Jeez, I take off a few days for a conference in Amsterdam, a quick trip to Bern to discuss commodity trading firms with the Swiss government, and some R&R, and the world careens to hell in a rocket propelled hand basket.
During this brief hiatus, Russian tanks and Grad rocket launchers conducted a probe into Ukraine, and a transport plane carrying Ukrainian paratroopers was shot down, killing all aboard. What’s more, the world’s most vicious, brutal, and crazed jihadist group, ISIL (aka ISIS) captured Iraq’s second largest city (Mosul), where it immediately instituted a reign of terror. Not content with this, ISIL surged south, capturing Tikrit, reached the outskirts of Samara, and threatened to assault Baghdad. ISIL captured large quantities of US-supplied weapons and equipment, and bolstered its finances by looting hundreds of millions of dollars from the Mosul branch of the Iraqi central bank.
In response, the Kurdish Peshmerga seized Kirkuk, and the Iranians dispatched three battalions of its Qods force to prop up the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.
ISIL’s advance was made possible by the utter collapse of at least two Iraqi army divisions.
Obama’s response? A peevish statement that basically told the Iraqis they are on their own, delivered in front of Marine One before embarking on a-what else?-golfing and fund-raising weekend. Obama blamed (with some justice) Iraq’s government for these developments, and said more about what the US wouldn’t do than what it would. Later it was announced that he would take a few days to figure out what to do, even though during his original statement he said that the developments were not a surprise: if not a surprise, why weren’t contingency plans in place? Why the need to mull over responses to anticipated developments?
Today the US announced that a carrier (the George H. W. Bush) would be dispatched to the Gulf. Perhaps the time to think about what to do was nothing the sort. Perhaps we just didn’t have the resources in place to respond rapidly: that would be a repeat of previous problems, notably Benghazi. (This also illustrates the potential dangers of reducing the US carrier fleet below 11 decks, as some are proposing.)
US airpower could do a great deal to stop ISIL’s advance. The further it drives into the heart of Iraq, the longer its communications and supply lines become. These are vulnerable to air power. Similarly, any ISIL assault on Baghdad or Samara would be at the mercy of precision air ordnance.
Although I doubt that ISIL has the capability to attack Baghdad successfully, especially the face of US airpower, reversing its gains will take brutal, close-in fighting in urban terrain. The best military in the world was able to achieve this at considerable cost in places like Fallujah and Ramadi. I doubt the Iraqi military has either the capability or the will to achieve it. Thus, get ready for ISIL to control an extensive territory in the heart of the Middle East.
The Maliki government supposedly asked for US air support in Mosul, but we declined. Presumably, the experience of the last week will lead to a reversal of such decisions.
But one cannot be sure with Obama, especially where Iraq is concerned. He believes fervently that American involvement there in 2003 was a colossal error, and has wanted in the worst way to reverse Bush’s mistake, and has succeeded.
Whatever you think about the decision to invade in 2003, it happened. It is a historical fact.
Sunk costs are sunk. You can’t undo what has already been done. You can just deal with the consequences of past decisions-including past mistakes-the best you can.
The US did this in a fashion that brings to mind Churchill’s aphorism that the US always does the right thing, after trying everything else first. After years of missteps, the Surge and the associated Anbar Awakening produced a stable (by Iraqi standards) situation that held out hope for progress in that cursed country. As a result, Obama inherited a manageable situation, which he then proceeded to mismanage in every way possible. He snatched defeat from the jaws of a hard-fought victory, paid for in the blood, sweat, and tears of American soldiers and Marines.
This mismanagement was rooted in Obama’s fixed belief that American involvement in Iraq was a blunder and a sin. Based on this belief, Obama was willing to exit Iraq under almost any terms. Even though it was widely predicted at the time that a complete American withdrawal would create a serious risk of a resurgence of the Sunni terrorists (like ISIL), in part due to the fact that our absence would permit the Shia Maliki to engage in a sectarian purge that would undo everything accomplished in Anbar and elsewhere, Obama single-mindedly pursued a course that ended with the departure of all American troops. He made only a token effort-at best-to negotiate a status of forces agreement that could have allowed Americans to remain in the country. It is arguable that he actually deliberately undermined the achievement of such an agreement.
With the Americans gone, training of Iraq’s army effectively stopped, Iraq’s intelligence capability plummeted, and Maliki pursued his sectarian agenda. All of these factors contributed significantly to the current disaster.
Now Obama is allegedly conditioning the commitment of American air power on the negotiation of more inclusive political arrangements in Baghdad. Yes, such arrangements are necessary to create an Iraq that is not a cockpit for Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish war of all against all. But they will take a long time to negotiate, and the immediate military problem is too pressing to await the completion of such a process. What’s more, political negotiations are unlikely to succeed while the country is under existential threat. This is especially true given that no sane Sunni leader will negotiate while the head choppers of ISIL are in ascendence. ISIL must be cut down substantially before new political arrangements can be crafted. This all means that Obama’s gambit is doomed to failure.
Which may be his intention. He is so inveterately opposed to American involvement in Iraq that I can easily see him imposing impossible to meet conditions in order to preclude US re-engagement.
Obama campaigned in 2012 on the theme that he had ended the war in Iraq. War can never be ended unilaterally, except by surrender. The enemy has a say. And that enemy-ISIL-is now having that say in a very convincing way.
Whatever you think of the situation Obama inherited in 2009, you cannot dispute that he has made it immeasurably worse. America’s two most dangerous enemies in the Middle East-radical Sunni jihadists and the radical Shia Iranian government-have been empowered. Indeed, in his desperation Obama is pursuing direct talks with Iran to coordinate a response to the ISIL threat.
Right now the best we can reasonably hope for is a stalemate, with a de facto division of Iraq, with two segments under control of American enemies.
And this isn’t the sole disaster in the making. There’s Ukraine, too, where American and European pusillanimity are encouraging Putin to pursue his asymmetric warfare strategy.
When I contemplate the further damage that Obama can do in the next two-and-a-half years, I am tempted to go on a permanent hiatus. It is just so discouraging to watch a great nation stumble so badly, all due to the extreme misjudgments of its chief executive. It is perhaps even more discouraging to recognize that despite the evidence of failure that lies wherever one looks, the author of this disaster is utterly convinced that his judgment has been unerring. There are few combinations more dangerous than extreme incompetence, insufferable arrogance, and an unwillingness to acknowledge empirical reality. But Barrack Obama combines those things, by the gross.