Just about everyone agrees that Obama is taking a highly cautious approach to dealing with the latest insurgency in Iraq. The debate in the days ahead will center on whether this is a good idea or whether he needs to be more “forceful”. He’s sending troops to protect the huge American embassy there (the largest in the world), pulling out some embassy personnel and, late in the week, announcing that he’s sending in special forces to gauge the jihadist invasion, help find targets for counter attack and to support the Iraqi military. Caution almost never win friends in the U.S. when there is an air of crisis. Indeed, poll numbers go up reliably when any president takes military action, almost every time.
The steps being taken now aren’t even half a loaf. It is more like an eighth. Is there a message being sent to Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki? If one looks for a positive side to what Obama is doing, he could be sending a messaging that Iraq and its president are not getting one thing more without some greater effort to keep peace with the minority Sunnis, who have been locked out of power by the Shiite led prime minister and his government. Obama might also be attempting to encourage al-Maliki to go by not acting more forcefully against the jihadists.
The United States failed previously to get the Iraqis to operate more inclusively and to seek peace with the Sunni minority. The U.S. helped to create the whole mess by disbanding the Iraqi army after the 2003 invasion and was unable to stop sectarian fighting, and bombing, during the long occupation. It failed to get an agreement that would have allowed a sizable contingent of American troops to stay in Iraq, so withholding substantial military action now might be the last step to bring the Iraqi government around or to create pressure for new leadership.
Various commentators have described Obama as “reluctant” to take military action. There is good reason for this. The war in Iraq was the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/neocon war and it cost very heavily in lives, treasure and regard for America around the world. Obama doesn’t want to own the mess that Bush made, very clearly. Yet, he appears to have no choice, other than to allow a galloping civil war to spread throughout the entire nation of Iraq.
There are jihadist fighters in Iraq from throughout the middle-east and they have nothing better to do that engage in warfare, either in what’s left of Syria or in Iraq. With all the money and time spent training Iraqi troops, one would think the Iraqi government could respond swiftly on its own. Perhaps they have been waiting, thinking American troops were coming to the rescue. Obama told them this week that this is not going to happen. It is just possible that he might have threaded the needle, that some good might come from this. Pessimism is in great supply, however, and optimism has been sprinting away, fearful.
Doug Terry, 6.20.14