“An Iraqi Army That Can’t Or Won’t Fight”: Why Fight For The Iraqis If They Are Not Going To Fight For Themselves?
If Iraqis won’t fight for their nation’s survival, why on earth should we?
This is the question posed by the fall of Ramadi, which revealed the emptiness at the core of U.S. policy. President Obama’s critics are missing the point: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many troops he sends back to Iraq or whether their footwear happens to touch the ground. The simple truth is that if Iraqis will not join together to fight for a united and peaceful country, there will be continuing conflict and chaos that potentially threaten American interests.
We should be debating how best to contain and minimize the threat. Further escalating the U.S. military role, I would argue, will almost surely lead to a quagmire that makes us no more secure. If the choice is go big or go home, we should pick the latter.
The Islamic State was supposed to be reeling from U.S.-led airstrikes. Yet the group was able to capture Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, and is now consolidating control over that strategically important city. Once Islamic State fighters are fully dug in, it will be hard to pry them out.
Among the images from Sunday’s fighting, what stood out was video footage of Iraqi soldiers on the move — speeding not toward the battle but in the opposite direction. It didn’t look like any kind of tactical retreat. It looked like pedal-to-the-metal flight.
These were widely described as members of the Iraqi army’s “elite” units.
In their haste, Iraqi forces left behind U.S.-supplied tanks, artillery pieces, armored personnel carriers and Humvees. Most of the equipment is believed to be in working order, and all of it now belongs to the Islamic State. The same thing has happened when other government positions have been overrun; in effect, we have helped to arm the enemy.
Obama pledged to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. His strategy is to use U.S. air power to keep the jihadists at bay, while U.S. advisers provide the Iraqi military with the training it needs to recapture the territory the Islamic State holds.
But this is a triumph of hope over experience. The United States spent the better part of a decade training the Iraqi armed forces, and witness the result: an army that can’t or won’t fight. The government in Baghdad, dominated by the Shiite majority, balks at giving Sunni tribal leaders the weapons necessary to resist the Islamic State. Kurdish regional forces, which are motivated and capable, have their own part of the country to defend.
If the Islamic State is to be driven out of Ramadi, the job will be done not by the regular army but by powerful Shiite militia units that are armed, trained and in some cases led by Iran. The day may soon come when an Iranian general, orchestrating an advance into the city, calls in a U.S. airstrike for support.
The logical result of Obama’s policy — which amounts to a kind of warfare-lite — is mission creep and gradual escalation. Send in a few more troops. Allow them to go on patrols with the Iraqis. Let them lead by example. Send in a few more. You might recognize this road; it can lead to another Vietnam.
What are the alternatives? One would be to resurrect Colin Powell’s doctrine of overwhelming force: Send in enough troops to drive the Islamic State out of Iraq once and for all. We conquered and occupied the country once, we could do it again.
But the Islamic State would still hold substantial territory in Syria — and thus present basically the same threat as now. If our aim is really to “destroy” the group, as Obama says, then we would have to wade into the Syrian civil war. Could we end up fighting arm-in-arm with dictator Bashar al-Assad, as we now fight alongside his friends the Iranians? Or, since Obama’s policy is that Assad must go, would we have to occupy that country, too, and take on another project of nation-building? This path leads from bad to worse and has no apparent end.
The other choice is to pull back. This strikes me as the worst course of action — except for all the rest.
The unfortunate fact is that U.S. policymakers want an intact, pluralistic, democratic Iraq more than many Iraqis do. Until this changes, our policy goal has to be modest: Contain the Islamic State from afar and target the group’s leadership, perhaps with drone attacks.
Or we can keep chasing mirages and hoping for miracles.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 21, 2015
“Boehner Still Can’t Get His Act Together On ISIS”: A House Speaker Who Keeps Expecting Everyone Else To Work Except Him
It’s been nine months since President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East. It’s been five months since the president publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission. It’s been four months since Obama used his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act. It’s been three months since the White House, at Congress’ insistence, provided draft legislative language to lawmakers.
