Obama’s Iraq Policy Is Open-Ended, Directionless, And Likely To Fail

President Obama doesn't seem to have any idea what he wants to do in Iraq.

Barack Obama

In a speech delivered from the White House South Lawn before he departed for vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama told Americans that the mission that began yesterday with airstrikes against ISIS positions around Irbil, Iraq could last quite a long time:

WASHINGTON — Laying the groundwork for an extended airstrike campaign against Sunni militants in Iraq, President Obama said Saturday that the strikes that began the day before could continue for months as the Iraqis build a new government.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” Mr. Obama told reporters before leaving for a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. “This is going to be a long-term project.”

The president repeated his insistence that the United States would not send ground combat troops back to Iraq. But he pledged that the United States and other countries would stand with Iraqi leaders against the militants if the leaders build an inclusive government in the months ahead.

The Washington Post‘s report expands on Obama’s remarks a bit:

President Obama said Saturday that U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq would remain sharply limited so long as the nation’s political leadership remains divided along sectarian lines. But he held out the possibility of more aggressive military intervention if a unified government emerges and said the current crisis is unlikely to be resolved soon.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” Obama said. “I think this is going to take some time.”

Obama, speaking at the White House hours after American fighter jets roared over new front lines in northern Iraq, repeatedly emphasized that the extent of political progress in Baghdad will determine the course of U.S. intervention. While explicitly ruling out sending American ground troops less than three years after the last ones left Iraq, he said the U.S. and allies would be prepared to “not just play defense but also engage in some offense” if a new government forms that brings together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

“We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there’s not going to be an American military solution to this problem,” Obama said. “There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support. And that can’t happen effectively until you have a legitimate Iraqi government.”

In many respects this isn’t all that different from the position that the President took earlier this summer when the crisis in Iraq began after the fall of Mosul. At that point, he pointed out, correctly, that Iraq’s problems are largely due to the fact that the government of Nouri al-Maliki has alienated the nation’s Sunni population through political repression and retributions for the fact that they supported the regime of Saddam Hussein during the time he was in power. As a result of this, Iraq’s Sunni’s have reacted by either making their peace with ISIS or by simply refusing to fight for Iraq. Much of the reporting about desertions among the Iraqi military, for example, seem to be attributable to Sunni’s who have simply laid down their weapons and walked away from the fight as ISIS advanced. That is a sign of a nation that is united by law, but quickly reaching the point where it is not united in fact, and it’s unclear how long it can last.

The United States, along with a host of other nations in the reason, including Iran, have been calling on al-Maliki to form a more inclusive government and reach out to the Sunni population for months now, but he continues to refuse to do so. Additionally, notwithstanding the fact that elections were completed months ago, a new government has yet to be formed in no small part because of disputes within al-Maliki’s coalition that are rooted in the ethnic and political divisions that are ripping the nation of Iraq apart. One would have thought that the events of the past several months would have caused the parties in Baghdad to put their political differences aside, but instead they appear to be causing everyone to become more entrenched in their own positions. So, if President Obama is basing his strategy on the prospect for political peace in Baghdad, then he’s pretty much dooming himself to failure.

The Washington Post’s editors go further, pointing out that the President has no coherent strategy in Iraq:

While U.S. airstrikes and drops of supplies may prevent the terrorist forces from massacring the Yazidi sect or toppling the pro-Western regime in Kurdistan, Mr. Obama lacks a plausible plan for addressing the larger threat posed by the Islamic State. In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have described the danger in hair-curling terms: The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.

Yet by the White House’s own account, the measures ordered by Mr. Obama are not intended to defeat the Islamic State or even to stop its bloody advances in most of the region. Instead they are limited to protecting two cities where U.S. personnel are stationed and one mass of refugees. The hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere threatened by the al-Qaeda forces will receive no U.S. protection. Nor will the terrorists’ hold over the areas they already control, including the large city of Mosul and nearby oil fields, be tested by U.S. airpower.

U.S. officials say that Mr. Obama has refrained from a broader campaign because he believes the Islamic State is “an Iraqi responsibility,” as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put it. The administration is pushing Iraq’s political factions, sharply divided along sectarian lines, to join in forming a new government; once such a government is formed, Mr. Obama said, “the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support.”


