Archives For: Iraq


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:

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Dissents Of The Day II

Sep 16 2014 @ 1:22pm

The in-tray has been brimming with backlash over my criticism of the president on Iraq. I’m glad to air it – and it’s made me think hard about it again. And this email stung a little – but made me laugh:

[The above] commercial popped into my head after reading you on Obama, and I thought to myself, “I swear it’s Andrew, bless his hysterical heart.”

First big round of dissent here. Another:

I share every one of your concerns regarding Obama‘s initiative against ISIS, and yet there is a word in my thoughts that you, as far as I am aware, haven’t mentioned and that president Obama mentioned only once in his speech and in a passing way: genocide.

By both word and deed, ISIS has unequivocally declared its intent to exterminate any and all non-Sunni (and eventually non-Salafist) persons that it can. ISIS has clearly shown itself committed to a level of atrocity far above any usual sectarian blood-letting. They may well have the capacity to kill in numbers that rival Rwanda, perhaps even the Nazis. This thought disrupts my inclination to stand back. Don’t we suffer remorse over past genocides we failed to act against? Can we do much to stop this one? Probably not. Does that take away the moral burden to try? Probably not.

Another quotes me:

That simple lesson is as follows: American military force to pummel Jihadists from the skies can create as much terror as it foils. Our intervention can actually backfire and make us all less safe. How many Jihadists, for example, did the Iraq War create? Our intervention gave al Qaeda a foothold in Iraq and then, by creating a majority Shi’a state for the first time, helped spawn Sunni support for the Caliphate.

It’s not fair to compare an invasion, followed by nearly a decade of occupation and so-called “nation-building,” to the air campaign and soldier training that Obama is waging against ISIS. For one thing, there’s a great deal of support from Arab nations in the region and moderate Muslims around the world. Yes, we’re doing their dirty work, to some extent. But because that work doesn’t entail our soldiers traipsing through their streets – and since they’ve asked for our help, it’s a totally different dynamic.

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Ali Murat Yel defends Turkey’s reluctance to join the war coalition against ISIS:

Public opinion in Turkey holds that a Muslim cannot be a terrorist and any terrorist cannot be a Muslim. In other words, terrorism and Islam cannot be reconciled. This public conviction is certainly the real attitude of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has formed the Alliance of Civilizations with Spain against the expectation in some quarters of a “clash of civilizations” and has been trying to restore peace with different ethnic groups in Turkey. The President himself and the majority of Turkish people believe that terrorism could be defeated intellectually not through waging war on them.

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Dissents Of The Day I

Sep 16 2014 @ 11:59am

A reader succinctly sums up a common sentiment in the in-tray:

Give the president some time and see how this works out. I can’t believe that after six years of meep meep, you keep freaking out like this.

Another adds, “Is it too much of a cliché to say Keep Calm and Know Hope?” Another:

Really disappointed in your attacks on Obama. So far, his actions against IS(IS) have been President Obama Delivers Statement On Situation In Iraqquite successful. Most of the Yazidis are off the mountain and receiving food and medicine rather than a horrible death, the same for the Shia community of Amerli. IS’s march towards the Kurdish capital of Irbil, a rare success story in the region, has been stopped. IS have lost control of the Mosul Dam, which controls the region’s water and electricity supply and if destroyed would unleash a tsunami over a huge area. Maliki’s been replaced in Iraq. All this without generating any real outrage against America.

Some of the rhetoric about destroying IS may be way unrealistic, but I think his actions have been careful and effective. I think Obama will stall and partially reverse what was an alarmingly rapid expansion of this frightening group, and at an acceptable price ensure the Middle East becomes a little less awful in a situation when doing nothing would see it become a lot more awful. Doesn’t that deserve our support?

Another reader:

As for “war,” calm down. We’re going for containment. ISIL is not ten feet tall, they’ve lost repeatedly when faced by peshmerga or Iraqi forces backed by US air power. If Mr. Obama really meant to obliterate ISIL, we’d be talking Marines, not air power supporting the locals. So this is containment to be followed we hope by ISIL making a hash of things in their territory and eventually being nibbled to death by Baghdad and the Kurds and Assad and even the Free Syrian Army. Al-Baghdadi’s only possible winning move is against Mecca and Medina, and if we block that effectively, he’ll wither over time. If ISIL attacks the US or Europe we have their home address and we have lots of bombs. None of this is good, but neither is it time to panic.

