“Iraq is going to need more help, more help from us… I don’t rule out anything.”
- President Barack Obama [in a breaking news statement with the Australian prime minister]
WILL OBAMA send drones into Iraq to help quell the militant takeovers of northern Iraq by ISIS (State of Iraq and Syria)? Parts of Fallujah have fallen, as well as Ramadi, Mosul, Tikrit targeted, with Baghdad next on their list. Threats of a wider regional war, as former Iraq ambassador John Negroponte said today to Chuck Todd, are real, with Nouri al Maliki reaching out to the U.S. for military help, requesting drone support or airstrikes.
Can President Obama stay on the sidelines while an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist organization takes control over Iraq? Before running for president he didn’t have go on the record, making an anti-war speech that got little attention until he was a presidential candidate. It looks like Barack Obama’s Iraq moment has arrived.
The group has been steadily building towards such an outcome, rampaging first through northern Syria and then back into Anbar province, the heartland of its earliest incarnation almost 10 years ago. Along the way, it has steadily accrued weapons and gained confidence, storming unopposed into towns and cities that were notionally protected by the best trained and armed military in the Arab world. [Guardian]
So far, the Obama administration is not budging, as the nightmare from Syria spreads to Iraq, with ISIS involved in both, which President Obama didn’t anticipate when removing troops from Iraq, as President George W. Bush’s agreement stipulated. From the New York Times:
But American officials also say that militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria represent a formidable military threat, one that Iraq’s security forces, which lack an effective air force, have been hard pressed to handle on their own.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the militant group that American forces fought during their war there. But while the capabilities of the militants have grown, the Iraq’s military’s effectiveness has diminished.
Adding to that challenge is the fact that the group controls territory on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, and the Iraq and Syria conflicts have been feeding each other.
Said Lakhdar Brahimi, the former United Nations envoy to the collapsed Syria peace talks: “The region is in trouble, starting with Iraq. When I went to Baghdad in December, I was told that for every 100 operations ISIS did in Syria, it did 1,000 in Iraq.”
Critics say the latest developments show the weakness in an administration strategy designed to shore up Iraqi forces and to combat a growing Islamic militancy in Syria that officials say poses an increasing counterterrorism threat to the United States.
Whether President Obama wants to aid Iraq is not in question, because the last thing he wants is to involve the U.S. again.
However, there is a lot of time left in his presidency and with ISIS growing in power and a Sunni takeover of so many Iraq cities now complete, the prospect of Baghdad falling to an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group who also has power inside Syria is something he ignores at his peril. As you can see from my update at the top of this piece, President Obama has just learned that being in office makes decisions like this quite different than when you’re on the outside looking in.
The Arab League and the European community cannot stand by either, which is something President Obama has stated continually, pressing that U.S. military engagement cannot always be the answer.
The catastrophe currently being watched by the world cannot escape Hillary Rodham Clinton as she makes her book tour. In Hard Choices, Clinton makes a declarative statement on her Iraq war vote.
“I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.” – Hillary Rodham Clinton in Hard Choices
It’s understandable that Clinton does not want to start her presidential campaign this year, as it’s far too early and would make for a long campaign that is not in her best interests. There will and should be questions about Iraq while she talks about her book, as the unraveling becomes a foreign policy issue for her boss, as well as the world community.