How Far Will Obama’s Iraq War Expand?

by Dish Staff

Zack Beauchamp makes much of the recent escalation of American involvement in the Iraq conflict, embodied in Obama’s Sunday authorization of airstrikes to support the Kurds in recapturing the Mosul Dam from ISIS:

By explicitly authorizing airstrikes supporting Iraqi government forces, and not just the Kurdish peshmerga, Obama crossed an informal line he had previously held: don’t help the Iraqi government until there’s major political reform in Baghdad. That standard, it seems, no longer holds. This is a point Obama has been clear on since June. He’d authorized strikes only in defense of Kurdish territory in northeastern Iraq and to save the members of the Yazidi minority trapped on a mountain by ISIS forces. “The US is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis,” Obama said in a June 13 address. He was more blunt in an August 8th statement, saying “the nature of this problem is not one our military can solve.”

Michael Crowley smells mission creep:

The worry is that Obama’s rationale of “protecting Americans in Iraq” can be stretched to justify almost any kind of military action — especially now that he has more than doubled the U.S. presence in Iraq to nearly 2000 personnel since June. (A key stage of mission creep in Vietnam involved sending troops to protect U.S. air bases in that country.) But Obama has given himself even broader license than that. When he announced the dispatch of 300 military advisors to Iraq back on June 19, Obama wrote himself something like a blank check.

“[W]e will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action,” Obama said, “if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.” That language covers even more action that Obama’s protect-Americans vow. ISIS is little too close to Baghdad? Boom. Intel about suicide bombers eyeing Erbil? Boom. Imminent slaughter somewhere? Boom, boom, boom.

And Benjamin Friedman sees that “creep” accelerating into a sprint:

Only the speed of this slide down a slippery slope is surprising. As I recently noted, the humanitarian case for protecting the Yazidi easily becomes a case for continual bombing of ISIL and resumed counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Their danger to civilians was never limited to Sinjar. And as in Syria, the major humanitarian threat in Iraq is civil war.Americans, the president included, need to admit being out of Iraq potentially means letting it burn. The collapse of the fiction that U.S. forces stabilized Iraq before exiting forces us to confront the unpleasant contradictions in U.S. goals there. We want to avoid the tragic costs of U.S. forces trying to suppress Iraq’s violence. We want a stable Iraqi federal government and we want Iraqis to live peacefully. Each of those goals conflicts with the others.

Even if the new Prime Minister is amenable to Sunni demands, U.S. bombing is unlikely to allow Iraqis to destroy ISIL and its allies. Large-scale violence will likely continue. Suppressing insurgency will likely require resumption of U.S. ground operations. And even that, we know, may not help much.

The American public appears to support the air campaign, with a new poll putting that support at 54 percent, but the poll also reveals some anxiety about getting bogged down in Iraq again:

Thirty-one percent said they disapproved of the strikes, while 15 percent of the 1,000 randomly selected respondents who took part in the survey, which was carried out between Thursday and Sunday, declined to give an opinion. The poll found major partisan differences, with self-described Republicans markedly more hawkish than Democrats or independents, although a majority of Democratic respondents said they also supported the airstrikes.

However, a majority (57 percent) of Republicans said they were concerned that Obama was not prepared to go “far enough to stop” the Islamic State, while majorities of Democrats (62 percent) and independents (56 percent) said they worried that he may go too far in re-inserting the military into Iraq three years after the last US combat troops were withdrawn. Overall, 51 percent of respondents expressed the latter fear.