Saturday, August 09, 2014

Obama's Iraq War

"The worst case has become true," Jeffrey Record told Sidney Blumenthal back in 2004. He was talking about the Cheney-Bush Iraq War.

Somehow our policymakers and Presidents seem to convince themselves that no one will have to say that about their wars.

Now Obama joins his predecessors Old Man Bush, Bill Clinton (Operation Desert Fox) and Dick Cheney in taking up his own Iraq War.

As part of the ritual, he's already declaring his glorious successes from the first new rounds of bombing. Our glorious generals, as we've learned over and over, never fail. They win every battle. The first reports are about all the enemy soldiers and/or "terrorists" killed. Later, they occasionally have to admit that some of those gloriously killed "terrorists" were actually just civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Collateral damage," gee, we're sorry about that.

And despite all those victories, our glorious generals always seem to leave a godawful mess behind - Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq twice (or three times?). That's become part of the American war ritual, as well.

Yes, I'm being cynical. War is a cynical business. Which is why we shouldn't get involved in them without extremely good reasons.

(Obligatory disclaimer required from all respectable war critics: Yes, the "Islamic State" is evil and they're terrorists. Yes, humanitarian aid to people being starved on a mountain is a good thing. And our troops are all wonderful and the best of the best.)

Since President Obama isn't putting any time limits on our latest blessed showers of freedom bombs on Iraq, this is probably only one of many declarations of progress and victory, President Obama Gives an Update on the Situation in Iraq 08/09/2014:

Tommy Christopher, writing for the generally hawkish and pro-Obama Daily Beast (President Obama Destroys 'Bogus' Beltway Narrative on Iraq 08/09/2014) summarizes some of the major points:

The President talked about the humanitarian and military campaigns underway in Iraq, generally leaving as much wiggle-room as possible on the US engagement there. He refused to set a timetable for the current operation, set forth the goals of securing nd relocating the Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, protecting American personnel, and leaving the door open to wider action against ISIS.

Asked if "your goal there to contain ISIS or to destroy it?", the President continued to urge a more politically inclusive government in Iraq. “We’re going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together,” President Obama said adding "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."
So, after all the war effort and American and Iraqi lives lost in our last glorious war, the pro-Iranian elected government that was the result of that effort now isn't good enough.

So we need more "regime change." Maybe we need a new Iraq Liberation Act, like the one President Clinton signed in 1998, describing it this way:

The United States wants Iraq to rejoin the family of nations as a freedom-loving and lawabiding [sic] member. This is in our interest and that of our allies within the region.

The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian makeup. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else.

The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life. ...

The United States is providing support to opposition groups from all sectors of the Iraqi community that could lead to a popularly supported government.

On October 21, 1998, I signed into law the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999, which made $8 million available for assistance to the Iraqi democratic opposition. This assistance is intended to help the democratic opposition unify, work together more effectively, and articulate the aspirations of the Iraqi people for a pluralistic, participatory political system that will include all of Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups.
It was just a few weeks later that Clinton launched the bizarrely named Operation Desert Fox. The Air Force Historical Studies Office fact sheet on it explains:

With nearly 200 U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy carrier-based aircraft, as well as one dozen British aircraft, planners identified nearly 100 targets in seven categories: air defense systems, command and control, WMD security, WMD industry and production, Republican Guard units, airfields, and "economic" targets. The initial strikes consisted of approximately 250 Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as 40 sorties launched from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. On the second night, Air Force B-52s stationed on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean employed air launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), while the B-1 bomber made its combat debut by striking at Republican Guard targets. Also on December 17, USAF aircraft based in Kuwait participated, as did British Tornado aircraft.
Military involvement has a way of escalating. Operating Desert Fox forms part of an historical chain of events leading from the Gulf War to the no-fly zones to the 2003 invasion to Obama's resumption of direct American war this week.

So it's worth paying attention to what Presidents say at the start of one of their wars. Obama's statement today declares that we are preventing "an act of genocide." And we're defending civilization against barbarism: "All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists and all Iraqi communities need to unite to defend their country."

