Sunday, August 10, 2014

Obama's Iraq War: continuation of the quagmire

Jeffrey Record wrote in Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq (2004) of the Cheney-Bush Iraq War:

From the start of the Bush administration's road to war with Iraq, it was not the war itself but rather the postwar situation inside that country that beckoned as a potential quagmire. Indeed, the great difference between Vietnam and Iraq is nationalism's comparative weakness in the latter country. Iraq is a relatively recent and quite artificial creation of the British foreign office, which divided up the old Ottoman Empire after World War I. Primary loyalties inside Iraq are ethnic, tribal, and religious, not national, and it is Iraqi society's very fragmentation along these lines and the long history of Sunni-Shiite and Arab-Kurdish strife that pessimists believe will engulf the U.S. occupation.

Does "quagmire" characterize the U.S. position in Iraq today? If by the term is meant an open-ended military occupation necessitated by the absence of a politically sustainable indigenous structure of governance, then the answer is: yes. In other words, if, as in Vietnam, U.S. military intervention has failed to establish a sustainable political order in place of the previous or (in the case of Vietnam) competing political order, then quagmire it is. [my emphasis]
And it's obviously still a quagmire.

President Obama said in his August 9 public statement defending the resumption of direct US military intervention (Statement by the President on Iraq):

I've been very clear that we’re not going to have U.S. combat troops in Iraq again. And we are going to maintain that, because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq. And that is that our military is so effective that we can keep a lid on problems wherever we are, if we put enough personnel and resources into it. But it can only last if the people in these countries themselves are able to arrive at the kinds of political accommodations and compromise that any civilized society requires.
This is a very ambiguous reassurance, at best. He says he's confident that the US military "can keep a lid on" Iraq "if we put enough personnel and resources" there. Now that he's resumed combat operations there, there will be tremendous pressure from the people he actually listens to - humanitarian hawks and neocons - to get "a lid on" the situation.

Patrick Lang, a crotchety but well-informed foreign-policy realist, writes of the Yazidis, nominally the reason for the resumption of direct US combat in Iraq:

Sinjar Mountain and the Yazidis -

These are among the unfortunates of the earth. There are many such groups in the world. Dropping water and food to these people is a necessary but utterly inadequate response to their predicament. What has to be done is for a ground corridor to be opened from the mountain to Turkey through Kurdish held NE Syria. Nothing else will suffice. Will that happen? Probably it will not.
But as the hawks of various stripes will recognize, US troops "can keep a lid on problems wherever we are, if we put enough personnel and resources into it."

Sen. David Durbin, who often acts as an Administration spokesperson, reassured the useless David Gregory on Meet the Press August 10 that Obama won't be sending ground troops into his new Iraq War

NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski said on the episode:

At this very moment last week, nobody at the White House or the Pentagon, for that matter, expected American war planes to be launching air strikes in Iraq within the next few days. But according to U.S. military officials, that rapid and alarming advance by those Islamic rebels, the U.S. could no longer ignore it, sending the generals back to the war room, and U.S. war fighters back to Iraq. ....

But since then, the militants have gone on a rampage, taking Iraq's largest Christian town earlier this month, seizing the Mosul dam, key to Iraq's infrastructure, and routing the Kurdish Peshmerga forces last week. But when thousands of Yazidi worshipers were forced to flee for their lives to the mountains with no food or water to escape the brutality, it forced the President's hand and gave him the opening he needed. Now any U.S. military intervention would be framed, in part, as a humanitarian operation. [my emphasis]
Given NBC's rotten record on reporting on the Iraq War so far, it wouldn't be wise to put too much weight on Miklaszewski's wording. At the same time, his phrasing that the plight of the Yazidis "gave him the opening he needed. Now any U.S. military intervention would be framed, in part, as a humanitarian operation."

Miklaszewski also says, "And the president acknowledged Saturday that any substantial progress against ISIS may hinge on bringing them down, not just in Iraq, but in Syria, as well. And while American air strikes may keep Erbil safer, they will not stop ISIS. And even with U.S. support, the outlook may be grim for a long time to come."

And he makes an intriguing characterization of Obama's position, "President Obama has vowed he would not send U.S. ground troops back to an Iraq, but acknowledged only yesterday that the U.S. military will be engaged in that war for some time to come. And as we heard him just a moment ago, for what he calls that 'long-term project,' David." (my italics)

Durbin insisted that the commitment is "limited":

Escalating it is not in the cards. Neither the American people nor Congress are in the business of wanting to escalate this conflict beyond where it is today. I think the President's made it clear this is a limited strike. He has, I believe, most Congressional support for that at this moment. To go beyond is really going to be a challenge.
But even limited intervention, if Obama has the discipline and/or the intention of keeping it so, can lead to deeper involvement, even years down the road.

John Prados in Obama's Train Wreck 08/08/2014 writes:

We're in the soup now! ... the United States is going back into Iraq. After exiting from that costly and stupid war – a withdrawal on which Obama campaigned for the presidency – he is heading back in because the Islamic Caliphate (also called ISIS) threatens the residual Iraqi government.

What a mess. Fighting the Caliphate, which controls portions of both Iraq and Syria; and which, in Syria, is part of the effort to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, may be a humanitarian response but it puts the United States in an impossible position. In Syria, after all, the U.S. is with the rebels pushing to oust Assad too. So the U.S. is allied with ISIS in Syria and fighting it in Iraq? This is worse that "the enemy of your enemy is your friend." This puts the U.S. on both sides of the Syrian civil war while pretending to have nothing to do with it. And in Iraq we are on the verge of full scale intervention in a senseless conflict.
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