The Iraqi government has formally requested US air strikes on ISIS, but our top brass is hesitant to give Maliki what he wants. Karl Mueller asks whether attacking ISIS from the air would be effective:
The military success of any air power intervention in Iraq depends very much on the ground forces fighting against ISIS. Bombing could do a great deal to give Iraqi security forces the upper hand, and it might also provide an important psychological boost to their willingness to stand and fight, which has often been less than impressive. But if they were ultimately unable or unwilling to make effective use of that advantage, such an intervention would be a wasted effort. (Conversely, if the Iraqis can defeat ISIS without such help, there would be little reason to consider intervening.)
And of course, even if ISIS were defeated with the help of Western air power, whether the outcome would ultimately be a strategic success for the United States hinges on what comes next in Iraq. Air power is a potent instrument for changing the course of wars, but as experience in Libya shows, shaping what happens in the wake of the conflict means building influence on the ground and devoting sustained effort to the often difficult problems of postwar stabilization.
Carpenter doesn’t see the point of airstrikes to prop up a loser like Maliki:
U.S. airstrikes could deepen Iraq’s Sunni-Shia divide, they could alienate the Saudis and align us with Iran, they could convert thousands of non-combatant Iraqi Sunnis to violent jihadism against the United States, and perhaps worst of all, they not only could, but would tie us militarily to the region’s most incompetent leader–Nuri al-Maliki. All of which tends to swamp the “good.”
Nonetheless, airstrikes to bolster the Iraqi Army’s morale might indeed be a good thing–other considerations aside–but not as long as Maliki rules. That would be bad. In fact that would be dumb. And President Obama isn’t a dumb president.
But Morrissey is more sanguine:
This is probably an easy call for Obama to make. Air strikes are a lot more antiseptic than putting ground troops in harm’s way, and a lot more practical in terms of politics, logistics, and timing. It gives Obama a chance to take some action that will at least address the deep concerns from allies in the region about the lack of action and direction from Washington these days, too. Air strikes will also provide a positive impact on the situation and give Baghdad some room to maneuver politically and militarily. Plus, Congress is likely to rally around this limited intervention, which would provide Obama with political cover — if he’s smart enough to seek it. He didn’t in Libya and is still paying the political price for high-handing Congress and going it alone.
A new poll reveals that Americans don’t much care for bombing Iraq, but as the above chart shows, it’s a good deal more popular than boots on the ground. The public, however, doubts intervention will do any good:
Opposition to sending troops to Iraq may not be entirely due to weariness after nearly thirteen years of war, but also because of doubts over the ability of the US to actually have a positive impact. Only 19% say that US intervention would defeat the insurgents and restore the power of the Iraqi government, while 25% say that the insurgents would be defeated but the Iraqi government would still be ineffectual. 34% think that US intervention would do little to change anything.