By: Harry C. Blaney, III
“There’s no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the United States. But there is an urgent need for an inclusive political process, a more capable Iraqi security force, and counterterrorism efforts that deny groups like ISIL a safe haven.”
President Obama’s update on the situation in Iraq, June 19.
President Obama’s announcement on Thursday to intervene in Iraq with limitations and care (see text on our blog here) was a culmination of a long and assiduous debate within his national security team on what to do about the attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is an upheaval which is much more complex and dangerous than most conservative pundits and partisan politicians have depicted. Obama chose what can best be described as the only strategy that both safeguards against adding to the loss of American lives and avoids the deep and dangerous pitfalls of a disastrous quagmire. Indeed, had he chosen more a more forceful intervention, it would have produced counterproductive military actions which would have alienated the Sunni minority and indeed the entire Sunni world.
A much more dangerous militaristic path is advocated by the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney, William Kristol, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer – to say nothing of Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who never met a war he did not like. And then we have the caustic (and almost always wrong) Charles Krauthammer. From the start of the Iraq conflict, his hawkish newspaper’s editorials were tragically wrong on Bush II’s war that cost over 4,000 American lives. This group would have led even more Americans to their death in an unforgiving and complex crisis. This is the type of conflict in which massive military action is not a real solution and is mindless of the larger strategic landscape. It ignores the possible major repercussions of an American large scale kinetic involvement and its inevitable blowback, namely added hostility towards America and possibly harmful acts directed towards Americans and America.
What these individuals have shown – besides that they were the wrong people to be in charge of serious policy – is their total lack of a careful and deeper perspective of the strategic and political context of this struggle. They are ignoring the spread of inter-communal bloodletting, which could verge on a possible genocide of civilians across a wide swath of the Islamic world and possibly beyond. Military action alone only will bring even more hostilities and growing terrorism.
This blog has argued for a long time that the dangers in Syria (and now Iraq) has been that of a religious war between the two main Islamic sects (Shiites and Sunnis) and their national proxies. This war will have major global consequences that threaten the stability of a large segment of the Middle East, Asia, and beyond. The president has rightly seen this danger and made it clear in his press conference that America will not engage in any effort to support just one side. Instead, it wishes to bring the warring sides together to seek a new unified government in Iraq. That action could make possible not only the defeat of the ISIS, but would also reestablish some kind of accommodation between the different groups in Iraq. It might also lessen the Syria upheaval.
One argument that Obama has made is that, with the possibility of complete chaos and breakup of the Iraqi state, terrorism might spread to a wide set of countries. These include our allies and even America itself. More military intervention, then, would put our citizens in greater danger. This argument has merit, but we need to be careful not to fall back into the dangerous mind set that we are again embarked on a perpetual “war on terrorism,” and especially one that is aimed at the Sunni element. Such an approach is, by no means, fair and ignores that the vast majority of Sunnis around the world are not engaged in any form of terrorism and, indeed, are often our friends and allies in dealing with other issues. However, we have to be aware that some Sunnis in the Gulf are providing resources to Sunni terrorists. This needs to change.
Compare Obama and his team’s studied and careful look at this dangerous situation with the shallow and reckless actions taken by Bush II and his cronies. Consider the gap, and the fact that Bush II moved without even a second thought of the cost and consequences. His move was, in reality, based on a lie by the highest leaders of our nation. That they should criticize Obama for caution now must be one of the great acts of hypocrisy in our history. Now is the time for thinking through a crisis, and not jumping headlong into danger.
I suspect Obama’s balanced diplomacy – a bit of limited military support and use of them as eyes and ears to the situation – is correct. Sending Secretary of State John Kerry to address the larger problem is a wise choice where there are no certain or good options or outcomes.
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