Ever since the Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003, the question of what would follow Saddam Hussein's regime -- and what role the United States would play in Iraq’s ultimate destiny -- has been open and hotly debated.
Some policymakers wanted to get out as quickly as possible, essentially leaving Iraq to its own devices. Others felt it was important to stay for the longer term, helping to provide for Iraqi security and trying to guide the new Iraqi state on a healthy path.
From 2003 to 2006, the Bush administration essentially kept one eye on the exits. Then, as Iraq descended into civil war, it shifted course, adopting a new policy, the surge, and taking a greater and more open-ended role in maintaining order.
As the civil war subsided and relative calm returned to Iraq, the Bush administration negotiated an agreement for U.S. forces to leave the country. The Obama administration accepted and implemented it to the letter, happy to put the conflict squarely in the rear-view mirror.
Now, the ultimate consequences of that decision are playing themselves out. Without much American involvement or tutelage, Iraq is once again descending into civil war. The Maliki government has governed poorly and alienated much of Iraq’s non-Shia population. ISIS, a Sunni extremist group that started out in eastern Syria, has spread to western Iraq and has declared a new caliphate, or Islamic state, in heavily Sunni parts of both countries. The Kurds in northeastern Iraq are operating largely on their own.
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