Mr. Obama played a bad hand about as well as it could be played.

Another switches metaphors:

As always, I think we underestimate Obama when it comes to playing foreign policy chess. Remember how it looked like Syria was an utter disaster for him a year ago?

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Can America “Destroy” ISIS?

Sep 15 2014 @ 7:14pm

Tomasky wishes Obama would treat Americans like grownups and admit that we can’t eradicate the evil embedded in ISIS:

We’ve been trying to destroy Al Qaeda for 13 years now. We have not. We will not. And we will not destroy ISIS. We can’t destroy these outfits. They’re too nimble and slippery and amorphous, and everybody knows it. So why say it? Why not say what we hopefully can do and what we should do: contain it. We have contained Al Qaeda. Some of the methods have been morally problematic (drone strikes that sometimes kill innocents, etc.), but the methods have worked. Al Qaeda, say the experts, is now probably not in a position to pull off a 9/11. Containment is fine. It does the job. But no, I guess a president can’t say that. A president has to sound like John Wayne. It’s depressing and appalling.

Steve Chapman explains why, in his view, the war against ISIS is unlikely to succeed:

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Barack Obama, Neocon?

Sep 15 2014 @ 3:18pm

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In Obama’s reluctance to refer to his military operation against ISIS as a war, Uri Friedman reads an implicit embrace of the notion of perpetual war:

The distinctions between war and peace, of course, have long been murky (think America’s “police action” in Vietnam during another seemingly endless conflict: the Cold War). And few declarations of war are as clear as, say, those issued during World War II. Obama, moreover, has been careful to present his counterterrorism measures as limited to specific groups in specific places that pose specific threats to the United States—rather than, in his words, a “boundless ‘global war on terror.’” But over the course of his presidency, these efforts have expanded from Pakistan and Yemen to Somalia, and now to Iraq and Syria. “This war, like all wars, must end,” Obama declared at National Defense University.

[Last] week, the president set aside that goal. Thirteen years after his predecessor declared war on a concept—terror—Obama avoided explicitly declaring war on the very real adversary ISIS has become. All the same, U.S. soldiers are now going on the offensive again in the Middle East. What is the nature of their enemy? Is it peacetime or wartime? After Wednesday’s speech, it’s more difficult than ever to tell.

Allahpundit thinks Obama has adopted the same logic Bush used to justify invading Iraq in 2003:

He’s spent six years using, and even expanding, the counterterror tools that Bush gave him, but not until now did he take the final step and adopt Bush’s view of war itself.

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Aaron Blake flags a new poll showing lackluster public confidence that Obama’s approach to ISIS will work, even though most support military action against the group:

This vote of no/little confidence, without a doubt, owes in part to the tough situations in the two Middle Eastern counties the United States has attempted to stabilize over the past decade: Afghanistan and Iraq. Given those experiences, it’s not surprising that Americans would be pessimistic about succeeding against the Islamic State.

But Obama’s persistently low approval rating on foreign policy suggests that it’s also in large part because people doubt he’s up to the task. Polls have repeatedly shown that people don’t think Obama is tough enough. This is an extension of that.

Philip Klein observes that Americans want ISIS destroyed but don’t want to make too many commitments or sacrifices to that end:

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President Obama Addresses The Nation To Outline Strategy On ISIS

As you are by all accounts aware, the US now faces its deadliest foe, its most terrifying enemy – the likes of which we have never seen – in the deserts of Iraq. If we do not send ground troops into that country again, we will all die at home, says Butters. 90 percent of the country think we are directly threatened by the new Caliphate. And far from calming the hysteria, our leaders have fanned it.

Very few people in political leadership have laid out what this group is actually capable of, what the limits of its potential are, or examined the contingent reasons behind its recent sudden advance. It has been framed as an abstract but vital fight against “pure evil” – a rubric the originator of the phrase “axis of evil” knows more about than most. Here’s a must-read on reality:

Despite its territorial gains and mastery of propaganda, the Islamic State’s fundamentals are weak, and it does not have a sustainable endgame. In short, we’re giving it too much credit.