The White House is hopeful that a new prime minister could be nominated this weekend. Even if that occurs, it probably will take Iraqis many more weeks to agree on a common political program, if they are able to do so at all. Kurds and Sunnis are demanding a major decentralization of power, and one of the “other countries” that the United States must balance is Iran, which seeks to perpetuate Shiite dominance in Baghdad. Meanwhile, as senior Kurdish leaders told the administration in a visit to Washington last month, Iraqi army and Kurdish forces probably cannot defeat the Islamic State on their own.

The Post advocates for a more forceful policy on Obama’s part, and a wider campaign against ISIS/Islamic State. I don’t entirely agree with that idea for a whole host of reasons, and I suspect that the American people would not support it either. However, even that would arguably better than the muddling policy that the President seems to have adopted now. If you’re not going to go to all-in, then you may as well not go in at all.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Iraq War, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. President Camacho says:

    Don’t forget really really expensive.

  2. Stan says:

    “If you’re not going to go all-in, then you might as well not go in at all.”

    Right, and John and Debby Dingell are just like the Kim dictatorship in North Korea. I”m seeing a dismaying similarity in Doug’s remarks to the wit and wisdom of Sarah Palin.

    On a scale of 0 to 10, my mililitary knowledge is about 10^(-3). So maybe Doug is right. But it seems more likely to me that the purpose of Obama’s air campaign isn’t to destroy ISIS, but rather to give the Kurds and the central Iraq government a breathing spell during which, with luck, they’ll recover their nerve and their cohesion and start to put up an effective resistance. To me, it’s a gamble worth making, and it beats either bugging out or sending another 100,000 troops into the meat grinder.

    There must be somebody reading this who actually knows something about war. If so, I wish
    he or she would spam up.

  3. Jeremy R says:

    That abridged quote isn’t just about the air campaign. It was more about how the Iraqi gov’t attempting to regain its legitimacy and the support of its citizens, and more generally getting some kind of Sunni buy-in from the entire region, isn’t going to be some short term project.

    Here’s the full transcript:


    “… a full appreciation of the degree to which the Iraqi security forces, when they’re far away from Baghdad, did not have the incentive or the capacity to hold ground against an aggressive adversary. And so that’s one more reason why Iraqi government formation is so important — because there has to be a rebuilding and an understanding of who it is that the Iraqi security forces are reporting to, what they are fighting for. And there has to be some investment by Sunnis in pushing back against ISIL.

    I think we’re already seeing — and we will see even further — the degree to which those territories under ISIL control alienated populations, because of the barbarity and brutality with which they operate. But in order to ensure that Sunni populations reject outright these kinds of incursions, they’ve got to feel like they’re invested in a broader national government. And right now, they don’t feel that.

    So the upshot is that what we’ve seen over the last several months indicates the weaknesses in an Iraqi government. But what we’ve also seen I think is a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognizing that we’re going to have to rethink how we do business if we’re going to hold our country together. And, hopefully, that change in attitude supplemented by improved security efforts in which we can assist and help, that can make a difference.”

    Q You just expressed confidence that the Iraqi government can eventually prevent a safe haven. But you’ve also just described the complications with the Iraqi government and the sophistication of ISIL. So is it possible that what you’ve described and your ambitions there could take years, not months?

    THE PRESIDENT: I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks, if that’s what you mean. I think this is going to take some time. The Iraqi security forces, in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate effectively with the support of populations in Sunni areas, are going to have to revamp, get resupplied — have a clearer strategy. That’s all going to be dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have confidence in. We can help in all those efforts.

    I think part of what we’re able to do right now is to preserve a space for them to do the hard work that’s necessary. If they do that, the one thing that I also think has changed is that many of the Sunni countries in the region who have been generally suspicious or wary of the Iraqi government are more likely to join in, in the fight against ISIS, and that can be extremely helpful. But this is going to be a long-term project.

    Part of what we’ve seen is that a minority Sunni population in Iraq, as well as a majority Sunni population in Syria, has felt dissatisfied and detached and alienated from their respective governments. And that has been a ripe territory for these jihadists and extremists to operate. And rebuilding governance in those areas, and legitimacy for stable, moderate governing in those areas is going to take time.

    Now, there are some immediate concerns that we have to worry about. We have to make sure that ISIL is not engaging in the actions that could cripple a country permanently. There’s key infrastructure inside of Iraq that we have to be concerned about. My team has been vigilant, even before ISIL went into Mosul, about foreign fighters and jihadists gathering in Syria, and now in Iraq, who might potentially launch attacks outside the region against Western targets and U.S. targets. So there’s going to be a counterterrorism element that we are already preparing for and have been working diligently on for a long time now.

