One is tempted to ask President Obama how the “ending war” thing is going. President George W. Bush handed off to his successor a functioning, largely peaceful Iraq. Vice President Joe Biden claimed that it would be a great success for the president — who opposed the surge that rescued Iraq from chaos. And now?
The Post reports: “Iraq was on the brink of falling apart Thursday as al-Qaeda renegades asserted their authority over Sunni areas in the north, Kurds seized control of the city of Kirkuk and the Shiite-led government appealed for volunteers to help defend its shrinking domain. The discredited Iraqi army scrambled to recover after the humiliating rout of the past three days, dispatching elite troops to confront the militants in the central town of Samarra and claiming that it had recaptured Tikrit, the home town of the late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, whose regime was toppled by U.S. troops sweeping north from Kuwait in 2003.” Now the president is scrambling to re-engage in a war he “ended.” (“As the scale of the threat to the collapsing Iraqi state became clear, Obama administration officials met to discuss options for a response, including possible airstrikes. An Iraqi official in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the United States had committed to carrying out airstrikes against the militants, but U.S. officials said no decision had been reached.”)
A former congressional staffer observes, “The tragedy of what is happening in Iraq is not just that it was predictable, but that it was predicted. This is exactly what the White House was warned would happen if it pulled all troops out of Iraq and failed to confront the growing firestorm in Syria.” He recalls, “Iraq is a principal reason Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, and what we are now seeing there is the purest expression of what the legacy of his presidency will be: the catastrophic consequences of a foreign policy defined by American retrenchment. Americans have never enjoyed shouldering international responsibilities, but the Obama presidency illustrates what the alternative is — a vacuum that is filled by the forces of chaos and extremism.”
The nightmare scenario has unfolded not only in Iraq but also in Syria. Forget Afghanistan for a moment. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in statement explained that a new, far more dangerous jihadist state is in the making:
Given past U.S. sacrifices, it’s devastating to see terrorist groups taking over large cities in Iraq and marching to Baghdad — but not surprising. For months, we’ve seen this al-Qaeda affiliate capture and hold areas in Syria and Iraq, while increasing its personnel, funding and weapons. Terrorist camps operated openly on Iraqi soil. It’s baffling that for months the Obama Administration denied Iraq requests to target these al-Qaeda camps with drones. Today an entire region is in flames. Terrorist groups are gaining strength, and Iraq’s energy output, critical to world markets, is in jeopardy.
As Iraqi forces have struggled, Iranian-backed Shi’a militias in Iraq may reconstitute under the direction of Tehran, or Iran may get into the fight as it has done in Syria, further roiling the region. What happens in the weeks and months ahead will have global implications and will directly impact key U.S. interests.
This isn’t just a threat to Iraq and the region – but also us. [The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] has reportedly been actively recruiting individuals capable of traveling to the U.S. to carry-out attacks.
In the president’s haste to withdraw every last American troop and ignore continued pleas for assistance from the admittedly difficult Maliki, who has alienated Sunnis and left himself open now to a dual threat from jihadists and Kurds who are scrambling to grab territory of their own, Jessica Lewis warns:
It is already clear that, regardless of whether Baghdad falls, the ascendancy of ISIS is going to redraw and redefine the Middle East. The Kurdish Regional Government, seeing the rest of Iraq in turmoil and government troops pulling out of Kirkuk, moved on Wednesday to secure the oil-rich province—a prize the Kurds had long sought. With the city now controlled by the Kurds’ Peshmerga military, conditions are ripe for the Kurdish region to secede from Iraq. If that happens, the effects are likely to cascade across neighboring states, erasing Middle East borders established in 1916 by the Sykes-Picot agreement. Nevertheless, the greater threat to Middle East sovereign states is ISIS itself, which seeks to establish a transnational emirate.
It is tempting to throw up our hands in dismay, accuse the president of egregious neglect and let the Middle East smolder. But we do not have the luxury of indifference. Obama now needs the support of Congress to try to fix the catastrophe resulting from his policy of retrenchment and denial. Regrettably, a war previously won must be re-won. Lewis recommends: “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.”
There is grave doubt as to whether Obama will take these steps. For 5 1/2 years, he has resisted projecting U.S. power. He premised his foreign policy on the notion that the United States could retreat, leaving the world to multilateral institutions and its own devices. The unpleasant reality and the atrocious legacy that will result, unless he makes a serious about-face, is now apparent. Unfortunately, as the former congressional staffer recounts, “What makes the Obama Administration unique is the absence of evidence that the White House has learned anything from what has gone wrong under its watch. Even as al Qaeda surges across Iraq, just as experts warned it would, the Administration plans to pull all troops out of Afghanistan on an irrational timetable.”
The lessons for politicians and voters alike are clear. Don’t elect a president whose only foreign policy experience comes from Ivy League classes and travel abroad as a child. Don’t indulge in the fantasy that we can keep our distance from the world, relying on trade and “diplomacy” to keep the world safe and stable. Stop slashing defense spending, which only hobbles our defense readiness and emboldens adversaries. Address threats early so that they don’t become calamities. In other words, don’t ever elect anyone with the Obama/Hillary Clinton/John Kerry mind-set.
To his credit, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took to the Senate floor yesterday, explaining that the threat from “a new safe haven is emerging where radical jihadist fighters from all over the planet are able to go and be trained,” and leveling with voters that we will need to offer lethal assistance but also the need to eventually re-engage. (“We are going to have to take some sort of action against this radical group. That is not the choice before us. The choice before us will be whether we take action now, or we take action later. Because what we can never allow is for another safe haven like pre-9/11 Afghanistan to emerge anywhere in this world, where terrorists can plan, practice, and ultimately conduct attacks against us here in the homeland or interests around the world.”)
Rubio is right that “the choice before us will be whether we prevent it now, or whether we deal with the consequences of it later.” And considering this president’s track record, chances are that it will be later and that whoever follows Obama will have quite a mess to clean up.