resolve to assist local ground forces in retaking the city of Raqqa, the capital of ISIS. Over the past two and a half years, U.S. forces (both conventional and special operations) have been deployed to Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations to assist and train local troops. It must be noted that this is the first time American ground forces will be openly involved in ground combat against ISIS. This action is a clear indication that the United States is not just providing a supporting and advising role, but committing to actual boots on the ground.
The question that must be asked is if the operation succeeds in defeating ISIS, who will be responsible for maintaining stability in the region? America’s attempts to bring peaceful resolutions in areas of instability where innocent civilian lives are at stake has historically been less than successful, to say the least.. This was seen during the Iraq War, where America did not have an exit strategy to maintain peace once the conflict had ended. Because the rise of ISIS can be traced back to this “American vacuum” in the aftermath of the Iraq War, America must take responsibility for its involvement in the region and take charge in influencing a positive future in Iraq though a permanent military presence.
In Iraq, after American and Coalition forces defeated Saddam’s regime, the Bush Administration disbanded the Iraqi Army. This move left many Sunni Iraqis without work and without a purpose. This, combined with the many weapons left over from the Ba’athist regime and the rise of Islamic radicalism, fueled anti-American sentiment that led to an insurgency, which the American military was left to suppress. U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011, ending America’s involvement; this move, as many now know, was one of the main contributors to the rise of ISIS.
Once America defeats ISIS, it will be left to deal with the surviving sectarian issues in Iraq. This may culminate in continued insurgency by radicalized Muslims or other minorities in the region. As a result, after almost fifteen years of continuous war, the Iraqi government will still require U.S. assistance. These issues are a direct result of Saddam’s regime, where an enmity was created between the Arab majority and Kurdish minority due to Saddam’s state attacks on the Kurdish people. Additionally, these sectarian issues were fueled by the centuries old divide between the Muslim Sunni and Shi’ite religious sects. This regional violence was further energized by the rising popularity of Islamic radicalism. These issues led to the insurgency in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion and led to the rise of ISIS after the American withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.
It is my opinion that the most logical solution is for the United States to keep a continuous military and diplomatic presence in Iraq. With the existence of varying religious extremist and ethnic movements in Iraq, an American military presence will deter any single religious or ethnic group from controlling the nation.
A continuous American military presence in an unstable country is not a new concept. After the end of World War II, Germany was left in a state of ruin with many different factions existing in the nation trying to vie for power. There was a need to extinguish any lingering Nazi factions to protect the new government from the influences of remaining Nazi sympathizers. The American forces after World War II not only had the responsibility of controlling the millions of German soldiers who surrendered, but also of finding and controlling the millions of German arms left over from the disbanded Nazi military. Due to the lack of a proper civilian government after the war, American forces had to assist the German people in creating a democratically-elected government, free from Communist influence. Additionally, the permanent American presence in Western Germany allowed America to keep a military presence in Western Europe as a deterrent against any possible aggression from within Germany, as well as from the former Soviet Union. The American presence in Western Germany after World War II allowed for the “de-Nazification” process, the establishment of a democratically-elected government, and the preservation of democracy in Western Europe from further Soviet aggression. I believe that America will encounter the same type of situation once ISIS is defeated.
America must employ this strategy because like Germany after World War II, Iraq in the post-ISIS era will have many factions competing for control over the country. America must have a presence to help maintain the fragile Iraqi Republic and ensure that all factions and ethnicities within the country are equally represented. Promoting coexistence will diminish the constant struggle for power. Also, like Germany after the Second World War, Iraq has millions of weapons lying around from the Saddam regime that must be collected and destroyed to prevent another insurgency from arising (which is what happened after the 2003 invasion). Additionally, a permanent American presence will allow for the military to assist the Iraqi government in the process of “de-radicalization” for the nation, so that Iraq may be ruled under a secular and democratic system of government. By following the process that occurred in Germany over 70 years ago, America will be able to make Iraq a successful secular democracy that will serve as a model for other Middle Eastern nations.
The eventual hope is that Iraq would, over a long-term period, become a stable nation within the region. While this future may seem impossible now, especially with ISIS currently on the loose, it is one that is attainable with consistent American support. As America and the West decide the future of Iraq, America must also conduct some introspection. In this self-analysis, America must begin an internal conversation on whether it has the right to influence the evolution of independent nations, or if it should allow nations to decide their own destinies free of foreign influence.