Blaming Obama for Iraq’s Chaos

Exclusive: As Islamic militants gain ground in Iraq, Official Washington’s neocons and the mainstream media are blaming President Obama for ending the U.S. military occupation, but they ignore their own role in destabilizing Iraq with the 2003 invasion, Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

After Islamic militants captured the major Iraqi city of Mosul on Tuesday, the danger of Official Washington’s false narratives again asserted itself, a direct consequence of the failure to enforce any meaningful accountability on the neocons and others who pushed the Iraq War.

The emerging neocon-preferred narrative is that the jihadist victory in the northern city of Mosul and the related mess in neighboring Syria are the fault of President Barack Obama for not continuing the U.S. military occupation of Iraq indefinitely and for not intervening more aggressively in Syria’s civil war.

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait, in the Oval Office, Sept. 13, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait, in the Oval Office, Sept. 13, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


For instance, the New York Times on Wednesday wrote that “the swift capture of large areas of [Mosul] by militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria represented a climactic moment on a long trajectory of Iraq’s unraveling since the withdrawal of American forces at the end of 2011.”

What is perhaps most striking about such accounts, which are appearing across the major U.S. media, is that the narrative doesn’t go back to the most obvious starting point: President George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was that invasion and the ensuing occupation that hurtled Iraq and to an extent Syria into their current chaos.

Bush’s invasion, which was justified by bogus claims about Iraq hiding weapons of mass destruction, was in clear violation of international law, lacking the explicit approval of the United Nations Security Council. Yet, even after the WMD falsehoods were exposed and the body counts soared, there was almost no accountability enforced either on the public officials who carried out the aggressive war or on the opinion leaders who rationalized it.

In many cases, the same pundits and pols continue to shape U.S. public opinion today and are dominating the narratives on Iraq and Syria. Thus, there is almost no attention to the fact that before the U.S. overthrow (and subsequent hanging) of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, there was no al-Qaeda threat in Iraq or Syria.

That threat emerged only after the U.S. invasion and the Bush administration’s rash decision to disband the Iraqi army. Then, as U.S. forces fought to crush Sunni resistance to Iraq’s new U.S.-backed Shiite-dominated government, Iraq became a magnet for Sunni extremists from across the Middle East, a force that coalesced into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Yet, the great divide in the Iraq War narrative came in 2007-08 when the neocons sought to salvage their blood-spattered reputations by inserting the myth of the “successful surge,” hailing Bush’s decision to escalate the war by dispatching some 30,000 additional U.S. troops. Though the “surge” initially was accompanied by a surge in killing, the gradual reduction in the violence was cited as proof of Bush’s heroic wisdom.

Other explanations for the decline in Iraqi violence were ignored, including the fact that some key policies, such as buying-off Sunni tribes in Anbar Province and applying high-tech methods for hunting down al-Qaeda leaders, were initiated before the surge although their impact only became clear later. And, the violence also subsided because the Iraqi people finally recognized that a timetable was being set for the removal of all U.S. troops, a process completed in 2011.

However, across Official Washington, the simplistic and self-serving — conventional wisdom was that the “surge” was the sole explanation for the drop in the killings, a myth that had lethal consequences in 2009 when pro-surge hardliners, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maneuvered President Obama into adopting a similar “surge” in Afghanistan.

The Unsuccessful Surges

It should now be clear that neither “surge” was successful in altering the strategic arc of those two conflicts. At best, one could say that the military “surges”  paid for by about 1,000 U.S. military deaths each and many tens of billions of dollars bought time for Bush and his neocon advisers to depart the government before the ultimate failures of their war polices became obvious, a “decent interval” that now has enabled these war architects to reframe the narrative and shift the blame to Obama.

The new narrative, which you can find across the media spectrum, is that Obama is to blame for the unfolding disaster in Iraq because he didn’t insist on continuing the U.S. military occupation indefinitely. He’s also being blamed for the spread of Islamic militancy in Syria because he resisted demands from Official Washington’s opinion leaders for a major U.S. intervention aimed at overthrowing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Thus, the same U.S. news media that fumes over speculation that Russia may somehow be aiding separatists in eastern Ukraine and sputters about Moscow’s violations of international law has been openly lusting for an expanded U.S. military intervention in Syria in clear violation of international law.

Though U.S. assistance to Syrian rebels has so far been limited to light arms and non-lethal supplies, U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have been the principal supporters of radical Sunni jihadists who have flocked from around the Middle East to wage war against Syria’s government, which is run by Assad, an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Regarding Syria, Official Washington’s narrative is that if only Obama had intervened earlier in support of “moderate” rebels or if he had launched a full-scale bombing campaign last summer as he threatened, everything would have worked out just wonderfully Assad would be gone and “moderates” would be governing Syria.

