I was a strong supporter of the Iraq war. Now I urge caution about military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgency in the country.
U.S. intervention to defend its interests and support its friends remains essential. But the government in Baghdad is not an American friend, and action against ISIS will not advance U.S. interests. Instead, Washington faces a real risk of being drawn into conflict to protect an Iranian ally from the consequences of his own misrule—and paying Tehran a strategic price for the privilege.
The United States handed the government of Nouri al-Maliki a real opportunity at the end of its troop surge in 2008. Iraq had been stabilized militarily, both by the battlefield successes of the U.S.-led coalition and—maybe even more—by American-designed political initiatives to bring Sunnis into the Iraqi political system. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government proceeded to discard all these achievements.
You can read a disturbing timeline of Maliki’s failures here. The bottom line: After finishing second in the elections of 2010, the prime minister held onto power through a sequence of parliamentary maneuvers that left him dependent on Iranian-backed Shiite coalition partners. This outcome probably suited his own inclinations more than the broader-based government midwifed by the United States in 2006. Maliki's second government retooled itself as an authoritarian and sectarian regime. Sunni leaders were driven from office, arrested, and in some cases executed.