Consider the fall of Mosul, which catapulted the impression that the group is a formidable force able to engage on multiple fronts simultaneously and overpower a U.S.-trained army that dwarfs its size. In reality, it was able to gain such vast territory because it faced an impotent opponent and had the help of the broader Sunni insurgency. The Iraqi army, lacking professionalism and insufficiently motivated to fight and die for Sunni-dominated Mosul, self-destructed and deserted. The militants can be credited with fearlessness and offensive mobility, but they can hardly be said to have defeated the Iraqi army in combat. At the time, Islamic State militants represented less than 10 percent of the overall Sunni insurgency. Many other Sunni groups helped to hold territory and fight off Iraq’s Shiite government and Iranian-backed militia forces …

The Islamic State’s capture of Sinjar in the northern province of Nineveh further added to perceptions of its dominance and helped precipitate Washington’s decision to carry out airstrikes in Iraq. But that episode was also misinterpreted. Kurdish forces were not only taken by surprise, but since they had only recently filled the vacuum in Sinjar left by Iraq’s fleeing army, they were stretched too thin and poorly equipped to sustain a battle outside their home territory. Lacking ammunition and other supplies, they conceded the territorial outpost and retreated within their borders in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Read the whole thing. IS is already over-stretched, and the regional powers who are actually threatened by it, have been slowly mobilizing against it. All of that was happening before Obama decided to Americanize the conflict. Immediately, there is less incentive for the regional actors to do the work themselves, and IS now has a global legitimacy – the US president is now its chief enemy! – it can leverage for further recruits.

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The Obama administration is now saying that “several” Arab countries will participate in an air war against ISIS but won’t say which:

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking from Paris, declined to say which states had offered to contribute air power, an announcement that White House officials said could await his return to testify in Congress early this week. State Department officials, who asked not to be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters, said Arab nations could participate in an air campaign against ISIS in other ways without dropping bombs, such as by flying arms to Iraqi or Kurdish forces, conducting reconnaissance flights or providing logistical support and refueling. “I don’t want to leave you with the impression that these Arab members haven’t offered to do airstrikes, because several of them have,” one State Department official said.

Ian Black considers the interests of our likely partners, saying Arab support is symbolically important but might not be that helpful:

Military capability is not a problem: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar together have hundreds of advanced fighter aircraft, though the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has next to no experience of coordination. Politically, however, fighting with the US would require greater determination than they have yet shown to tackle the jihadis who have sent shockwaves across the region.

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A military approach alone won’t do the trick, Zack Beauchamp argues, emphasizing the extent to which Obama’s strategy depends on political factors largely outside his control:

Even assuming the Iraqi and Syrian rebel forces can be made strong enough to take on ISIS in purely military terms, there’s a list of everything that needs go right — politically — for Obama’s strategy to work out:

  1. The Iraqi government needs to stop repressing and systematically disenfranchising Sunnis. It also needs to accommodate their demands for positions of power in government in perpetuity, so ISIS doesn’t just pop back up after the US leaves.
  2. The US must avoid sending the signal that it’s coordinating with Iran, which would put it on the Shia side of a sectarian war.
  3. Syrian rebels armed and trained by the US don’t simply take their new weapons and defect to ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra, the local al-Qaeda affiliate.
  4. US airstrikes and US allied military campaigns need to avoid killing large numbers of civilians, which could cause a pro-ISIS popular backlash.
  5. If the US actually does manage to demolish ISIS’s control on territory, it needs to ensure that neither Syrian President Bashar al-Assad nor al-Qaeda simply take over the land that ISIS has vacated.
  6. The United States has to do all of this without deploying ground troops or otherwise getting caught in a bloody, brutal quagmire.

For the outcome to end well, every single one of these events must go the right way. There’s a reason that one US General told the Washington Post that the new campaign in Syria is “harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan.” Given how those wars ended up, that’s a pretty ominous comparison.

Deborah Avant also considers ISIS a fundamentally political challenge:

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