Saddam Hussein

In this Wednesday photo, Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen fire at Islamic State group positions during an operation outside Amirli.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The United States is at war again in Iraq — for the third time in 25 years. Our main enemy this time is not Saddam Hussein or Al-Qaeda, but the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sometimes called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Composed largely of militants claiming a strict adherence to Islamic law as interpreted within the Sunni branch of that religion, ISIS has seized the heartland of Iraq and much of eastern Syria. ISIS’ followers have massacred thousands of Muslim and Christian civilians who oppose their rule. Most startling to Americans, ISIS leaders have beheaded two U.S. journalists on video, trumpeting the brutality of the regime to the world. They have beheaded many others, and they promise more of the same in coming weeks.

The threat to the United States and its allies is clear. ISIS is growing as it draws recruits from around the Middle East as well as Europe, Australia and even our own country. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan before 2001, ISIS has formed a state of its own that it is using to train terrorists.  ISIS controls oil and other resources that finance its expanding operations. This is an organization that has the will and the capability to spread violence far beyond its borders. Whether ISIS can attack the territory of the United States is debatable, but its capacity for warfare in the greater Middle East and terrorism in parts of Europe and Asia is widely accepted. The British government has already raised its national terror level to “severe” in anticipation of imminent attacks from ISIS-inspired militants.

This global terrorist threat from ISIS is real, but it raises many questions about how the United States should respond. Another full-scale war, with ground troops deployed in large numbers to the Middle East, is neither acceptable to American citizens nor favorable to American strategic interests. The United States confronts a range of pressing challenges in other areas, especially Ukraine, and it cannot divert its overstretched military forces in Iraq again.

More significant, the evidence is overwhelming that previous American military activities in the Middle East contributed to the current threat. The United States created a political vacuum by overthrowing the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq without an alternative. Washington subsequently supported a sectarian Shiite-led government that alienated Sunni citizens, many of whom now support ISIS. The United States then withdrew most of its military capabilities from the country, leaving behind near-civil war conditions.

Many of the extremists in ISIS today, including its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, spent the period of American occupation in prisons operated by the U.S. Army. They were radicalized by the combined experiences of dictatorship, war and occupation. They view both the long-standing rulers in the region and the American occupiers as oppressors. They have turned to Islam in its most extreme and pure form as an alternative. They are also using Islam as a justification for seizing power and killing thousands of innocent people.

This history is crucial for present policy because it should caution Americans against assuming that overwhelming force will solve the current problem. U.S. military power can help defeat ISIS, but it must be matched with effective political change on the ground. This involves supporting local actors like the Kurdish leaders, who are committed to building functional, participatory and inclusive institutions. Effective policy also requires a long-term commitment to a process of compromise between local groups rather than favoritism for one or two. The United States must develop the regional expertise, nurture the contacts on the ground and work with other international actors (including the United Nations) to support a process of governance among groups now at war. American air strikes and other military actions will only work if they are part of a multilateral strategy including diverse Iraqi, Syrian and, yes, Iranian figures who oppose ISIS.

The terrors perpetrated by ISIS are truly horrific and threatening. For moral and security reasons we must stop them. We cannot, however, do it alone, and we cannot do it from a distance. A new generation of policy-makers — including current students — must learn that American force contributes to international peace only when accompanied by extensive cooperation with diverse local actors, many of whom we might not like. Despite all of our idealistic rhetoric, international politics is fundamentally about working with the mix of local groups to exclude the worst elements. Until we do that, we will never escape the cycle of recurring war.  

Suri is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the department of history.      

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as security forces inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, beginning a bloody and controversial war that lasted until late 2011. The Iraq War took the lives of 4,500 U.S. soldiers and wounded tens of thousands more, in addition to costing American taxpayers at least a trillion dollars. It was the defining political crisis of the first decade of the 21st century, permanently destroying the credibility of the George W. Bush administration and leading to the election of Barack Obama, whose longtime opposition to the war helped him defeat Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. In recent weeks, Americans have again heard unsettling news reports from Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has brutally seized control of parts of the country and threatens to overthrow the entire government. As worrisome as this development is, the United States should be cautious in its response.  Another war in Iraq would have serious consequences for our country, especially for our soldiers and veterans here at UT.

In the lead-up to the initial invasion, Bush argued that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to the safety of the United States.  For Bush, removing Hussein from power and establishing a democracy in Iraq became critical goals in the War on Terror employed by the United States following the 9-11 attacks. Most Americans initially supported the U.S. invasion, although a vocal minority warned of the difficulty of building a new government and that Iraq could disintegrate into warring factions. U.S. forces quickly toppled Hussein, but American public opinion turned against the war when Bush’s claims of weapons of mass destruction proved baseless and the occupation of Iraq devolved into a quagmire that lasted years. Finally, after spending great amounts of blood and treasure to help Iraqis build a stable government and combat terrorism, American forces withdrew from the country in late 2011.

Now ISIS is threatening to conquer Iraq. This dangerous prospect results from the failed political leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia who has refused to bring Sunni Muslims into his government. ISIS consists of Sunni militants in both Iraq and Syria determined to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the region. ISIS has taken control of parts of Iraq and viciously executed American-trained Iraqi soldiers. Obama recently sent approximately 300 military advisers to Iraq to aid its military and evacuate Americans from the Baghdad embassy, if needed. However, Obama has vowed not to send combat forces into Iraq at this point.