But as The Hill reported this afternoon, House Republicans – who support the administration’s military offensive – still aren’t prepared to do any actual work.
President Obama should scrap his war powers request to fight Islamic terrorists and go back to the drawing board, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.
“The president’s request for Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. Given the fight that we’re in, it’s irresponsible,” Boehner told reporters after huddling with his rank-and-file members. Boehner said the president should withdraw the AUMF and “start over.”
It’s important to understand the nuances of Boehner’s whining on this issue. For quite a while, the Speaker said the legislative branch wouldn’t even try to authorize the war unless the executive branch did lawmakers’ work for them – Congress simply would not write its own bill, Boehner said, so it was up to the president to do the legislative work for the legislators.
Obama eventually agreed to write a bill for those whose job it is to write bills, only to discover that Congress doesn’t like his bill. The sensible, mature next move seems fairly obvious: if lawmakers don’t like the resolution the White House wrote, Congress can try writing its own version, agreed upon by lawmakers, and then voted on by lawmakers.
As of this morning, however, Boehner says he doesn’t want to. He wants the president to imagine what might make Republicans happy, then write another draft, at which point GOP leaders will let the West Wing know whether or not Congress is satisfied. If Boehner disapproves, presumably it’d be up to Obama to come up with a third.
This is quickly becoming a national embarrassment.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the war, in effect, started nine months ago. Congress has a constitutional obligation to authorize the mission, but instead we have a House Speaker who keeps expecting everyone else to work except him.
I can appreciate the fact that this is not simply a matter of laziness. There are, as we’ve discussed before, significant policy disagreements – between Democrats and Republicans, between the House and the Senate – that are tough to resolve. Some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough. Working out a resolution would be hard.
But here’s the fact that Boehner and his cohorts don’t seem to understand: it’s supposed to be hard. When lawmakers authorize the nation to launch a military offensive abroad, it’s difficult by design.
The Speaker, however, hopes to pass the buck, suggesting somehow it’s the White House’s job to write bills for Congress, and if Congress doesn’t like the president’s version, then Capitol Hill will just ignore the issue altogether. In effect, Boehner’s argument is that an ongoing war can just continue – indefinitely – no matter the cost or scope of the mission, and federal lawmakers are prepared to do literally no work whatsoever.
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said today, “We may go down in history as the Congress that largely gave up its role in the war-making process.”
The irony, of course, is extraordinary. For years, Boehner and other GOP leaders have complained that Obama is an out-of-control tyrant, hell-bent on ignoring the Constitution and amassing excessive power in the executive. And yet, here we are, with the president pushing Congress to authorize a war that’s already started, and a Speaker content to sit on his hands.
Making matters worse, the more Obama tries to find a peaceful solution with Iran, the more Congress tries to intervene to derail the administration’s efforts. The more Obama wages war against ISIS, the less work Congress is inclined to do.
“It matters a great deal to the institution of the Congress what we do because future presidents are going to look back at this and they’re going to say ‘We can make war without a congressional vote,’” Schiff added. “It will have deep impact on our institutional role and our ability to serve as a meaningful check and balance on presidents’ ability to make war.”
Finally, evidence of Boehner’s legacy comes into focus.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2015
There are many reasons George W. Bush was unpopular when he left office. A big one was the Great Recession, which crested and crashed down on the world in his last few months in office. Then there was Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 New Orleans debacle that helped kneecap Bush’s second term in office not long after it started. But the most enduring stain on Bush’s tenure is the Iraq War.
Not only is Iraq still a mess — worse, America’s mess — but the effects of toppling Saddam Hussein are being felt in everything from Iran’s expanding influence in the region to Islamic State’s rise. So it’s odd that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, making his case for following his older brother and father into the White House, would double-down on the Iraq War.
