It takes a lot of gall for people like Dick Cheney to utter even one critical word about President Obama’s strategy to eliminate the threat of ISIL in the Middle East.
In fact, it was the unnecessary Bush/Cheney Iraq War that created the conditions that led directly to the rise of the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL).
Former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James Baker said as much on this week’s edition of “Meet the Press.” He noted that after the first President Bush had ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. had refrained from marching on Baghdad precisely to avoid kicking over the sectarian hornet’s nest that was subsequently unleashed by the Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq in 2003.
But it wasn’t just the War in Iraq itself that set the stage for the subsequent 12 years of renewed, high-intensity sectarian strife between Sunni’s and Shiites in the Middle East. It was also what came after.
Bush’s “de-Baathification program” eliminated all vestiges of Sunni power in Iraqi society and set the stage for the Sunni insurrection against American occupation and the new Shiite-led government. Bush disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army and bureaucracy. He didn’t change it. He didn’t make it more inclusive of Shiites and Kurds. He just disbanded it. It is no accident that two of the top commanders of today’s ISIL are former commanders in the Saddam-era Iraqi military.
General Petraeus took steps to reverse these policies with his “Sunni Awakening” programs that engaged the Sunni tribes against what was then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. But the progress he made ultimately collapsed because the Bush/Cheney regime helped install Nouri Al-Maliki as Prime Minister who systematically disenfranchised Sunnis throughout Iraq.
And that’s not all. The War in Iraq — which had nothing whatsoever to do with “terrorism” when it was launched — created massive numbers of terrorists that otherwise would not have dreamed of joining extremist organizations. It did so by killing massive numbers of Iraqis, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees, imprisoning thousands, and convincing many residents of the Middle East that the terrorist narrative was correct: that the U.S. and the West were really about taking Muslim lands.
And after all, contrary to Dick Cheney’s absurd assertion that U.S. forces would be greeted in Iraq as “liberators,” no one likes a foreign nation to occupy their country.
The War did more than any propagandist could possibly do to radicalize vulnerable young people. And by setting off wave after wave of sectarian slaughter it created blood feuds that will never be forgiven.
The Iraq War — and the Sunni power vacuum caused first by U.S. policies and then Al Maliki — created the perfect conditions that allowed a vicious band of extremists to take huge swaths of territory.
And now many of the same people who caused this foreign policy disaster have the audacity to criticize President Obama’s measured efforts to clean up the mess they created. And they do so often without ever saying what they themselves would do to solve the horrific problems that they created.
It reminds you of a bunch of arsonists standing at the scene of a fire criticizing the techniques used by the firefighters who are trying to extinguish the blaze they themselves have set.
Oh, they say: “If you had just left a residual force after the withdrawal of U.S. troops everything would be hunky dory.”
Do they really think that several thousand U.S. troops would have solved Iraq’s problems when hundreds of thousands failed to do so?
And of course they conveniently forget to mention that neither the Iraqi’s nor the U.S. voters wanted a “residual” force to remain in Iraq. And they forget that the Iraqi government would not agree to conditions that would allow a “residual” force to be stationed in Iraq.
Or perhaps they wish U.S. troops were now going door to door in Iraq cities rooting out adherents to ISIL? Only a few neo-con die-hards want more U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East.
Or then there is the refrain that President Obama should have helped “arm” the moderate Syrian opposition earlier. Let’s remember that had he acted at an earlier point it is entirely likely that many of those arms would now be in ISIL hands — and we must be extremely careful even now to avoid precisely that problem in the days ahead.
The president’s response to ISIL is supported by almost two-thirds of Americans because it seems to be the only reasonable response where the cure is not worse than the disease.
It recognizes that the problem posed by ISIL must first and foremost be dealt with by other Sunni’s in the region. It is aimed at building an international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy the ability of this vicious organization to threaten people in the Middle East or elsewhere. And it relies on American airpower to bolster the abilities of other Sunni forces to accomplish this goal.
But most Americans also realize this will not be easy — and they’re right. It won’t be easy to clean up the horrific mess created by the Bush/Cheney policies in the Middle East.
Frankly, I don’t think that any of the architects of the Iraq War should ever be invited on TV to say one word about foreign policy — and especially the Middle East. They have zero credibility to comment. They have been wrong over and over again and created the conditions that spawned the problems we face today.
But if they are invited to act as “talking heads,” interviewers must at least have the common decency to point out their failed track record — and to demand that they do more than criticize the president’s efforts to clean up their mistakes. They must also be required to tell us exactly what they would do to fix it.