    There is going to be a military element in protecting our people, but the long-term campaign of changing that environment so that the millions of Sunnis who live in these areas feel connected to and well-served by a national government, that’s a long-term process. And that’s something that the United States cannot do, only the Iraqi people themselves can do. We can help, we can advise, but we can’t do it for them. And the U.S. military cannot do it for them.

    And so this goes back to the earlier question about U.S. military involvement. The nature of this problem is not one that a U.S. military can solve. We can assist and our military obviously can play an extraordinarily important role in bolstering efforts of an Iraqi partner as they make the right steps to keep their country together, but we can’t do it for them.

  4. James Pearce says:

    “However, even that would arguably better than the muddling policy that the President seems to have adopted now. If you’re not going to go to all-in, then you may as well not go in at all.”

    Would it? Recommitting America to war in Iraq again would be better than reluctantly doing the bare minimum?

    This strikes me as largely correct:

    U.S. officials say that Mr. Obama has refrained from a broader campaign because he believes the Islamic State is “an Iraqi responsibility,”

    It’s certainly not ours.

  5. DrDaveT says:

    Once again, I’m waiting for a concrete suggestion of what, exactly, would constitute a “more forceful” or “more decisive” or “more active” or “more ____” policy on the President’s part. “I think you should do more” is not constructive criticism; it’s whining.

    Do you think the President should send US troops to Iraq? If so, what should their mission be, and what rules of engagement should the operate under? If not troops, then what?

    I’m afraid that, to my ear, all of these criticisms of how the President is handling this sound like “You should have done something to prevent this happening”, which is inane when the general public says it and contemptible when Republicans say it.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Nonsense. It’s not bound to fail. It’s bound to succeed.

    Your mistake is in believing that the policy is supposed to have a material foreign policy or humanitarian objective. It isn’t. It’s a political policy intended to ward off criticism that he should do something.

    He’s doing something.

  7. @Dave Schuler:

    Fair point

  8. rudderpedals says:

    That’s quite a shift, from non-interventionism to the WaPo editorial page / Hiatt’s House of War.

  9. edmondo says:

    Obama’s Iraq Policy Entire Presidency Is Open-Ended, Directionless, And Likely To Fail

    I fixed that headline for you.

  10. bill says:

    @edmondo: i know, jan 2017 can’t come quick enough for him- then he can go make some real, clintonesque type money.
    i would have stopped at “foreign policy” but can’t complain.
    what’s he doing now, calling putins homeland a bad place as he can’t stand up to him? what a leader. and so much for that wonderful “arab spring” thing they were all giddy about.

  11. stonetools says:

    This seems to be a job for FALLACY MAN, where the evil to be defeated is the fallacy of the false dilemma, ( although the fallacy of the slippery slope is there as always).
    Either we must commit to a full on invasion, beginning with sending the 82nd Airborne into Kurdistan, or we must do nothing at all ! Any intermediate measures must and will fail!
    Just because!

    Laid out like that, this argument makes no sense. Now it’s one thing if Obama was stating as a goal that intervention was intended to fix all Iraq’s problems, but Obama is pretty clear: the first goal is immediate relief of the Christians, Yazidis and other minorities on Mount Sinjar. Secondly, its to give the Iraq government time to get its act together and work out a political solution.
    Now a lot of people are focused on (2) and are predicting failure. They’re probably right, but (1) looks doable, and that ain’t nothing. Doug and Dave, are you really that blasé about saving 60,00 people? I know they’re not Europeans and all, but still…
    Seems to me that if we can save 60,00 people at minimal cost to ourselves, we should at least give it a shot. After that. we can see if Iraqi government can finally pull itself together in the 11th hour. Granted, that’s not likely to happen, but its worth a shot. Again, if we are going to all realpolitik, just remember that Iraq has huge oil reserves and we don’t really want a world where ISIL bags the lot and gets in control of over 10 per cent of the world’s oil supply. That seems a distant prospect now, but then I remember Doug confidently predicting six months ago that the Syrian conflict was a limited civil war with no possible bad strategic outcomes for the USA.

  12. Dave Schuler says:


    Doug and Dave, are you really that blasé about saving 60,00 people?

    How will bombing save 60,000 people?

    Does anyone really believe that a bombing campaign would be sufficient to achieve that goal?