The fact that none of the U.S. interventions in the Middle East have had such a happy ending doesn’t deter this latest “group think” on Syria.

Besides the bloody examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is the case of Libya where Obama acceded to the demands of his war hawks, including Secretary Clinton and now-Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. He committed U.S. air power to remove Muammar Gaddafi (who was later captured and murdered), only to see Libya descend into chaos, violence that has fed Islamic radicalism (including the lethal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012) and has spread to Mali and other nearby African countries.

Obama’s Real Failure

If Obama is to be criticized for his handling of the Middle East, it would make more sense to excoriate him for not making a clean break with the neocon strategies of the Bush years and for not purging the U.S. government of hawks who are too eager to use military force.

Rather than adopt realistic approaches toward achieving political solutions, Obama has often caved in when confronted with pressure from Official Washington’s still influential neocons and the mainstream media that follows their lead.

For instance, Obama could accept help from Iran and Russia in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war but that would require him getting down off his high horse about how “Assad must go.” This month’s Syrian elections despite their shortcomings showed that Assad retains significant public support from the Alawites, Shiites, Christians, secularists, and even some Sunnis.

But a workable peace negotiation also would require Obama to acknowledge that Shiite-ruled Iran has legitimate interests in the region, and he might have to shake hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the current bete noire of all the smart people in Washington.

Rather than dealing with the real world where the United States might have to settle for the best of the worst options, there are signs that Obama is again falling in line with the preferred neocon strategy of expanded U.S. military assistance to Syria’s supposedly “moderate” opposition, thus widening and prolonging the civil war and resulting in more chaos and death.

The notion that Syria’s “moderates” can somehow fight a two-front war against both Assad’s army and the Islamists who have been the most effective force against Assad has become the latest wishful thinking of Official Washington’s best and brightest, similar to their earlier certainty that the U.S. invading army in Iraq would be greeted with flowers and candies.

As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius often a mouthpiece for U.S. intelligence put it on Wednesday, “The administration is finally developing a serious strategy for Syria, which will include a CIA-trained guerrilla army to fight both President Bashar al-Assad and al-Qaeda extremists. In addition, (if skittish Arab allies agree), U.S. Special Operations forces will train Free Syrian Army units to create a stabilization force for liberated areas. If the ambitious plan moves forward, the hope is to train 9,600 fighters by the end of this year.”

Similar delusional thinking about a two-front war has been at the forefront of the State Department’s deliberations on Syria. Ex-U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford wrote on the  New York Times’ op-ed page on Wednesday, “with partner countries from the Friends of Syria group like France, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, we must ramp up sharply the training and material aid provided to the moderates in the armed opposition.”

But it has been Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have been most directly implicated in helping al-Qaeda-linked jihadists to flood Syria in the first place. Their thinking was that it would be better to have Sunni extremists controlling Syria than Assad because the Sunni powers and Israel see the spread of Iran’s regional influence as their greatest threat. [See’s “Israel Sides with Syrian Jihadists.”]

There is also the question of whether there remains any real nucleus of “moderate” Syrian rebels who could carry out this two-front war. Last September, 11 leading rebel groups repudiated the U.S.-backed civilian opposition and sided with al-Qaeda-connected Islamists in their demands for a religious state to replace Assad’s more secular regime.

The New York Times reported then that the rebel groups were “distancing themselves from the exile opposition’s call for a democratic, civil government to replace Mr. Assad” and urging “all military and civilian groups in Syria to ‘unify in a clear Islamic frame.’” [See’s “Syria Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda.”]

Going back at least to 2003, this more complete and more troubling narrative would better inform the debate that Official Washington should be having about the twin crises in Iraq and Syria, a discussion that should not shy away from the devastating role that the neocons have played in undermining real U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world.

However, if you rely on the mainstream media, you can look forward to the more truncated narrative, the one that the neocons prefer, the one that starts in 2011 and pins the blame on President Obama.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

16 comments for “Blaming Obama for Iraq’s Chaos

  1. Bill Jones
    June 13, 2014 at 13:26

    “Biden in 2010: Iraq Will Be ‘One of the Greatest Achievements’ of This Administration

  2. Lyman Baker
    June 13, 2014 at 11:52

    The right-wing response to the turmoil in Iraq today is eerily reminiscent of the bogus history perpetrated in 1918 by the architects of the German aggression in World War I, when the futility of their entrance into the war became unavoidably evident to them, but not to the German people at home (who hadn’t suffered the first-hand devastation brought on by Hitler’s 1939 resumption of hostilities).