And if any of them actually do propose a course of action, you can pretty much be sure that based on their past track records, that course of action is wrong.
By: Robert Creamer, Partner, Democracy Partners; The Huffington Post Blog, September 15, 2014
“Will The House GOP Stop The War on ISIS?”: If You Hamper The War Effort Of One Side, You Automatically Help That Of The Other
So here, with Congress now trying to figure out what to do about President Obama’s request for funding for the Syrian rebels, we have a glimpse, as rare in its way as an eclipse or a meteor shower, of two Republican pathologies colliding head-on. The first is their biological urge to oppose Obama on all matters. The second is the House Republicans’ chronic eleventh-hour melodramatics about keeping the government funded every September. I could throw in a third—John McCain’s ever-mounting and ever-more-obvious personal bitterness toward Obama—but we’ll lay him aside for today and focus on this joining of the two pathologies, which in the worst-case scenario threatens to derail Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign before it even starts.
Fast background: Congress has to pass a continuing resolution by September 30 or we’ll have a government shutdown again. Actually, in practical terms, it has to pass it within the next few days, because the Jewish holidays are coming and Congress is going on recess so members can go back home and campaign.
In an election year, no one on the GOP side wants to risk a government shutdown (check that—Ted Cruz still kind of does!). The two parties are mostly arguing about the Export-Import Bank, the newest piece of coal for the tea party fire, but that’s the kind of thing they usually agree at the last minute to extend for another six months.
But that was the pre-ISIS state of play. Then we all saw the beheading videos, and fighting the Islamic State became a matter of urgency. Obama had asked Congress for $500 million in aid to the Syrian rebels back in June, but Congress, in its laconic, congressional way, was originally going to wait until next year to get around to that. But now the administration wants that $500 million—which is actually part of a larger $2 billion request that would include other money for operations in Iraq and Ukraine—to be passed now. And it wants it included in the “CR,” as they call it.
As you probably know, the House Republicans met Thursday morning in the aftermath of Obama’s speech to figure out how to proceed. As you probably also know, they didn’t figure it out. Some support Obama’s request—John Boehner does, and the relevant committee chairmen. Others, of course, don’t trust Obama. Some want to keep the Syria money in the CR. Others want to pry it out and have two votes, one on government funding and one on the Syria dough.
What would be the point of this? There is no point. Long Island Republican Peter King said something in Politico about how “it sends a stronger message” if it’s a separate vote, which is nonsense. Can you picture Bashar al-Assad sitting in Damascus talking with a top aide and saying, “Well, I don’t think $500 million is a serious amount of money,” and the aide says, “Gee, boss, I don’t know, I mean, they passed it on a separate vote”?
Please. The only reason to have a separate vote is to diddle the White House around. “Assert congressional prerogative” is the more euphemistic way to put it, but I can guarantee you that if President Romney were asking for this money, the only thing Republicans would be debating would be how many times they could each vote yea. Similarly, the shocking demand among some Republicans for greater action—for ground troops, even—is equally hypocritical. If Obama had proposed ground troops, they’d be hyperventilating about how scandalous it was of him to want to send our troops into harm’s way. They’re just looking for a hook—the handiest excuse to oppose Obama that they can find.
Obviously, passing the $500 million in the quickest way possible is what sends the strongest “message,” as if anyone even cares about such messages. What matters is that the money gets authorized. If the House Republicans pull it out of the resolution and make it a free-standing vote that will happen later, then all that accomplishes is that it gives talk-radio land and the conservative Twittersphere a few days to badger Republicans about casting a pro-Obama vote (and right before an election). And if that happens, and the right finds some excuse to work itself into a lather over this, Boehner may just decide that the easiest thing is to send them home without voting on Syria at all.
In one of his more famous essays, “Pacifism and the War,” George Orwell wrote that pacifism “is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.” Orwell was writing of course about World War II, which I concede this is not (although I submit that it would be nice to see similar rhetorical restraint from the Republicans, who never tire of invoking Munich when they’re harping on Obama for not being tough enough). But if it isn’t World War II, neither is it the last Iraq War, which was completely unprovoked and based on lies. ISIS has killed Americans, and its threat to the region is clear and obvious. The Islamic State is evil by any measure. House Republicans may not trust the president and may prefer to see all this done differently. But without going as far as Orwell did (he later walked back the essay, after all) we can fairly ask if they want to have done nothing to check the Islamic State’s march.
