When U.S. President Donald Trump flew into Iraq for a holiday visit with American troops, he snuck in like a teenager climbing into his girlfriend's bedroom, entering the country aboard Air Force One with the lights off and blinds drawn.
Trump's visit didn't include any meetings with government dignitaries, and some have characterized the trip as an insult to Iraqis and a violation of sovereignty. Why have massive U.S. investments in Iraq resulted in this kind of animosity?
It may have something to do with the constant moving of goalposts to justify a continued U.S. presence in the country -- which, after nearly 16 years, some might consider an occupation. Removing Saddam Hussein from power? Check. Then the mission became "nation-building."
So, when Iraq had elections and established a parliament, the mission finally ended, right? Oh, look -- new terrorists! We definitely can't leave yet!
The use of terrorism as a continued justification for foreign intervention is troubling. Even more worrisome is how it has been fueled with taxpayer money under the guise of protecting us.
Can anyone name any Iraqi terrorists who have attacked the American homeland? Probably not. But we're now being told that Islamic State terrorists have left Syria and entered Iraq.
The Islamic State was largely unheard of in 2003, when the U.S. first decided to set up shop in Iraq. That changed when the Central Intelligence Agency spent more than $1 billion on what the New York Times has called one of the costliest covert action programs in the agency's history.
Operation Timber Sycamore, intended to train and arm Syrian rebels in cooperation with regional partners such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, resulted in weapons flooding into the region and paid mercenaries co-opting the resources to fight on behalf of the Islamic State.
Now we are being told that these Islamic State fighters are in Iraq, thereby providing a pretext for the ongoing American presence in the country.
There's a modus operandi here that needs to be defined and recognized so that it isn't constantly repeated.
The Islamic State grew out of a need for America and its Gulf state allies to wrest control of Syria from President Bashar al-Assad in order to advance their own interests, specifically those related to energy resources and eventual Iranian regime change.
The CIA and its Gulf state counterparts became invested -- yes, invested -- in inciting chaos. This chaos led not only to massive human displacement that reached as far as Europe but also an increase in terrorism. Such terrorism became more widespread as a result of a weakened Syria, which left a power vacuum -- at least until the Russians and Iranians arrived to provide ground and air support for the Syrian army.
When another powerful nation, Russia, stepped into the fray, the CIA's operation fizzled. Trump, to his credit, put a stop to the Syrian rebel terrorist-creation program.
With the Islamic State defeated in Syria, a U.S. presence in that country became harder to justify, and never has there been a more worrisome time for those who profit from war. Trump has ordered a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, and reports are circulating about a drawdown in Afghanistan. There's also new interest in a potential American troop withdrawal from Iraq.
If these withdrawals come to fruition, the pressure to create a continued justification for a U.S. military presence will be enormous.
Can we then expect more situations where the CIA and America's Gulf state allies pay other mercenary fighters to do their bidding in fomenting chaos and creating a need for continued foreign intervention?
The need to conjure up a bogeyman to justify foreign intervention is disturbing. If Trump is serious about pulling America out of foreign wars, he needs to keep one eye on the back door and on covertly funded mercenaries who might try to wriggle their way in to fuel more terrorist mayhem under the guise of offering counterterrorism "training and support."