    Parry: “[The ‘surge’] bought time for Bush and his neocon advisers to depart the government before the ultimate failures of their war polices became obvious, a ‘decent interval’ that now has enabled these war architects to reframe the narrative and shift the blame to Obama.”

    In this respect, Cheney (now uncritically echoed by the mainstream media) and his neo-con buddies are channeling General Ludendorff: see (and the cartoon to the right) and (especially the section “Transfer of Blame”(.

    That’s a lesson to keep in mind as we approach the centennial of World War I. These war-mongers are trying to brand Obama and those who worked to extract us from the Iraq debacle as equivalents of what the German right (from the end of the war through the ill-fated Weimar Republic through the Hitler era) called “November criminals.”

    It is crucial to keep it firmly in mind that the “surge,” like delaying (and, to the troops, terribly expensive) last-ditch German offensives, were NOT “successes.”

  3. John
    June 13, 2014 at 10:31

    The lack of “any real nucleus of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels” and the fact that Saudi Arabia has been “directly implicated in helping al-Qaeda-linked jihadists to flood Syria” and is known to be “privately” funding them there and in Iraq, suggests that the admin is now attacking Iran through Saudi Arabia for Israel Lobby campaign bribes and is deliberately destabilizing Iraq in continuation of the Reagan era policy.

  4. Amanda Matthews
    June 12, 2014 at 20:22

    Just think how much fun we’d be having if Cameron and Obama HAD been allowed to aid the The ISIS was part of who they wanted to give weapons to.

    As for this mess in Iraq. What does anyone expect? Some of us knew it would happen before Shock and Awe. The only reason we left is our troops weren’t going to be able to continue to use the Iraqi people for target practice and walk away unpunished. We left on the date that bush** negotiated we’d leave.

    We need to grab him and cheney by the seat of their pants and drop them right into the middle of this mess they created. For oil and Halliburton.

    • Amanda Matthews
      June 12, 2014 at 20:26

      Somehow I lost part of a paragraph.

      I meant “Think of how much fun we could be having if Cameron and Obama HAD been allowed to give arms to the Syrian rebels. “(And blow up the Syrian air fields.)

  5. Rob
    June 12, 2014 at 16:57

    Also, isn’t it the case that the USA wouldn’t have withdrawn troops, but was forced to since Iraq would not accept immunity for US troops, and the US was in no position to dispute this as it did in Afghanistan recently?

    Isn’t it also true that the US did actually retain a huge army of tens of thousands of mercenaries?

  6. Rob
    June 12, 2014 at 16:45

    They Syrian election “showed that Assad retains significant public support from the Alawites, Shiites, Christians, secularists, and even some Sunnis.”

    i.e., the population? Why not just say “the population”?

  7. Simonzee1
    June 12, 2014 at 11:55

    Make no mistake the U.S France and America are behind this rapid advance of ISIS. If they can get to Baghdad rapidly the U.S will say it will not use air strikes in civilian areas. These soldiers peeled away under Western directives

    This is a two pronged move by the Obama administration. I think people including the French have told him that they are either in charge or wanting a greater say now and that…”the transcendent one” who sought to rise above the hit-man image he got with Bin Laden is displayed for all he is which is a dud with the Bergdahl decison. He is now being thrown out of the room with his Nobel Peace Prize. Back to hardball colonialism after this Bergdahl embarrasment.

    Be aware that Obama wants a “blow up in” Iraq so that people will focus back on Iraq and away from his foreign policy disasters. This was Bush’s war and so a bit of chaos works well for Obama hence no intervention.The Gaurdian are already taking this line. Meanwhile refugees flood outside of these areas and people die.

    Obama and the left in America wants a distraction from Obamas rubbish foreign policy.

    Now Obama wants to establish a Sunni government and then swing around its attention to Syria. Who is pulling the strings France…America and Britain. This also sends a message to Afghanistan where Obama has been humiliated by Karzai that they are still in charge.

    Once again as in Libya with the above Western countries NATO and the complicit U.N are using terrorists funded by Sunni autocracies to put in their puppets.

    NATO can’t account for its budget spending.  Something to do with its work with the C.I.A.

