President Bush, in the buildup to the 2003 Iraq invasion, said that our goal was an Iraq that was democratic, able to defend itself. and would be our ally in the global war against terrorism. None of those goals was achieved. Now, three years after President Obama withdrew American forces from Iraq, he’s dipping a military toe into Iraq again. The mission he’s described for our forces boils down to ensuring that the Democrats don’t get blamed for “losing” Iraq in the 2016 elections.
If that seems harsh consider the facts, as Obama has described them, to justify the latest round of military intervention.
Obama said on Friday — as he has said many times before — that there is no American military solution in Iraq, and that the only lasting solution is “reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.” But there is no reasonable prospect for such a reconciliation among Malaki’s Shia in the south, the Sunni barbarians of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (aka ISIS) in the middle, and the Kurds in the north. Obama has no plan or strategy to bring about the formation of such a government.
He has also said that ISIS is an Iraqi problem, not an American problem. That can only be understood to mean there is no American national security interest in Iraq. Which compels us to ask why are we then renewing our military intervention in Iraq.
On Saturday, Obama said, “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to be a long-term project.” That’s an open-ended commitment like the one he excoriated President Bush for in the 2008 campaign.
Which leads back to what Obama implied in his Friday remarks. He said, “When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from a friendly government, and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”
This is an oblique restatement of the fictitious “responsibility to protect” argument — R2P in Obama regime lingo — that he used to involve us in Libya where we had absolutely no national security interest. It is Obama’s doctrinal principle to substitute that vague human rights concept for an actual national security interest. He won’t commence military action in its absence, regardless of actual national security interests.
His case for R2P is better here than it was in Libya, because by protecting Americans in the Kurdish town of Erbil is a legitimate national security interest. Protecting the 35-50,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar we are performing a justifiable — though temporarily, as we shall see below —collateral mission that may not be justifiable in the absence of the American presence in Erbil.
Obama’s substitution of R2P for a real national security interest in Iraq does not preclude the existence of a goal, even a significant one, that could benefit our national security.
There are several things American military forces could achieve in Iraq. Air power is being used to defend American military, diplomatic, and civilian personnel in Erbil, the Kurdish oil center in northern Iraq. The naval aviators sent to make a few pinprick airstrikes on the ISIS forces have, at this writing, knocked out a few artillery pieces, a seven-vehicle convoy, and some mortar emplacements. They will be able to prevent an ISIS advance on Erbil.
All of which will have no effect whatever in the long run. Air power could be used to protect our people while they were evacuated to safety in another country. But we’re not evacuating them, which means that the air cover has to be there as long as they are. Sending arms and funding to the Kurds is correct, but their Peshmerga forces can’t stand alone against ISIS. Knowing Obama, we know that he’ll abandon them at some politically convenient moment. He just doesn’t want to “lose” Iraq before the 2016 election.
Hundreds of Yazidi women are reportedly being held hostage by the ISIS barbarians who may sell them off as sex slaves. Should we try to rescue them at the risk of American lives? Not if, as Obama says, ISIS is an Iraqi problem not an American problem. But doesn’t the “responsibility to protect” extend to Yazidi women? Rescuing them, if it’s even possible, would require a major application of airpower and a lot of boots on the ground. If you’re trying to derive a military strategy in what Obama is saying and doing, you are wasting your time. There isn’t one.
We know that ISIS is the brand du jour among Sunni terrorists. They are drawing adherents from many older al-Qaeda franchises as well as from western nations including the United States. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, has proclaimed himself “caliph” of all Islam and crowds of true believers are flocking to his banner. Which means that ISIS’ flag is firmly planted in Iraq. It would take a sustained war — by a nation as strong as Saudi Arabia — to defeat ISIS. Then the Saudis or whoever the liberators are would have to colonize and rule Iraq for decades to prevent the rise of another ISIS-like religiously motivated terrorist group. In the absence of such an effort by the Saudis — whose Syrian surrogates can’t defeat Assad because he has the dedicated support of the Iranians and Russians — ISIS is in Iraq to stay. That is a decisive factor in preventing a “reconciliation” government in Iraq.
Which, again, leaves our Navy aviators — and Air Force pilots dropping relief supplies — in the air above ISIS for the next two and a third years.
In the absence of grownups in our government, we need to have a sober conversation about Iraq. This won’t take long.
The Kurds are our friends, and deserving of military aid in terms of supplies and training. The best they can hope for is a stalemate maintained by American military force. Which, again, means we would have to be in Iraq for two and a third years and no longer.
Speaking about Iraq, Obama said on Saturday, “What I just find interesting is, the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision.” The grammarian in me is compelled to point out the use of “was” instead of “were.” The latter, of course, indicates a condition contrary to fact. Obama is incapable of learning why his decisions usually have results that aren’t what he intended.
The Maliki government — a satellite of Iran — isn’t going to fade away despite any elections, and — pace Zalmay Khalilzad — there isn’t going to be any reconciliation government. But Obama keeps pretending that such a government is a possibility when it is not.
If Obama were honest — there’s that “condition contrary to fact” thing again — he would stop pretending that there is any political solution to Iraq’s internal wars that will leave it intact as a nation. He would tell the Turks, Saudis, and Jordanians that our interest in helping the Kurds is one thing, and the job of defeating ISIS on the battlefield is another entirely. It’s their job, which they will continue to refuse to perform.
America is weary, and rightly intolerant, of wars that are not conducted decisively to protect our vital national security interests. Obama has no plan or strategy to deal further with either Iraq or Afghanistan, except to play the game — at the risk of American lives — until the 2016 election.
His is a cold political calculation that will leave his successor with a world aflame and an America that is still war-weary. From the South China Sea to Ukraine to the Horn of Africa, we are on the strategic defensive without a strategy to defend our national security interests.