Pratik Chougule: To Avoid Iraq Redux, US Should Support Syrian Opposition

Pratik Chougule served at the State Department in the George W. Bush Administration.

“History,” President Barack Obama remarked, “will judge the original decision to go into Iraq.”  But the lessons of the Iraq War already weigh on the president. Even in defending the use of force in Afghanistan and Libya, President Obama cited U.S. difficulties in Iraq to caution against costly, military engagements in the future. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, was less an isolated decision as it was the culmination of short-sighted U.S. policy decisions over two decades. Chief among them was the failure to support the Iraqi opposition with enough assistance to overthrow Saddam Hussein, leaving the U.S. with few means of confronting the Iraq threat short of war. Should the Obama administration continue to withhold military assistance from the Syrian opposition, the same mistake could needlessly lead to a large-scale invasion of the country.
U.S. policy toward the Iraqi opposition to Saddam evolved in four phases. At each juncture, the U.S. failed to support the opposition for reasons that later proved misguided.
Lessons from the past
From the time Saddam came to power in 1979 until the beginning of the 1991 rebellion, Washington ignored the Iraqi opposition in pursuit of an understanding with the regime. Even after the Iran-Iraq War, U.S. officials calculated that Saddam would seek an enduring relationship with the West and experiment with democracy at home, much as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believed before the Arab Spring that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a “reformer.”..

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