Monday, August 11, 2014

More on Obama's war aims in Iraq

This is the 50th anniversary month of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a reminder to pay close attention to what happens at the start of wars.

In Iraq, the "long war" concept suggests itself as useful. The Long Iraq War would be the one that started in 1991 and whose end isn't yet in sight. The Gulf War would be the first short Iraq War; the period of the no-fly zones and Operating Desert Fox in 1998 would be 2a in this scheme; the Cheney-Bush War would be number 2; now we have Obama's Iraq War.

Here is an Administration-friendly report on Obama's new military intervention in Iraq, Why Obama wants to use air power against the Islamic State PBS Newshour 08/09/2014 (transcript here):

Based on President Obama's statement of August 9, I count six war aims so far articulated for the new war in Iraq.

(1) Humanitarian relief for the immediately endangered Yezidis


... our humanitarian effort continues to help the men, women and children stranded on Mount Sinjar. American forces have so far conducted two successful airdrops -- delivering thousands of meals and gallons of water to these desperate men, women and children. And American aircraft are positioned to strike ISIL terrorists around the mountain to help forces in Iraq break the siege and rescue those who are trapped there. (August 9 statement)
... at the request of the Iraqi government -- we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain. As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis. And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect. Countless Iraqis have been displaced. And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women.

In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives. And thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs. They’re without food, they’re without water. (August 7 statement)
How seriously this justification is taken by the Administration and the Pentagon may be indicated by this report from the Telegraph, (Jonathan Krohn et al, Iraq crisis: 150,000 Yezidi Kurds refugees surrounded by Islamic extremists 08/09/2014):

Two American aid flights have also made it to the mountain, where they have dropped off more than 36,000 meals and 7,000 gallons of drinking water to help the refugees.

However, Iraqi officials said that much of the US aid had been "useless" because it was dropped from 15,000ft without parachutes and exploded oin [sic] impact.
John Judis in The U.S. Airstrikes in Northern Iraq Are All About Oil The New Republic 08/08/2014 notes, "In portraying American intervention in Iraq as a purely humanitarian effort, Obama is following the script he read from in Libya, when he justified American intervention as an effort to prevent a massacre in Benghazi."

Presumably he learned that from more than the Libyan intervention, since claims of humanitarian goals are common in American wars. Occasionally they are seriously meant.

(2) To protect American official personnel in the city of Erbil


American forces have conducted targeted airstrikes against terrorist forces outside the city of Erbil to prevent them from advancing on the city and to protect our American diplomats and military personnel. (August 9 statement)
I said in June -- as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq -- that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it. In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces. (August 7 statement)
As Steve Coll points out, there is a particular reason numerous American are in Erbil, not just in official positions:

Of course, it is President Obama’s duty to defend American lives and interests, in Erbil and elsewhere, oil or no. Rather than an evacuation of citizens, however, he has ordered a months-long aerial campaign to defend Kurdistan’s status quo, on the grounds, presumably, that it is essential to a unified Iraq capable of isolating ISIS. Yet the status quo in Kurdistan also includes oil production by international firms, as it might be candid to mention. (Oil and Erbil New Yorker 08/10/2014
(3) Protecting American personnel throughout Iraq


We will protect our American citizens in Iraq, whether they’re diplomats, civilians or military. If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people. (August 9 statement)
We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad. (August 7 statement)
The US has official personnel throughout the world. In Afghanistan and now Iraq again, we claim to protect them by aerial bombardments as partisans in internal conflicts. Everywhere else, this is not deemed to be necessary.

(4) To prevent terrorists from establishing a safe haven


We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven." (August 9 statement)
We’ll help prevent these terrorists from having a permanent safe haven from which to attack America.(August 9 weekly address)

(5) More regime change in Baghdad


There's going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support. And that can’t happen effectively until you have a legitimate Iraqi government.

So right now we have a president, we have a speaker. What we don't yet have is a prime minister and a cabinet that is formed that can go ahead and move forward, and then start reaching out to all the various groups and factions inside of Iraq, and can give confidence to populations in the Sunni areas that ISIL is not the only game in town. It also then allows us to take those Iraqi security forces that are able and functional, and they understand who they're reporting to and what they’re fighting for, and what the chain of command is. And it provides a structure in which better cooperation is taking place between the Kurdish region and Baghdad.

So we're going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together. Until we do that, it is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in some offense. ...