And regime change is there, too, though not by that phrase: "Once an inclusive government is in place, I’m confident it will be easier to mobilize all Iraqis against ISIL, and to mobilize greater support from our friends and allies. Ultimately, only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq. The United States can’t do it for them, but we can and will be partners in that effort." (From the White House transcript, Statement by the President on Iraq 08/09/2014)

He does say, "I've been very clear that we're not going to have U.S. combat troops in Iraq again." But Obama declared his willingness to have the current direct military involvement be open-ended:

Q Mr. President, for how long a period of time do you see these airstrikes continuing for? And is your goal there to contain ISIS or to destroy it?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to give a particular timetable, because as I've said from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation, my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, to make sure that they are protected. And we’re not moving our embassy anytime soon. We’re not moving our consulate anytime soon. And that means that, given the challenging security environment, we're going to maintain vigilance and ensure that our people are safe. ...

Just to give people a sense, though, of a timetable -- that the most important timetable that I’m focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalized. Because in the absence of an Iraqi government, it is very hard to get a unified effort by Iraqis against ISIL. We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there’s not going to be an American military solution to this problem. 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. [my emphasis]
His reassurance about combat troops doesn't mean much to me. With a declared goal of regime change in Baghdad and stopping ISIL/ISIS/the Islamic State, he may find it hard to resist pressure from the neocons and humanitarian hawks to escalate, including ground troops.

And the President isn't even trying to make this sounds short and limited. Clinton's Operation Desert Fox was four days long. It won't take long for Obama's Iraq War to exceed that time frame. Obama:

Q You just expressed confidence that the Iraqi government can eventually prevent a safe haven. But you’ve also just described the complications with the Iraqi government and the sophistication of ISIL. So is it possible that what you’ve described and your ambitions there could take years, not months?

THE PRESIDENT: 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.

I think part of what we’re able to do right now is to preserve a space for them to do the hard work that's necessary. If they do that, the one thing that I also think has changed is that many of the Sunni countries in the region who have been generally suspicious or wary of the Iraqi government are more likely to join in, in the fight against ISIS, and that can be extremely helpful. But this is going to be a long-term project.

Part of what we’ve seen is that a minority Sunni population in Iraq, as well as a majority Sunni population in Syria, has felt dissatisfied and detached and alienated from their respective governments. And that has been a ripe territory for these jihadists and extremists to operate. And rebuilding governance in those areas, and legitimacy for stable, moderate governing in those areas is going to take time.

Now, there are some immediate concerns that we have to worry about. We have to make sure that ISIL is not engaging in the actions that could cripple a country permanently. There’s key infrastructure inside of Iraq that we have to be concerned about. My team has been vigilant, even before ISIL went into Mosul, about foreign fighters and jihadists gathering in Syria, and now in Iraq, who might potentially launch attacks outside the region against Western targets and U.S. targets. So there’s going to be a counterterrorism element that we are already preparing for and have been working diligently on for a long time now.

There is going to be a military element in protecting our people, but the long-term campaign of changing that environment so that the millions of Sunnis who live in these areas feel connected to and well-served by a national government, that’s a long-term process. And that’s something that the United States cannot do, only the Iraqi people themselves can do. We can help, we can advise, but we can’t do it for them. And the U.S. military cannot do it for them.

And so this goes back to the earlier question about U.S. military involvement. The nature of this problem is not one that a U.S. military can solve. We can assist and our military obviously can play an extraordinarily important role in bolstering efforts of an Iraqi partner as they make the right steps to keep their country together, but we can’t do it for them. [my emphasis]
This sounds really bad to me. He's also clearly expressing regret that he couldn't persuade the Iraqi government to let him leave ground combat troops there in the first place. And he draws a conclusion for Afghanistan:

Going forward with respect to Afghanistan, we are leaving the follow-on force there. I think the lesson for Afghanistan is not the fact that we’ve got a follow-on force that will be capable of training and supporting Afghan security efforts. I think the real lesson in Afghanistan is that if factions in a country after a long period of civil war do not find a way to come up with a political accommodation; if they take maximalist positions and their attitude is, I want 100 percent of what I want and the other side gets nothing, then the center doesn't hold.
Great. He thinks we need to stay there to insure we have Afghan bipartisanship.

And for his trouble, his Republican bipartisan friends at home will blast him for being a wimp for not bombing and killing even more in Iraq.

He really should give back the Nobel Peace Prize.

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