I actually don’t think it will come to that. Even so, if I were a moderate Syrian Sunni, I wouldn’t be putting in orders for any tactical ballistic missiles just yet.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2014
There can be no doubt that ISIS’s brutal murder of two journalists had a deep impact on how Americans perceive the terrorist threat. For years, polls showed a war-weary nation reluctant to launch new military offenses in the Middle East, but the recent beheadings abroad changed the calculus on the public’s appetite for intervention.
But it’s also true that many voices in the U.S. have exploited the political value of fear.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued a few weeks ago that there’s “a very real possibility” that ISIS terrorists may have entered the United States through the southern border with Mexico. Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) added that the U.S. border is “porous,” and officials must “secure our own borders” to prevent “ISIS infiltration.” This week, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), now running in New Hampshire, echoed Perry’s original claim, telling Fox News that ISIS terrorists might “actually [be] coming through the border right now.”
Last night on CNN, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined the chorus.
ANDERSON COOPER: Senator McCain, the president also said that we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland. Americans who hear those words might wonder, if that is really the case, then why do we need to take action against ISIS? To that you say what?
JOHN MCCAIN: I say that today, we had a hearing, and there was testimony from the counterterrorism people and the Department of Homeland Security. There is Twitter traffic right now and Facebook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America. And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.
A few hours earlier on Twitter, McCain encouraged his followers to read a piece on a far-right website, which reported that the U.S. officials have “confirmed” that Islamic State terrorists are “planning” to infiltrate the United States through our southern border.
Is it any wonder so many Americans are afraid?
Perhaps now would be a good time to pause for a deep breath – and a reality check.
The basic facts are not in dispute. First, there’s no evidence – literally, none at all – of ISIS terrorists entering the United States through the southern border with Mexico. In fact, there’s no evidence of ISIS terrorists even trying.
Second, the southern border is not “porous.” The Obama administration really has increased U.S. border security to levels unseen in modern times.
But what about the report McCain promoted that said U.S. officials have “confirmed” that Islamic State terrorists are “planning” to infiltrate through Mexico? The senator may have heard what he wanted to hear, but that’s not quite what officials told lawmakers.
Despite some Twitter chatter, there is no evidence ISIS terrorists are trying to slip into the United States from Mexico, Department of Homeland Security officials told Congress Wednesday.
Administration officials said they are more concerned about jihadists entering the U.S. legally on commercial airline flights.
Administration higher-ups testifying at a House hearing Wednesday threw cold water on scary border scenarios cited by conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Francis Taylor, the undersecretary for intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security, told McCain that there have been some “social media exchanges” among ISIS adherents about the “possibility” of entering the United States through Mexico, but none of the exchanges have led to action and Taylor added that U.S. officials are “satisfied we have the intelligence and capability on the border that would prevent that activity.”
So what are we left with? Some lunatics wrote some tweets about the “possibility” of trying to get into the United States. I don’t want to play semantics games, but it’s fair to say this is a far cry from Islamic State terrorists “planning” to infiltrate the country through Mexico.
What’s more, as Steve M. noted, “Let me remind you: Al Qaeda has never gotten anyone across the Mexican border to commit a terrorist act – and Al Qaeda clearly does want to pursue attacks on the West. We have to be watchful, but no, this sort of attack isn’t going to happen soon.”
It’s important to appreciate why Republicans are pushing this line. It seems pretty clear that McCain and others see the utility of Americans being afraid – if the public fears a domestic attack from ISIS, there will be stronger support for more and expansive wars.
But Republicans also want the White House to give the right what it wants on immigration: more border security in exchange for nothing. This rhetoric is intended to kill two birds with one stone.
No one should be fooled.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 11, 2014
President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State may be hard to pin down — maddeningly so, some complain — but it is likely to work far better than anything his bellicose critics advocate.
Perhaps the president will eliminate any confusion when he addresses the nation Wednesday, but I doubt it. Based on what he told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” there may be no way to reduce Obama’s fluid and perhaps deliberately ambiguous thinking to a black-or-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy.
“This is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops. This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war,” Obama said. Later in the interview, he added that “we’re not looking at sending in 100,000 American troops” and that “our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there’s a terrorist organization.”
Clear? Kind of.
We understand that the president will not announce the deployment of U.S. troops in large numbers and that he does not intend for the United States to re-invade and re-occupy Iraq. But we know that U.S. military advisers and Special Operations teams have already been active in both Iraq and Syria. And since Obama described the fight against the Islamic State as “similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years,” we can assume there will be some U.S. military presence on the ground, however covert and limited.
A strong believer in multilateralism, the president asserted that “we have, I believe, a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem.”
True? Again, kind of.
The 10-nation coalition assembled last week to fight the Islamic State — the United States plus Australia and NATO members Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark — is much less than meets the eye, operationally speaking. Britain, France, Australia and Canada have the will and capacity to project military power overseas. The others, not so much.