The president’s cautious response to the crisis has been commendable, but the United States must avoid becoming trapped in another dangerous war in the Middle East. It is true that terrorism continues to threaten the safety of Americans, both at home and abroad. We have seen this in Austin. Recently, a UT student and his friend were charged with and pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism. The conquest of Iraq by ISIS would bring immense instability to the region, and the last thing this country needs is to become engaged in another costly war. Adam Wagner, President of the UT Student Veteran Association, served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wagner believes that the United States cannot intervene every time there is a crisis in the country. “We fulfilled our obligations. We should urge the Iraqi Army to take advantage of the skills we taught them. It is up to them.” Wagner maintains that the immense sacrifices paid by American soldiers were worth providing the Iraqi people with freedom they had never experienced. “I strongly believe we did our job.” However, he argues that ultimately the Iraqi people must decide for themselves what type of government they wish to have. The United States has endured over a decade of war since the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Our soldiers have sacrificed endlessly, and many bear terrible injuries that will be with them throughout their lives. American military forces deserve the chance to return to civilian life. The American public is extremely war weary. Polls show that Americans of all political persuasions have no desire to support another war. Those few politicians who pressure the president to use more force in Iraq are the same individuals who relied on flawed information to lead us into war in 2003, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Besides the conflict in Iraq, other problems around the globe persist that require U.S. attention. For months, Russia and Ukraine have remained in a tense standoff.  Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have brought violence to the country with the tacit support of President Vladimir Putin. Recently, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers. Although investigations into the incident continue, evidence suggests Russian rebels perpetrated the tragedy, mistaking the airline for a military plane. The Middle East region has also witnessed renewed problems between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Following the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas, Israeli forces responded in kind.  

The United States faces numerous problems at home and abroad. Although our country is indeed the most powerful nation in the world and it must protect its international interests, the U.S. cannot intervene every time a crisis plagues the Middle East, as Wagner reminds us. These countries must determine their own destinies, and American interference can cause further problems for all nations involved.  Our complicated history in Iraq over the past decade makes this fact abundantly clear.

Briscoe is a history graduate student from Carrizo Springs. 

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives a lecture at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Monday evening. In a Q & A session after the lecture Rice reaffirmed her support of the Iraq invasion leading to the oust of Saddam Hussein but mentioned that, if able,  she would change the approach taken to reconstruct the Iraqi government.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Two days before the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a conflict that resulted in the deaths of 4,488 U.S. soldiers and thousands of civilians, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed her support for the war and the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein.

“I would have overthrown Saddam Hussein again,” Rice said to a packed house at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium on Monday.

The war began March 20, 2003, following the United States’ and United Kingdom’s allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to international security. A survey conducted later by the Iraq Survey Group found Iraq did not possess WMDs at the time of invasion, but intended to resume its weapons programs if the United Nations lifted its sanctions.

As National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush and later Secretary of State, Rice oversaw the war effort with other Cabinet officials including her predecessor Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Part of her task included engaging in a media campaign to advocate the need for war with Iraq.

“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But, we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” Rice told CNN in a 2003 interview.

The conflict formally ended on Dec. 15, 2011, and remaining U.S. troops left the country three days later.

Rice said Monday that Hussein was a “cancer in the Middle East” that needed to be removed from the region, despite the lack of discovered WMDs and the deaths that resulted from the conflict.

“It is absolutely the case that the loss of lives will never be brought back and any of us who had a part in that decision will have to live with the lost and maimed lives,” Rice said. “But, nothing of value ever comes without sacrifice and I believe that Iraq has a chance. It may not make it, but it has a chance to be a state that will not seek weapons of mass destruction, will not invade its neighbors, will be a friend of the United States and will have democratic institutions that may, over time, mature.”

Rice said if given the opportunity, the administration would have sought to understand tribal relations more thoroughly earlier and would have begun reconstruction from the country’s borders and worked inward toward Baghdad, not vice versa.

Rice may not have had the hypothetical chance if a slim majority of Americans had their way. A Gallup poll released Monday showed 53 percent of Americans think the United States “made a mistake” by invading Iraq. That amount is down from the record 63 percent that opposed the war in 2008.

At the war’s outset, 75 percent of Americans supported the war and 23 percent did not.

Bobby Inman, Lyndon B. Johnson Centennial Chair in National Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that history would view the conflict as “one of the great fiascos.”

Unlike its approach toward Germany and Japan after World War II, the United States did not properly plan for how it would reconstruct Iraq’s government and economy after toppling Hussein’s government in a way that would transform the country into a successful democracy, Inman said.

"When you do not look at the historical record and understand it, you are destined to make big mistakes," Inman said.

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Transportation Ministry says the country’s airline will resume commercial flights to Kuwait for the first time since Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded the Gulf nation in 1990.

A statement posted on the ministry’s official website said Monday that flights between the two “brotherly countries” is due to start next Wednesday for the first time in more than 22 years.

The decision follows an agreement designed to end a long-running dispute over reparations for Kuwaiti airways. Baghdad agreed to pay $500 million in compensation to Kuwait’s national carrier for damage caused during the occupation.