News from Iraq careens from bad to worse. In response, Obama is pressuring for changes in the Iraqi government, and providing a minimal force (300 special forces personnel) to aid in the training of Iraqi military and potentially providing targeting for future US airstrikes.
Obama is mainly doing two things. First, saying what he is not going to do, e.g., commit US troops. Second, playing revisionist historian.
Obama is desperate to avoid any blame for the current Middle East sh*t show. So whereas during the 2012 he trumpeted the total withdrawal as US troops, and took credit for ending the war in Iraq, now he says that the bugout was not his doing, but that of the Iraqi government.
The revisionism gets better, which of course means worse. In an interview yesterday, he minimized the importance of ISIS, by comparing it to other Islamic terror organizations like AQAP and Boko Haram:
“Their extreme ideology poses a medium and long-term threat,” the president said, of the group now taking control of large swaths of Iraq.
. . . .
He added that the immediate problem is that ISIS is “destabilizing a country that could spill over,” but they are “just one of a number of organizations that we need to stay focused on,” including al-Qaeda in Yemen and Boko Haram.
To put this in context, consider how Obama described AQAP in his speech justifying his drone campaign (and no, I’m not referring to John Kerry’s diplomacy):
But despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth. They take refuge in remote tribal regions. They hide in caves and walled compounds. They train in empty deserts and rugged mountains.
In some of these places — such as parts of Somalia and Yemen — the state only has the most tenuous reach into the territory. In other cases, the state lacks the capacity or will to take action. And it’s also not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist. Even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians — where a terrorist compound cannot be breached without triggering a firefight with surrounding tribal communities, for example, that pose no threat to us; times when putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis.
In other words, mere months ago, Obama characterized AQAP and other groups as “lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates” marooned in far away places. Now he compares ISIS to these groups. This comparison is farcical.
First, the ISIS threat is immediate, not medium to near term. Second, the ISIS threat is far more severe than either AQAP or Boko Haram, because it is a large force capable of taking on main force Iraqi units; it is extremely well-funded (some call it the richest jihadi group ever), and it is located in the cockpit of the Middle East, controlling vast swathes of two major countries, rather than being located in caves and villages in the “most distant and unforgiving places on earth.” What’s more, it’s not just the ideology that matters: it’s the fact that the adherents to this ideology have the power to create a base from which those espousing that ideology can launch attacks on vital US interests.
To equate ISIS with AQAP or Boko Haram is an outrageous distortion of the real threat that ISIS poses. It is grotesque for Obama to minimize this group’s importance, especially because his primary reason for doing so is to attempt to shift blame.
ISIS is wreaking havoc in Iraq now, but for the last couple of years the focus of its activity was Syria. As the Syrian war dragged on, the opposition to Assad became progressively radicalized. ISIS thrived in this environment. What’s more, there is reason to believe that Assad actually supported ISIS by releasing radicals from prison, for instance, and not attacking ISIS the way his forces attacked other opposition groups. This made sense for Assad, because ISIS fought against other opposition groups, including Al Qaeda-linked groups like Al Nusra as well as the Free Syrian Army.
The fact that ISIS metastasized in the years that the Syrian civil war dragged on also makes it necessary for Obama to argue that there was nothing that could have been done to bring the war to a quicker conclusion. And so he does:
The president rejected the idea that the power “vacuum” in Syria, and thus the current threat from ISIS, could have been averted if the U.S. had backed moderate rebels in Syria against Bashar Assad.
“I think this notion that somehow there was this ready-made moderate Syrian force that was ready to defeat al-Assad was simply not true,” he said. “The idea that they could have defeated” Assad and jihadist groups, he added, “if we just sent a few arms, was a fantasy.”
What would an Obama defense be without the ritual slaying of numerous straw men? “Ready made.” “A few arms.” Who ever said these things?
The fact is that the Obama CIA, Pentagon and State Department (!) all recommended arming the opposition, and Obama refused. Meaning that Obama is basically accusing the entire national security establishment-including his appointments to the top jobs in that establishment-of being fantasists.
Of course it is impossible to know whether this would have been decisive, but it is hard to imagine how it could have turned out any worse than it has.
I would further note that Assad was indeed tottering for a time. His bases were falling. Major cities were falling. Troops were deserting. At that time, additional help to the rebels could have been decisive. But Obama demurred. Russia and Iran did not. They rushed support-arms and fuel and money (literally-Putin flew in planeloads of currency) from Russia, arms and fighters (primarily from Hezbollah but also from the Qods force) from Iran. Assad was brought back from the brink, the war turned into stalemate, and the opposition became increasingly radicalized.
Obama is not entirely to blame here, of course. This is the culmination of years of US policy under both Bushes and Clinton. But in Iraq, Obama was like a doctor who ended an antibiotic treatment prematurely, allowing an infection that had been controlled to come back more virulent than before. And the abdication of any role in Syria made inevitable that the opposition would radicalize.
This is where we are. We are confronted with a choice between a pile of dung and a pile of manure. In other words, no good choices. Allying with Iran is insane. Putting in a token force of 300, which will serve in smaller groups that will have to spend most of their time watching their backs because even our ostensible allies hate Americans and are more than willing to kill us, seems a recipe for disaster. The only non-insane, non-virulently anti-American , and militarily capable force in the region is the Kurds. Maybe we should just throw in with them as a way of containing ISIS.
But our biggest obstacle is that the man that has to make the hard choices has proven utterly incompetent in his past decisions, and what’s more, is totally unwilling to acknowledge that he has made any mistakes in the past. Indeed, rather than acknowledge past misjudgments, he engages in wholesale historical revisionism, and misrepresentations of the current threat, in order to deflect blame. With that attitude and mindset, it is almost inevitable that further debacles will follow on his past blunders. Satayana said those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The outcome has to be even worse when someone not just doesn’t remember history, but actively and aggressively distorts it, as Obama is doing now.