Even knowing that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, Jeb Bush told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on Sunday, he would have still invaded Iraq in 2003, “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
First, let’s dispatch with that pathetic blame-sharing nonsense. Hillary Clinton — if, for some reason, voters had elected her right after her husband — would not have invaded Iraq, and neither would President Al Gore. Both probably would have invaded Afghanistan, because, after all, that country’s Taliban government was sheltering the terrorist group that had just murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, destroyed a cluster of skyscrapers, and damaged the Pentagon.
But Iraq was a textbook war of choice. There was some faulty intelligence, but it was being pushed and exaggerated by a Bush White House that wanted to invade Iraq already. I don’t think that’s even in dispute anymore.
Nobody named Clinton has ever invaded Iraq — in fact, since Somalia’s “Black Hawk Down” incident, Democrats bomb countries; they generally don’t send in ground troops. Two presidents named Bush have invaded Iraq. Voters remember that.
And just how unpopular is the Iraq War now? Last summer, some major news organizations asked voters.
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll from June 2014, 71 percent of respondents said the Iraq war “wasn’t worth it,” including 44 percent of Republicans. A CBS News/New York Times poll from the same month similarly found that 75 percent of respondents said the war was not worth the costs, including 63 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents. Another June 2014 poll, from Quinnipiac, was a bit more favorable, with only 61 percent saying that “going to war with Iraq” was “the wrong thing.” In all those polls, the Iraq War disapproval numbers have continued to inch upwards.
The biggest obstacle to a President Jeb Bush was always going to be his last name — a polite way of saying his brother. He knows that. He even jokes about it.
But because of family loyalty or pride, or the advisers he has hired from his brother’s administration, or core convictions, Jeb Bush isn’t willing to throw his brother under the bus. From a tactical standpoint, it must be helpful having a father and brother who have collectively won three presidential elections, but acknowledging in public that George W. Bush is your most influential adviser on Middle East affairs? That’s something different.
Jeb Bush seems determined to win this or lose this as a card-carrying member of the Bush dynasty.
Is that a deal-breaker? Well, people who care about foreign policy often lament that voters don’t. But that’s not going to help John Ellis Bush. Because while most voters probably do vote on pocketbook issues, Republican voters are fired up about foreign policy, especially the sort of engaged partisans who vote in primaries.
And they’re revved up about foreign policy because that’s what Republican lawmakers and politicians and pundits have been attacking President Obama on since the economy improved enough, ObamaCare started showing positive dividends, and Osama bin Laden’s death under Obama’s command became a part of American history.
“Attacking President Obama’s record on Israel and Iran is now one of the biggest applause lines for presidential candidates,” note Josh Kraushaar and Alex Roarty at National Journal, in a write-up on a poll about how Republicans believe 2016 will be a foreign policy election.
Jeb Bush is going to have to step up his game if he wants to ride the GOP’s foreign policy wave. His big coming out party on the subject wasn’t promising — even with his A-list of Bush-linked advisers, he “delivered a nervous, uncertain speech on national security,” reported Tim Mak and Jackie Kucinich at The Daily Beast, “full of errors and confusion.”
That’s something Jeb Bush can fix. After all, none of the Republican governors, former governors, senators, former CEOs, or celebrated pediatric neurosurgeons running against him have much experience with war or international diplomacy or other key elements of foreign policy, either.
But running as a Bush on foreign policy in 2016 is folly. Even if the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party pushes him through the primaries, it’s poison in a general election. Jeb Bush has a tough choice to make: Does he want to try to resuscitate his brother’s foreign policy reputation, or does he want a shot at the White House?
By: Peter Weber, The Week, May 11, 2015
If all goes well, in the 2016 campaign we’ll be rehashing the arguments we had about the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003. You may be thinking, “Jeez, do we really have to go through that again?” But we do—in fact, we must. If we’re going to make sense of where the next president is going to take the United States on foreign policy, there are few more important discussions to have.