And so it would be, I think, a big mistake for us to think that we can, on the cheap, simply go in, tamp everything down again, restart without some fundamental shift in attitudes among the various Iraqi factions. That’s why it is so important to have an Iraqi government on the ground that is taking responsibility that we can help, that we can partner with, that has the capacity to get alliances in the region. (August 9 statement)
Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and that can fight back against the threats like ISIL. Iraqis have named a new President, a new Speaker of Parliament, and are seeking consensus on a new Prime Minister. This is the progress that needs to continue in order to reverse the momentum of the terrorists who prey on Iraq’s divisions. (August 7 statement)
... we'll continue to urge Iraqi communities to reconcile, come together and fight back against these terrorists so the people of Iraq have the opportunity for a better future—the opportunity for which so many Americans gave their lives in Iraq in a long and hard war. (August 9 weekly address)
Juan Cole summarizes the Administration's goals on regime change as he sees it (Why is Obama bombing Iraq, Really? Informed Comment 08/09/2014):

The US is intervening for political as well as military reasons. Washington says that more such military aid may be forthcoming if Iraq will form a government of national unity. So basically, Obama is putting pressure on President Fuad Massoum to pick a prime minister other than Nouri al-Maliki and form a government asap. Likewise, Washington wants the Kurds to remain within a Federal Iraqi framework rather than declaring independence, and seems to be bombing IS positions for the Kurds in order to extract a promise from Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani that he will stay in Iraq.
Part of propping up the Kurdish authorities is protecting the oil resources in the region of the city of Erbil. John Judis reports:

The United States is conducting airdrops to aid the Yazidis who have fled the advance of Islamic State militants, but it is conducting airstrikes around Erbil, which is to the east. There are American consular personnel in Erbil, but they could be evacuated if necessary. What Obama left unsaid was that Erbil, a city of 1.5 million, is the capital of the Kurdish regional government and the administrative center of its oil industry, which accounts for about a quarter of Iraq’s oil. The Kurds claim that if they were to become an independent state, they would have the ninth-largest oil reserves in the world. And oil wells are near Erbil.

If the Islamic State were to take over Erbil, they would endanger Iraq’s oil production and, by extension, global access to oil. Prices would surge at a time when Europe, which buys oil from Iraq, has still not escaped the global recession. Oil prices have already risen in response to the Islamic State’s threat to Erbil, and on Thursday, American oil companies Chevron and Exxon Mobile [sic] began evacuating their personnel from Kurdistan. But oil traders are predicting that American intervention could halt the rise. "In essence we find U.S. air strikes more bearish than bullish for oil as the act finally draws a line for IS and reinforces both the stability in south Iraq and in Kurdistan," Oliver Jakob, a Swiss oil analyst, told Reuters. [my emphasis in bold]
Steve Coll:

And so, in Erbil, in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened Iraq’s seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist quixotically in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront ISIS.
The relevance of defending Erbil to the profits of Chevron and ExxonMobil are entirely incidental to this aspect of the US military effort, I'm sure.

(6) Upgrading the Iraqi armed forces

Did we underestimate ISIL? I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq. And part of that is I think not a full appreciation of the degree to which the Iraqi security forces, when they're far away from Baghdad, did not have the incentive or the capacity to hold ground against an aggressive adversary. And so that's one more reason why Iraqi government formation is so important -- because there has to be a rebuilding and an understanding of who it is that the Iraqi security forces are reporting to, what they are fighting for. And there has to be some investment by Sunnis in pushing back against ISIL. ...

I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks, if that's what you mean. I think this is going to take some time. The Iraqi security forces, in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate effectively with the support of populations in Sunni areas, are going to have to revamp, get resupplied -- have a clearer strategy. That's all going to be dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have confidence in. We can help in all those efforts. (August 9 statement)
Jim Lobe writes in Qualified Backing for Obama’s Iraq Intervention Inter Press Service 08/09/2014:

While Republican hawks have welcomed the move in hopes it may presage a much broader regional intervention in Syria, as well as in Iraq, many Democrats expressed worries that the decision, unless strictly confined to its "humanitarian" objectives, could become a "slippery slope" into a new quagmire just three years after Obama extracted the last U.S. combat troops from Baghdad.

"We know that our military intervention will not alone solve the long sectarian and religious conflicts in Iraq," said California Rep. Loretta Sanchez in reacting to the announcement. "It is essential we avoid mission creep because our men and women in uniform cannot endure another war in Iraq and nor can the American people."
But the expansive aims that Obama aid out on Saturday (Aug 9) already represent mission creep from the more limited aims Lobe describes in his article based on Obama's Thursday statement. Lobe counts "two main justifications" based presumably on Obama's stress on "two missions," #'s 1 and 2 in my list. But Obama's August 7 statement also has strong hints of wider aims. In his August 9 weekly address, he stressed the humanitarian relief aspect.

I don't know that what the bold Maverick McCain says about war represents much any more than his own seeming desire to be remembered as the Senator who advocated war more often than any other Senator in US history. It's notable in Lobe's article that McCain wants more US participation in the war whatever the Iraqi government does about reforming itself; no surprise there. But he also seems to think that Obama's talk about the need for the government to be changed (regime change lite?) is an excuse not to escalate. That's not what Obama's Saturday statement sounds like. It looks like a major, long-term commitment.

Tags: ,

No comments: