The liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul in July was cause for celebration, but it would be a mistake for the United States to declare “mission accomplished” and exit Iraq, warns Yale University’s Emma Sky in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs.
Sky, former governorate coordinator of Kirkuk and political advisor to U.S. Army General Raymond Odierno, argues “ISIS is not the cause of Iraq’s problems but a symptom of failed governance. And if the United States disengages now, Trump’s successor may have to put American boots on the ground yet again, to fight the son of ISIS.”
“U.S. support is still needed to strengthen the Iraqi state and to discourage other countries in the region from filling the power vacuum,” observes Sky. “The collapse of Iraq was instrumental in the unraveling of regional order; its stability is key to restoring a balance of power.”
Noting that “the Obama administration’s decision to disengage from Iraq ultimately brought about conditions that required it to reengage,” Sky finds the United States needs “to view its national interests in Iraq through a wider lens than simply counterterrorism. This would entail sustained support for Iraqi institutions and a greater commitment to pushing back against Iranian expansionism.”
The author concludes, “Many of Trump’s aides have considerable experience with Iraq . . . One can hope that Trump’s advisers might push him to select the least bad options from the choices available. But implementing the resulting policies would require a skillful secretary of state supported by a strong State Department. And at the moment, the State Department lacks the resources to play that crucial role.”
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