On Sunday, Fox News posted an excerpt of an interview Megyn Kelly did with Jeb Bush in which she asked him whether he too would have invaded Iraq, and here’s how that went:
Kelly: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?
Bush: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.
Kelly: You don’t think it was a mistake?
Bush: In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first, and the Iraqis, in this incredibly insecure environment turned on the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place, as well? George W. Bush. So, news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.
While the full interview airs tonight so we don’t yet know whether Kelly followed up to clarify, in this excerpt Jeb Bush deftly answers not the question Kelly asked him but a slightly different question, one that lets him rope in Hillary Clinton and get himself off the hook. While she asked him whether he would have authorized the invasion knowing what we know now, he answered as if she had asked whether he would have authorized the invasion believing what many believed then. For the record, there were plenty of people at the time who objected to the invasion, so it’s utterly false to say “almost everybody” supported it, and while Hillary Clinton did indeed vote for the war, she wouldn’t say she would have invaded knowing what we know now.
Bush’s answer may be evasive, but it’s understandable—after all, it’s not like he’s going to say, “Yes, the whole thing was a catastrophe and we never should have done it.” As of now, Rand Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate who has said that the war was a mistake.
But the question isn’t so much whether a candidate will admit what a disaster Iraq was, but what they’ve learned from the experience. How do they view the extraordinary propaganda campaign the Bush administration launched to convince Americans to get behind the war? Does that make them want to be careful about how they argue for their policy choices? Did Iraq change their perspective on American military action, particularly in the Middle East? What light does it shed on the reception the American military is likely to get the next time we invade someplace? What does it teach us about power vacuums and the challenges of nation-building? How does it inform the candidate’s thinking on the prospect of military action in Syria and Iran specifically? Given the boatload of unintended consequences Iraq unleashed, how would he or she, as president, go about making decisions on complex issues that are freighted with uncertainty?
I would love to know how Jeb Bush would answer those questions, whether he’ll say that the invasion was a mistake or not. The same goes for his primary opponents. But if what we’ve seen so far is any indication, we aren’t likely to get a whole lot of thoughtful foreign policy discussion from them. This weekend the non-Bush candidates were in Greenville for the South Carolina Freedom Summit, where they walked on stage and beat their chests while advocating for a foreign policy inevitably described by the press as “muscular.” Scott Walker apparently thrilled the crowd by telling them that terrorists are coming to America, and “I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.” But the real good stuff came from Marco Rubio:
“On our strategy on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie Taken. Have you seen the movie Taken? Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.'”
Ah, the inspiringly sophisticated foreign policy thinking of the GOP candidate. I’m old enough to remember when we had another president who liked to sound like a movie-star tough guy. “There’s an old poster out West, as I recall,” he said when asked about Osama bin Laden, “that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.'” You’ll recall that it was a different president who was in charge when bin Laden was found. “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there,” he said about Iraqi insurgents early on in the war. “My answer is, bring ’em on.” They came, and thousands of American servicemembers were killed in the ensuing fighting. But George W. Bush was praised at the time for his “moral clarity.”
We shouldn’t forget Hillary Clinton—I doubt she wants to talk much about Iraq, since she supported the war at the time (which was one of the biggest reasons she lost to Barack Obama in 2008). She should explain how the the Iraq War will inform her thinking about the foreign policy challenges the next president is likely to face. But twelve years after the war started, we’re back in Iraq (albeit with boots hovering in midair). Large swaths of the country have been taken over by a terrorist group that emerged out of the war’s chaos. And the glorious flowering of freedom and democracy across the region that George W. Bush promised hasn’t come to pass.
So there’s a basic question the Republican candidates should answer: Is there anything they learned from the Iraq War? Anything at all?
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 11, 2015
“The Swaggering Idiot Returns”: George W. Bush Emerges From Artistic Exile To Rehab His Disastrous Legacy
Arguably the best thing George W. Bush ever did for his party was to keep quiet in the years following his presidency. Winning elections in a political environment shaped by Bush’s legacy – a bloody and unpopular conflict in Iraq and a cratering economy – was difficult enough. The last thing Republicans needed was W. out in the public eye smirking and drawling about staying the course. So he exiled himself to the ranch in Crawford and took up painting.
