Obama vs The Obama Administration On War

Could the messaging get any worse? Eli Lake and Josh Rogin wonder how the president will maintain his light-touch approach to fighting ISIS when his people, specifically his top military brass, keep hinting that they favor a more direct intervention:

The internal dissent is likely to intensify with Obama’s choice of John Allen to lead the international campaign to persuade U.S. allies to pony up troops, money, and arms for his new war. Allen, a retired general beloved by Washington’s neoconservatives, has called for a robust U.S. war against ISIS since June. Obama and Allen sat down together Tuesday at the White House. Soon after he retired in 2013, Allen took a veiled shot at his old and now new boss, observing that in the wake of Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, “the body count is going up, the bloodletting is going up.”

As the details of the president’s new war plan leak out this week, many of Allen’s former colleagues and lawmakers wonder whether the president’s new special envoy will be able to convince Arab and European states to get behind a strategy they see as amounting to a half-measure.

Friedersdorf points out that if Obama didn’t want his administration going off-message and calling for more war, he shouldn’t have staffed it with hawks:

That momentum would build behind war is no fluke. What else did Obama expect when he staffed his entire administration with hawkish Iraq War proponents? Any attempt to measure the momentum for war must include Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling ISIS “beyond anything we’ve ever seen,” heated rhetoric from Secretary of State John Kerry, and Vice President Joe Biden vowing that the United States will follow ISIS “to the gates of hell.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also been a prominent hawk. This is not a surprise. Obama elevated a faction of hawkish Democrats, despite purporting to believe that they all favored a “stupid” war. Little wonder that elites seem so overwhelmingly in favor of intervention.

Mark Thompson thinks Dempsey’s statement yesterday was telling:

[W]hile he caveated what he told the panel about the escalating fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, his message was clear: if the U.S.-led effort to defeat ISIS and oust it from its self-proclaimed Islamic State straddling the Syrian-Iraq border falls short, Dempsey will go back to the Oval Office and ask Obama for a green light to send at least a limited number of American ground-combat forces to help get the job done.

What was striking was how he delivered the message. Pentagon officials are forever saying they won’t speak in “hypotheticals”—things that might happen in the future—yet Dempsey dropped an atomic what-if into his opening statement. “If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets,” he said, “I’ll recommend that to the President.”

And to Zack Beauchamp, it indicates that our commitment in Iraq and Syria could easily snowball:

Obama has final say on America’s Iraq policy and is free to reject Dempsey’s “recommendation” to send troops into combat. Given the president’s wariness about ground wars after George W. Bush’s Iraq War and Afghanistan, and his own consistent promise to the American public, he might reject any plan to send US troops into a direct combat mission. But here’s the third thing: this war is escalating quickly. We went from a targeted mission to protect American citizens in Kurdistan and save Iraqi Yazidis from genocide to a full-scale mission to destroy ISIS in both Iraq and Syria in the span of, roughly, a month. Despite his promises, Obama did indeed consider sending ground troops into combat to rescue Yazidis trapped on a mountain.

Internal pressure from leading advisers like Dempsey could very well push the president towards even larger escalations. So, too, could the internal logic of war.

And Obama appears as if he is a spectator to this dangerous escalation – not someone strongly tamping it down. I fear he has lost control of events – by attempting to appease them.