  8. Joe Tedesky
    June 11, 2014 at 22:19
  9. Truth 45
    June 11, 2014 at 21:18

    Obama’s strategy and lack of cohesive Iraqui policy….are a complete failure …..nothing make common strategic sense…sad but true

  10. F. G. Sanford
    June 11, 2014 at 18:49

    Taken as a snapshot, I entirely agree with the thrust of the article. But rather than begin in 2003, why not go back a little further, say, to 1999? Otherwise, we might be tempted to fall for the pattern of perpetual obfuscation which would have us believe there are “partisan” agendas which contribute to U.S. wars. These wars serve multinational corporate and financial interests. If they were merely a matter of partisan ideology, they could be blamed squarely on the Neocons, or the Republicans, or the Democrat hawks, or whoever you choose. Yugoslavia was doing pretty well for itself once upon a time. Free education, a functioning healthcare system, full employment, industrial growth, vibrant cultural diversity…independence from Western hegemony…uh-oh, can’t have that. The destabilization began along the same nefarious lines we witness today in Ukraine. We inserted “our guy” in there to straighten things out. He was supposed to “cooperate”. It was the same strategy we used to put Saddam in charge, or Pinochet in charge, or the Shah of Iran in charge. But then, it turned out he was sort of trying to maintain his autonomy, and retain the “socialized” economy, and resist privatization of his country’s resources, and avoid indentured servitude to Western financial interests…and suddenly, there were demands for “regime change”. Nope, can’t afford to have a successful socialized economy right in the heart of NATO country, now, can we? Suddenly, “our guy” became a power hungry human rights abuser. Rumors of political assassinations, ethnic repression and financial corruption began to spread. Soon, it became “ethnic cleansing” and “war crimes”.

    At that point, there was no choice left. “Our guy”, Slobodan Milosevic, had to go. Humanitarian bombing was initiated. As Victoria Nuland might have put it, “F**k the United Nations. No mandate was ever issued. Bill Clinton, with Hillary at his side, made it happen. So, when she, gates and Petraeus urged the surge, it was right out of an old playbook. While the administration may have correctly assessed that Iraq and Afghanistan were hopeless, that didn’t stop them from embarking on Ukraine. Obama can’t get off his “high horse”, because it isn’t his horse to get off. When you sign on for the cattle drive, you’re stuck in the saddle. Happy trails or not, we’re headed for the OK Corral. The “Trail Boss” is a non-partisan financial consortium. Whether it’s Hillary or Jeb in the saddle next, they’re still gonna be herding public opinion to the next “Indian Uprising”. Betcha it’ll be in Cuba!

  11. Mike K.
    June 11, 2014 at 17:39

    Can we note that the “neocons” were and are overwhelmingly right wing Zionist Jews?

    Simply because – you know, they are, those are the facts. Or is the truth “anti-semitic”?

  12. Lynne Gillooly
    June 11, 2014 at 15:37

    I wonder if the neocons REALLY believe their BS or is it purely economics. One of our biggest emerging markets is weapons and private contractors, not to mention the initial reasoning included taking over the Iraqi oil fields. These same people pushed Clinton to go into Iraq well before 9/11 with their PNAC group Project for an American Century)
    What is more complicated is why does the MSM carry their water? If they didn’t, I believe the Iraq War would not have happened. Who exactly calls the shots? Now that over 90 percent of media is owned by a handful of megacorporations we really no longer have a Free Press. Until that changes, our democracy is in name only.
    What is really scary is we are already a Plutocracy and with the plutocrats controlling the Tea Party we could soon be a Theocratic Plutocracy.

  13. Jim DiEugenio
    June 11, 2014 at 15:12

    Nice article Bob.

    What no one wants to admit is that not only would the USA be better off if the invasion had never happened–tens of thousands of dead and wounded, tens of billions of dollars lost–but Iraq would be better off.

    The idea that somehow we could created a functioning democracy in that country is and was absurd. But if we were, it would have to have been much more thought out and delicately executed than it was.

    Clearly, the Iraq debacle is probably the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. And to complete the comparison, Nixon and Kissinger talked of a Decent Interval there also.

  14. toby
    June 11, 2014 at 14:21

    Obama has no balls. I knew that when he put Geithner into Treasury and it has went down hill ever since.

    • Cascadian12
      June 11, 2014 at 14:55

      I agree with regard to Wall Street, which expected to get their head served to them on a platter when Obama came in, but not with regard to the war in Iraq. The Bush Regime destroyed that country and made it vulnerable to Islamists. If Saddam was still in power, you better believe the militants would be nowhere to be found. That’s the point of this article, but leave it to the NYT and YOU to make this Obama’s fault. Our military cannot win against terrorists without permanent war, and we have neither the stomach or the resources for this after more than a dozen years of war in two countries. Get real.

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