But Bush’s political hermit act couldn’t last forever. His brother’s likely entrance into the 2016 presidential race guaranteed that we’d hear from him sooner rather than later, and it’s only natural that after years of self-imposed silence, Bush would feel the urge to get out there and talk politics again. And so this past weekend, Bush spoke to a Republican donor conference in Las Vegas about the Middle East and served up some harsh critiques of his successor’s foreign policy. It was classic Bush, in that he seemingly refused to consider for even a moment that much of what we’re dealing with in the Middle East are the unintended consequences of his own epic policy failures.
According to a transcript of Bush’s remarks provided to Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin, Bush came down hard on Barack Obama for ruining all the good work he and his administration had done in Iraq:
Bush then went into a detailed criticism of Obama’s policies in fighting the Islamic State and dealing with the chaos in Iraq. On Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of 2011, he quoted Senator Lindsey Graham calling it a “strategic blunder.” Bush signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw those troops, but the idea had been to negotiate a new status of forces agreement to keep U.S. forces there past 2011. The Obama administration tried and failed to negotiate such an agreement.
It was a “strategic blunder,” according to Bush, because he’d made everything right in Iraq with the surge, which he offered up as a great example of commander-in-chiefing: “When the plan wasn’t working in Iraq,” Bush said, “we changed.”
That’s a sanitized retelling of how the surge came about. The “plan” in Iraq had not been working for years, as evidenced by the ever-rising death tolls of American troops and Iraqi civilians. But Bush, as you might recall, was something of a stubborn man, and he stuck with the “plan,” insisting all along that it was working, even as the country fell apart before our eyes. Also, anyone who questioned the “plan” was immediately slimed by Bush, Karl Rove, and/or Dick Cheney as a traitorous, terrorist-appeasing, cut-and-run coward. The surge happened in 2007, four years after the war had begun and shortly after the political damage wrought by “staying the course” had cost the Republicans control of Congress in 2006.
And the surge itself failed to accomplish its primary goal of enabling political reconciliation amongst the factions within the Iraqi government. The regime the Bush administration left in Iraq was hopelessly corrupt and presided over by a wannabe authoritarian strongman who repressed Iraqi Sunnis to consolidate his own power. But according to Bush, forcing the Iraqis to agree to a residual force of a couple of thousand U.S. troops would have kept the sectarian government in line and kept a lid on the violence – a fanciful notion that was contradicted by the entire history of the Iraq war up to that point.
Bush also had a few words on the bad hombres of the Islamic State:
Bush said he views the rise of the Islamic State as al-Qaeda’s “second act” and that they may have changed the name but that murdering innocents is still the favored tactic. He defended his own administration’s handling of terrorism, noting that the terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was captured on his watch: “Just remember the guy who slit Danny Pearl’s throat is in Gitmo, and now they’re doing it on TV.”
The Islamic State and Al Qaeda are actually two distinct entities who don’t like each other all that much, but if we must go by this dodgy framework, then the Islamic State is actually Al Qaeda’s third act. The first act was just plain old Al Qaeda. The second act was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn’t exist until George W. Bush invaded Iraq and gave regular Al Qaeda the chance to set up a new franchise. The Islamic State grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the group’s sophistication owes much to the fact that the Bush administration disbanded Saddam Hussein’s army and made freelancers out of Hussein’s intelligence officers, who took their talents to the various jihadist movements.
Anyway, one could go on and on in this vein. It’s silly to think that Bush would ever cop to the enduring failures of his disastrous Iraq adventure, but he at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Now he’s out there defending the Bush record and letting it be known that he’s very concerned about how all the catastrophes he helped author are playing out.
By: Simon Maloy, Salon, April 27, 2015