As far as regional cooperation is concerned, perhaps Turkey can be counted on to help tear down the Islamic State. But assistance from two key powers in the Middle East that also find themselves threatened by the jihadist group — Iran and Saudi Arabia — promises to be tenuous and situational at best.
To further complicate a situation that already seems hopelessly complicated, every blow against the Islamic State is a blow in favor of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his murderous regime. But Obama implied on “Meet the Press” that Assad is a secondary concern and said that, “when it comes to our policy and the coalition that we’re putting together, our focus specifically is on ISIL,” another name for the Islamic State.
In internal administration discussions, Obama has reportedly been skeptic-in-chief about the capabilities of the ostensibly “moderate” Syrian rebels. On Sunday, the president was less than fulsome in his praise of groups such as the Free Syrian Army, which he noted “have been on the defensive.” He said, “We’re going to have to develop a moderate Sunni opposition that can control territory,” indicating that no such opposition now exists.
It all sounds kind of circular and vague, implying there is much that may be planned, or already taking place, that we know nothing about. Obama seems to give himself the option of confronting the Islamic State directly when he chooses, ignoring it when he feels it can be ignored, using airstrikes when he believes they are needed, cooperating with adversarial or unreliable governments only when he believes it is in the U.S. interest to do so.
I don’t know if it will work. But I’m confident that the hawkish alternative — more bombs, more boots, more bluster — would be a tragic failure.
Massive airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria probably would not be enough to destroy the Islamic State without ground support. In Iraq, such support has been inconsistent. In Syria, it could come only from Assad’s brutal army. If U.S. troops are not an option, should we encourage Saudi Arabia and even Iran to deploy their forces? To me, that sounds like fighting a fire with gasoline.
To the hawks, Obama’s cautious, patient, this-could-take-years approach to dealing with the Islamic State will be emotionally unsatisfying. But, given the complexity of the situation, subtlety and indirection are more promising tools than brute force. Locking the United States into the kind of rigid strategy that critics demand would likely ensure only that this crisis sows the seeds of the next one.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 8, 2014
Republican condemnations of President Obama’s counter-terrorism efforts are clearly growing louder, but there’s still some disagreements within the GOP itself.
When discussing ISIS and the national-security threat, for example, one prominent Republican senator recently said, “What’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution.”
Another prominent Republican senator later argued the opposite, writing an op-ed that read, “Our recent foreign policy has allowed radical jihadists to proliferate. Today, there are more terrorists groups than there were before 9/11, most notably ISIS…. [W]hy, after six years, does President Obama lack a strategy to deal with threats like ISIS?”
Wait, actually both quotes came from the same guy. Benjy Sarlin highlighted the contradiction.
After expressing reluctance to intervene against ISIS over the summer, Sen. Rand Paul abruptly shifted gears on Thursday and announced that he supports military action to eliminate the Islamist group. […]
Paul’s hawkish turn comes after months of hedging and skeptical comments regarding U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria. Yet Paul boasted on Thursday that as president he would have committed to a grand plan to eliminate ISIS earlier and more effectively than President Obama.
I haven’t the foggiest idea how anyone can take the Kentucky Republican seriously on the issue. Rand Paul seems to have very strong disagreements with Rand Paul, and there’s little hope for reconciliation – one has no use for “interventionists” and the “hawkish members” of his own party; the other is eager to support U.S. military intervention abroad to destroy ISIS.
One has “mixed feelings” about an expansive military operation in the Middle East; the other is outraged by President Obama’s cautious approach to pursuing expansive military operation in the Middle East.
Simon Maloy noted that the same conservatives the senator has spent years disagreeing with about foreign policy are delighted by Paul’s dramatic flip-flop.
In less than a week he went from “let’s be realistic about what we can do militarily” to “destroy ISIS militarily.” The Weekly Standard happily clipped Paul’s remarks under the headline “Rand Paul Supports U.S. War in Middle East to Destroy ISIS.” Neocon pundit Jennifer Rubin — whose Washington Post blog is basically a free-form screed against Rand Paul’s foreign policy — writes today: “Well, welcome aboard, Sen. Paul.”
Of course, the senator’s evolution goes beyond foreign policy. Sarah Smith recently noted that the Kentucky Republican has also changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, Guantanamo Bay, and even accepting donations from lawmakers who voted for TARP.
And so, I’ll ask again: at what point do Rand Paul’s loyal followers start to reconsider whether Rand Paul actually agrees with them?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 5, 2014