Posted on | June 17, 2014 | 32 Comments
Nearly 300 armed American forces are being positioned in and around Iraq to help secure U.S. assets as President Barack Obama nears a decision on an array of options for combating fast-moving Islamic insurgents, including airstrikes or a contingent of special forces.
The U.S. and Iran also held an initial discussion on how the longtime foes might cooperate to ease the threat from the al-Qaida-linked militants that have swept through Iraq. Still, the White House ruled out the possibility that Washington and Tehran might coordinate military operations in Iraq.
Obama met with his national security team Monday evening to discuss options for stopping the militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Officials said the president has made no final decisions on how aggressively the U.S. might get involved in Iraq, though the White House continued to emphasize that any military engagement remained contingent on the government in Baghdad making political reforms.
Still, there were unmistakable signs of Americans returning to a country from which the U.S. military fully withdrew more than two years ago. Obama notified Congress that up to 275 troops would be sent to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad. The soldiers — 170 of which have already arrived in Iraq — were armed for combat, though Obama has insisted he does not intend for U.S. forces to be engaged in direct fighting.
About 100 additional forces are being put on standby, most likely in Kuwait, and could be used for airfield management, security and logistics support, officials said.
As with the hasty and unwise total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, this redeployment is essentially a matter of domestic politics for the Obama administration. Having made opposition to “Bush’s war” a centerpiece of their campaign rhetoric since 2004, when John Kerry was the anti-war candidate, Democrats then nominated Barack Obama in 2008 based on his promise to completely withdraw from Iraq.
From a standpoint of policy, it would have made sense to leave at least a token military presence there — say, 5,000 troops holding a small base near the Baghdad airport — both as a tactical foothold, and to signify a continued U.S. commitment to defend a stable, peaceful and democratic Iraq. But, no, the Democrats (and Obama foremost among them) were fanatically determined to un-do all Bush had done, and so the U.S. presence had to be reduced to zero.
Now, predictably, we realize that zero was not an ideal number.
— CNN International (@cnni) June 16, 2014
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) June 17, 2014
Yet it is still obvious that domestic politics — not policy — is controlling the Obama administration’s response to the Iraq crisis. While partisan apologists scramble to exculpate the president for the consequences of his errors, the administration is caught between its own pacifist commitments and the pragmatic political realization that anarchy in Iraq looks bad for “swing voters.” The pressure to “do something” — anything — was irresistible, yet Obama will make only a token deployment, too small to make a difference, because a larger deployment would be tantamount to an admission that his general policy has been all wrong.
Now, imagine the cussing of senior NCOs at Fort Bragg as they react to chatter about sending Special Forces into the Iraq mess. This scenario has “Mogadishu” written all over it and, as much as these guys love to fight for the sake of fighting, the prospect of being thrown willy-nilly into this Iraq disaster cannot be a welcome thought. The seriousness of the Iraq crisis is impossible to exaggerate:
[T]he events unfolding in Iraq point toward a much wider war, reaching from the Iranian frontier to the Mediterranean coast. The long open border between Iraq and Syria, and the big stretches of ungoverned space, has allowed extremists on each side to grow and to support one another. . . . [T]wo of the strongest groups fighting in Syria, were created by militant leaders from Iraq, many of whom had fought with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia against the United States. The vast swath of territory between the Euphrates and the Tigris — from Aleppo, in Syria, to Mosul, in Iraq — threatens to become a sanctuary for the most virulent Islamist pathologies, not unlike what flourished in Afghanistan in the years before 9/11. Among those fighting with isis and Al Nusra are hundreds of Westerners, from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. At some point, the survivors will want to go home; they will be well trained and battle-hardened.
— Barracuda Brigade (@BarracudaMama) June 17, 2014
— Chris (@Chris_1791) June 17, 2014