Searching For A Defense Of Obama’s “Strategy”


Yishai Schwartz offers up one, arguing that the president’s approach to ISIS has been perfectly coherent, and not just a reaction to the beheading videos or polls:

Obama began ramping up interventions in Iraq well before these murders, and he did so in response to substantive strategic realities. It was in mid-June that Islamic State militants routed the far larger and better-equipped units of the Iraqi army. Only days later, reports began to surface that President Obama had offered air strikes in support of the Iraqi military, but made them conditional on Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s resignation. On August 7, IS militants seized the crucial Mosul Dam.

The same day, profound humanitarian and strategic considerations forced President Obama to compromise somewhat on pressuring Maliki, as he authorized his first air strikes to protect the besieged Yezidi population and to bolster buckling Kurdish forces. Around the same time, the U.S. began to build the international coalition against IS that would emerge weeks later. On August 15, Maliki finally caved to international and internal pressure and stepped aside, and on August 17, American forces helped the Kurds retake the Mosul dam. All of this occurred well before the video of Foley’s murder went online.

This chain of events does not look like a sudden reversal after pressure from post-beheading opinion polls. It looks like a roadmap to war …

I guess you can take this to be reassuring – if you believe in a sustained, perpetual US war in Iraq (currently a war that has lasted from 1990 – 2014). Schwartz’s reading of the chronology is also problematic:

a steadily deteriorating strategic situation, an expressed American willingness to strike predicated on the meeting of a condition, the fulfilment of the condition …

But a clear-eyed assessment of the actual situation does not lead many to believe that IS was about to take over all of Iraq. If it were, do you think Turkey would be hanging back? In fact, its capture of Mosul may well have been its high watermark – unless Americanizing the war  gives IS a new lease on life. Then “the meeting of a condition”. I think that refers to getting rid of Maliki. But that was not the condition. The condition was a unified, multi-sectarian government in Iraq – which was the point of the “surge” as well. It never happened under the surge – which is why it failed; and it hasn’t happened even as these loons have come close to Baghdad.

Today, the Iraqi parliament could not confirm the new prime minister’s nominations for the defense and interior ministries – the two that really count, and the two that are still a function of Iraq’s permanent sectarian divides. So as the US president commits this country to war in defense of “Iraq”, the same “Iraq” is so divided it cannot form the government that Obama explicitly said was a prerequisite. Which means it was not a prerequisite. It was more bullshit for an open-ended war with no Plan B that had already been decided upon.

To me, that does not seem something that we elected Obama to do. Au contraire. I will add a couple more points: General Dempsey today filled in the blanks for what happens after the current “strategy” fails:

“My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true,” he said. “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I of course would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

You heard that right. And the neocon chorus will continue to fight for another invasion of Iraq – and why not Syria? – as you can see from this classic disingenuous editorial from the Washington Post. Or check out John Boehner, who wants to relive 2003 – 20011 all over again:

“I just think that if our goal here is to destroy ISIL, we’ve got to do more than train a few folks in Syria and train a few folks in Iraq and drop some bombs,” Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning in the Capitol. “I just don’t know that it’s enough to achieve the objective the president announced.”

Neither John Boehner nor the neocons at the Washington Post actually call for ground troops – Obama has allowed them to cavil and complain from the sidelines, without getting them to vote for a new war – but you can see the general drift. The Beltway never truly believed it had screwed up in Iraq – bloviators like McCain actually believe the Iraq war was a success! – and so the notion that a new Iraq War would be obviously a terrible thing does not truly occur to them. This is the price we pay for there being no accountability in Washington – the very war criminals and ideologues that gave us that catastrophe now want to repeat the entire thing, by fanning the flames of panic and hysteria.

Steven Cook gets it right:

[Last Wednesday’s] speech, which was clearly intended to alter the perception of helpless incompetence, merely reiterated the ad hoc approach to Iraq that his administration has pursued since early June. There may be good reasons to go to war against ISIS, but no one has actually articulated them.  Are we protecting Erbil and American personnel? Undertaking a humanitarian mission? Fighting evil? Helping the Free Syrian Army? Assisting Washington’s regional allies against the ISIS threat? No one knows, but we are nevertheless turning the aircraft carriers into the wind.  This is no way to go to war.

The disheartening aspect of this episode is that the White House’s instincts were initially correct: Foley’s beheading, that of Steven Sotloff, and most recently the murder of David Haines may be horrible, but they are not very good reasons to commit the United States to the conflict in Iraq and inevitably, Syria—two countries that are likely to be at war with themselves for decades. That may be unavoidable, but before the United States leaps in, policymakers should actually develop a strategy.  In other words, identify realistic national goals and determine what resources are necessary to achieve those aims.  I am not sure anyone has articulated those goals yet, which means that we are still at step one.

I know many of you disagree. But I fear this is Obama repealing a core pillar of his candidacy and presidency. And there is nothing we can do about it. The Congress has effectively abdicated its democratic responsibility – and Obama is happy about that. So sit back, get some popcorn, and watch successive emperors extend that AUMF into perpetuity. And if you think the Iraq Wars from 1990 – 2014 have been a great success, what’s not to love about that?

(Photo: US President Barack Obama makes his way to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on September 12, 2014, in Washington, DC. Obama is heading to Baltimore, Maryland to visit Fort McHenry and to attend a fundraiser. By Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images.)