So sayeth Max Boot, and depressingly, he appears to be right:
The climactic battles of the American War in Iraq were fought in Anbar Province, with U.S. forces at great cost retaking the city of Fallujah at the end of 2004 and Ramadi, the provincial capital, in 2006-07. The latter success was sparked by an unlikely alliance with tribal fighters that turned around what had been a losing war effort and made possible the success of what became known as “the surge.” By 2009, violence had fallen more than 90%, creating an unexpected opportunity to build a stable, democratic and prosperous country in the heart of the Middle East.
It is now obvious that this opportunity has been squandered, with tragic consequences for the entire region. In recent days the Iraqi army appears to have been pushed, at least temporarily, out of Fallujah and Ramadi by al Qaeda in Iraq militants. A battle is raging for control of Anbar Province with some tribal fighters supporting the government and others AQI. Mosul, the major city of northern Iraq and a longtime hotbed of AQI activity, could be next to fall. If it does, AQI would gain effective control of the Sunni Triangle, an area north and west of Baghdad the size of New England.
AQI’s control would stretch beyond the Sunni Triangle because its offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, dominates a significant portion of Syrian territory across the border. This creates the potential for a new nightmare: an al Qaeda state incorporating northern Syria and western Iraq.
[. . .]
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has no one but himself to blame. If he had embraced the Sunni Awakening movement, Iraq likely would have remained relatively peaceful. Instead, the moment that U.S. troops left Iraq, he immediately began victimizing prominent Sunnis.
[. . .]
What Iraq needs now is what it saw in 2007 when Gen. David Petraeus orchestrated a full-blown counterinsurgency strategy. Such a strategy has many facets, but one of the most important is a political “line of operations,” which in this case means fostering reconciliation between the prime minister and tribal leaders of Anbar.
The U.S. lost most of its leverage to do that when it foolishly pulled its troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011 after the failure of halfhearted negotiations overseen by Vice President Joe Biden. Selling Iraq Hellfire missiles, as the Obama administration has just done, is a poor substitute. It is positively destructive because it only further inflames the situation and creates the impression that the Americans are siding with militant Shiites in a sectarian civil war.
Only five years ago, AQI appeared on the verge of collapse. Then-CIA Director Michael Hayden declared in 2008, “Al Qaeda is on the verge of a strategic defeat in Iraq” – an assessment backed by a plunge in the organization’s attacks, a collapse in its ability to hold territory, and widespread criticism of the organization from within the broader Muslim world, including from many former jihadist supporters.
How times have changed.