A particularly interesting (and vexing) question facing American politics today pertains to the impact of war on the coming 2016 presidential elections. The United States has been involved in some manner of armed conflict since 2003 – some would say since September 11, 2001 – and the military action has now spanned over a decade and the terms of two different American presidents. It’s important to examine the contributions of each of these men in order to fully understand the future consequences.
It’s well known that, seeking to depose the dictator Saddam Hussein and disarm his rumored stock of weapons of mass destruction, George W Bush initiated the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Contrary to fears at the time about the vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard, America’s victory was swift and decisive. Combat operations were also undertaken in Afghanistan, with the aim of neutralizing the threat of the Taliban. Militarily speaking, these actions were successful, but they necessitated prolonged occupation efforts that proved extremely costly in both American blood and American treasure. In time, Bush was able to establish democratic elections in Iraq, resulting in the popular choosing of a prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. An American military presence was maintained, again at great cost, while this new, fragile government attempted to take hold.
When Barack Obama won the American presidency in 2008, he largely kept to a campaign promise that the US military presence in Iraq would be drawn down, while America would (in his words) “double down” on Afghanistan. The result of this policy, specifically the American withdrawal from Iraq, was a gradual destabilizing of that nation that continues today, until currently the Iraqi government is in real danger of being toppled by armed factions within the country vying for their own power. Meanwhile, any and all efforts to reduce the American presence in Afghanistan have tended to produce an almost immediate resurgence of the Taliban, which lays low when the Americans are around and asserts itself again when they leave. The operation has been referred to, with decidedly grim humor, as a giant game of whack-a-mole.
We can see, then, that both US presidents who have sat for this war are responsible for it. Bush initiated it (for which the Republican party paid a dear price in the ’06 and ’08 elections), but Obama’s efforts to taper it down were neither immediate nor decisive.
But what does this have to do with 2016? Obama will be leaving office then, and Bush will have been gone for eight years. Perhaps, but the consequences of a destabilized Middle East will live on. Bush has traditionally been the favored target for ire concerning this situation, but Obama deserves his share of the blame, and in any event, it must never be forgotten that American voters have a notoriously short memory. It seems likely that it is the Democrats who will inherit the political fallout of Iraq and Afghanistan, with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton being made to answer for the state of affairs in 2016. Whether this will prove lethal to her presidential bid remains to be seen, but Mrs Clinton would do well to prepare for that particular battle now. She has her own war coming.