Editorializing for Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, the New York Times wrote:
Mr. Obama and his administration have been resolute in attacking Al Qaeda’s leadership, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. He has ended the war in Iraq. Mr. Romney, however, has said he would have insisted on leaving thousands of American soldiers there.
In truth, the Times did not care about Iraq. It would have spun any outcome to favor Obama. Its first goal, like that of Slate’s Fred Kaplan, has been to exculpate Barack Obama.
When Kaplan writes that we should not blame Obama, he is echoing the administration line. And he is also saying something that is manifestly stupid. At least, when Republicans say something stupid it’s only about sex.
When it comes to foreign policy, the Obama administration, according to Walter Russell Mead seems to be run by a bunch of know-nothings:
The worst news about Iraq comes from Washington, where we learn in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that senior White House officials acknowledge that these events have surprised them. They apparently had no idea that the Iraqi army was a hollow shell, that ISIS was planning something, and that the sectarian war was about to take a dramatic lurch for the worse.
It is amazing what this White House does not know. It did not know that Putin was planning to take over Ukraine; indeed, it thought that its policy of a reset with Russia was paying off and that Russia was becoming a partner for peace. It did not know that Saudi Arabia was preparing to help the Egyptian army oust a democratically elected government the United States was determined to support.
A serious reporter like Dexter Filkins, writing for the liberal New Yorker, explained how Obama’s foreign policy helped produce the current chaos:
The capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, by Sunni extremists on Tuesday is the most dramatic example of the resurgence of the country’s sectarian war, which began almost immediately after the withdrawal of the last American forces in December, 2011. The fighters who took Mosul are attached to an Al Qaeda spawn called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which is now poised to carve out a rump state across the Sunni-dominated lands that stretch from western Baghdad to the Syrian border and beyond.
So, the civil war erupted immediately upon the withdrawal of the last American forces. Who should we hold responsible for that?
True enough, Filkins writes, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri el-Maliki bears the greatest blame, but he could have been and had been constrained by an American troop presence:
When the Americans were on the ground in Iraq, they acted repeatedly to restrain Maliki, and the rest of Iraq’s Shiite leadership, from its most sectarian impulses. At first, they failed, and the civil war began in earnest in 2006. It took three years and hundreds of lives, but the American military succeeded in tamping down Iraq’s sectarian furies, not just with violence but also by forcing Maliki to accommodate Sunni demands. Time and again, American commanders have told me, they stepped in front of Maliki to stop him from acting brutally and arbitrarily toward Iraq’s Sunni minority. Then the Americans left, removing the last restraints on Maliki’s sectarian and authoritarian tendencies.
Whose fault is the absence of such a countervailing force?
Of course, the Obama administration failed to negotiate an agreement with Maliki. Surely, it was a hard negotiation. But, one suspects that the administration was simply not up to the job.
The negotiations between Obama and Maliki fell apart, in no small measure because of a lack of engagement by the White House. Today, many Iraqis, including some close to Maliki, say that a small force of American soldiers—working in non-combat roles—would have provided a crucial stabilizing factor that is now missing from Iraq. Sami al-Askari, a Maliki confidant, told me for my article this spring, “If you had a few hundred here, not even a few thousand, they would be coöperating with you, and they would become your partners.” President Obama wanted the Americans to come home, and Maliki didn’t particularly want them to stay.
Others have made the same point. I quote Filkins because no one can possibly see him as an Obama-basher.
As for where we go from here, Jessica Lewis outlined some possible actions in the Wall Street Journal this morning. By her reasoning, it is no longer possible to find a political solution. All solutions must contain a military component:
There are no political solutions available to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki —ISIS doesn't engage in peace talks. What is needed is a coherent military strategy to halt the present ISIS offensive, and a concerted effort to rebuild Iraqi security forces so that they are armed and trained well enough to oust ISIS from territory it now controls.
In other words, Iraq needs the United States. U.S. Special Operations forces would provide invaluable early-targeting support to Iraqi army units preparing for battle. Airstrikes on ISIS strongholds between Mosul and Bayji would help Iraqi ground forces maneuvering to retake Mosul and Tikrit. The U.S. Army could also provide logistics and other support to the Iraqi military. The Iraqi forces will require additional training, maintenance assistance and battlefield planning support before launching a full counteroffensive. The U.S. can provide it. Drone strikes and other measures suited for combating a terrorist group won't suffice against ISIS. This is a terrorist army, bent on having its own country.
While Iraq burns, Obama seems clearly to be unconcerned. He has left all options on the table, except for the military option that he quickly took off the table. He described military intervention as a “whack-a-mole” strategy.
When your president is more interesting in looking cool, you understand why he systematically ignored Maliki’s more recent pleas for help.