A group of tribal leaders from Anbar province, Iraq, have finally found help in their fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) through the efforts of former President George W. Bush, who vowed to “do everything I can” to help those attempting to escape ISIS.
Mark Perry at Politico Magazine has the fascinating story about what happened when Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha’s group–the much-praised Anbar Awakening Council–came to Washington looking for help against ISIS.
Islamic State terrorists attacked Risha’s home while he was in transit, killing nine Iraqi police officers and wounding twenty-eight of his bodyguards, while nearby Iraqi army forces ignored their pleas for help. Upon arriving at the White House, he and his delegates received little attention from the Obama administration.
“There were a lot of smiles, a lot of nodding heads, but that was it. It’s clear the administration has made up its mind. [Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi] is their man, and that’s that,” said one of the frustrated delegates. Another said it was “obvious that U.S. officials were going through the motions.” One of them complained the administration was more interested in restructuring the Iraqi government than protecting his people from attacks by the Islamic State. Perry describes them as “bitterly disappointed” when the time came to pack their bags and settle their hotel bills.
Somewhere toward the end of the visit, Sheikh Risha got a call from Bush, who, thanks to his contacts in Washington, was aware of their plight in Iraq and knew they were in town. “Bush urged Abu Risha to extend his stay and meet with retired Gen. David Petraeus, as well as with Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham,” Perry reports. “According to Abu Risha, Bush pledged that he would ‘do everything I can’ to help him get a hearing in Washington.”
The complaint from the Anbar leaders is strikingly similar to what the Iraqi Kurds have been saying: Obama’s Iraq policy is 100 percent dedicated to shoring up the Shiite-dominated, increasingly Iran-aligned central government in Baghdad, even when they are unwilling to assist Sunni and Kurd groups under attack from the Islamic State. America funnels all its weapons through Baghdad and its favorite Shiite militia units, regardless of their willingness or ability to fight. A good deal of the support sent to Baghdad disappears into its bottomless pits of corruption.
Bush’s resurgence is notable because, as the article notes, he has been “reluctant to interfere in world affairs since leaving office.” After reading his story, it is more infuriating than ever that Obama’s hapless foreign-policy team did not seek Bush’s advice.
The easiest path on Iraqi policy is to proclaim that everything has to go through Baghdad, and if the war is going poorly, it’s all their fault. Given how much of a bloody slog the anti-ISIS effort has been so far, it seems astonishing that willing allies looking for a means to fight back against the terror state would get what one of them described as not quite “the cold shoulder,” but “certainly … a cool one.” Arming these tribes against al-Qaeda was a Bush strategy. Unfortunately for them, that is probably all Team Obama needed to hear to deny them direct assistance against ISIS.