Will Foley’s Murder Change Obama’s Iraq Plans?

by Dish Staff

In the wake of James Foley’s murder, Fred Kaplan urges Obama to start building a regional coalition to defeat ISIS:

If the jihadists of ISIS are as dangerous as Obama says they are (and the evidence suggests they are), then it’s time to plow through diplomatic niceties and pursue the common interests of nations with which we otherwise might not get along. Yes, it’s politically awkward, to say the least, for Obama to make common cause, even on this one issue, with Assad (a monster whom he once said “must go”) and the mullahs of Tehran (most of whom regard America as the “great Satan”). But in World War II, Roosevelt and Churchill joined with Stalin to defeat Hitler—and, if they hadn’t, Hitler would have won.

The net against ISIS should be widened further. A good model here is the 1990–91 Gulf War, in which Presidents George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker assembled a vast coalition to push Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait. Nearly every Arab country in the region—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, even Syria—sent whole armored divisions or air wings. Many of them didn’t do much in the war, but the important point was that they were there. Their presence demonstrated that this wasn’t a war of Western imperialists against Muslim Iraq; it was a multinational war against aggression.

Jacob Siegel expects the US intervention in Iraq to escalate, but points out that merely holding the recent gains against ISIS will require a sustained involvement anyway:

Defeating ISIS in an open confrontation has not been part of any proposed plan, but weakening the group and pushing back its advances could go from the de facto U.S. approach to the official strategy if the air campaign expands. The most visible result of the air campaign is the retaking of the Mosul Dam, a key piece of infrastructure that ISIS captured from Kurdish forces in early August. After a sustained bombing campaign with more than half the total U.S. airstrikes so far, 51 out 84 targeting ISIS positions around the dam, it was retaken Tuesday by Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi special forces.

The dam is no longer in ISIS’s hands, but keeping it that way may require keeping American airpower on call for the foreseeable future.

Spencer Ackerman scopes out what sort of escalation might be in the works:

One option under consideration, not directly related to the Foley killing, is a request for hundreds of more US marines to deploy to Baghdad to bolster security at the US embassy and related installations. The request, made by the State Department recently, is said not to be a response to an new anticipated push by Isis into Baghdad, which it has stopped short of attempting to seize. An official who was not cleared to speak to the press characterized it as coming out of an abundance of caution. …

The US Central Command continued on Wednesday to send fighter jets and armed drones to harass Isis near the Mosul Dam, a critical piece of infrastructure that the US considers to no longer be under Isis control. The warplanes launched 14 strikes against Isis vehicles and weaponry, tacitly a rejection of Isis’ demand with the Foley killing that the US relent in its newest air campaign in Iraq.

Ramping up the air campaign may soon become easier, as Baghdad appears willing to let US bombers take off from Iraqi bases:

The back-channel discussions over the bases, which have not previously been reported, highlight the White House’s uncertainty about escalating its low-level air war against the Islamic State. President Barack Obama proudly pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq in late 2011. He has repeatedly stressed that the military campaign there that began Aug. 8 will be limited in both scope and duration. With broad swaths of Syria and Iraq under Islamic State control, key U.S. allies are pressing the administration to step up the fight. Taking off from Iraqi bases would make it much easier to do so because it would put the American aircraft closer to their targets.

“Everything is harder when you’re doing it from the outside,” a senior military official said. At issue is a little-noticed aspect of this air campaign: None of the strikes against Islamic State targets inside Iraq have been carried out by U.S. aircraft based inside Iraq.

Morrissey flags a new poll showing that 54 percent of the American public supports airstrikes against ISIS:

Obama deserves credit for taking action, if belatedly and perhaps not as robustly as some would like. So far, though, Americans aren’t inclined to think that his policies in Iraq have improved. His approval rating in June on the question was 42/52, and today it’s 42/51. In fact, slightly more strongly disapprove now (36%, from 34%) and slightly fewer strongly approve (16% from 17%) than in June, although all of those moves are within the margin of error. Interestingly, the American public likes the air strikes, but not arming the Kurds, which seems like more of a slam-dunk.