  13. Lounsbury says:

    I find this Post just … daft and bizarre. Your judgement as to MENA region really lacks.

    What is it about you lot that there has to be some Grand Scheme in a bloody intervention? The unique experience of WWII and excessive exposure to the French seem to have infected you with

    This is really vanishingly simple: intervention to Save Your Useful Bastards (aka the Kurds) skins, and also some nice side AgitProp material (entirely legit albeit) around saving the Yazidis from genocide.

    It’s not even about as stonetools has it saving the Iraqi government (indeed the Maliki people are pissing and moaning about just that), it’s about your Useful Bastards. Because notably, they’re yours and after this, even more yours.

    This is far better than the idiotic, unrealistic blather the Bush ibn Bush admin put out around Iraq II.

    As a policy Saving Your Useful Bastards when they’re in a spot and they present some enormous potential leverage in the future is the very opposite of a policy destined to failure (unless the author is positing the collapse of the Pesh Merga, which hardly seems merited even if one is seeing now that the Anglo-American mythology built up around them is not well-founded).

  14. stonetools says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The plan is US airstrikes in support of counterattacking Kurdish forces, PLUS humanitarian aid-and yes, I believe that plan can work. Apparently Britain and France believe it can work also.

  15. stonetools says:


    I didn’t even think of the “our son of a bitch” angle, but now that you mention it…
    Just to get even more realpolitik, we should think of the Iraqi Kurds as a buffer between ISIL and our even bigger ally, Turkey-a country with its own ethnic divisions and Sunni extremist elements. Yet another reason to keep them in check if we can.

  16. george says:

    I suspect this is a situation in which there simply aren’t any good options.

    They’re playing for time, hoping something will shake loose. I don’t think it would matter who was in the White House or congress at this point, every possible choice seems full of negative consequences (including doing nothing).

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    However, even that would arguably better than the muddling policy that the President seems to have adopted now. If you’re not going to go to all-in, then you may as well not go in at all.

    No. It is not arguably better. It is idiocy. Where have you been the last eleven years? Bush did exactly that, went all in, and what did we get? This continually festering puss ridden wound that will not heal. Doug? no bull, what would you do? Simple question, not so simple answer, is there?

    Has it occurred to you that “muddling through” is the best foreign policy we can afford? Or at least are willing to pay for? Time and again, you have said< "We can't fix the world." and here Obama is saying, "We can't fix the world." and yet I hear you whining, “Make it all go away!”

    I repeat, what would you do? I want a full on policy paper, covering all the bases and angles, accounting for all the players in the region, our actions, their reactions. And if you can’t give us that, then the least you can give us is peace and quiet. Because I can get this level of analysis at Redstate.

  18. stonetools says:

    Here’s a link to a New Republic article that points out that US airstrikes are at Erbil, which is the administrative center of Kurdistan’s oil industry. There are oil wells at Erbil. If ISIL gets Erbil, that would affect global oil production .
    This seems to me yet another situation where amateurs talk strategy and professionals talk logistics (or don’t talk about, because it doesn’t make for inspiring headlines).
    If Doug and Dave don’t like the idea of a strategy aimed at helping some persecuted people or pine for some grand scheme like a scenario of RISK, maybe they can get behind an unspoken plan to keep gas below $4.00 a gallon.

  19. superdestroyer says:

    Once again, politicians can save themselves a tremendous amount of money, time, and grief if they would just apply the Powell Doctrine to anything that might involve military action. Since the Obama Administration does not have a clear achievable goal in Iraq, has not defined the level of military support to achieve what ever goal it has set, and has no exist strategy, then the U.S. should not be involved.

    One would think that an administration that was elected in a rout because the Bush II Administration did not apply the Powell Doctrine would have learned the lesson. I have always thought that one of the problems is that the White House is driven by the media. Does anyone think that the Obama Administration will benefit from Americans watching the evacuation of Americans from the roof of the Consular Office in Erbil?

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    That is such drivel I am shocked to see it flowing from you. This is nothing but politics? Oh? For which election? For which constituency? How does this accomplish a political goal, and what might that goal be, exactly? You think, what, this will help Kay Hagen in North Carolina? Can we hold West Virginia if we save some tiny ethno-religious group no one’s ever heard of on a mountain in the ass end of nowhere? Will the GOP suddenly fall in love with Mr. Obama?

    It’s really easy to seem wise by engaging in cynicism, but that’s all it is: cynicism.

    Lounsbury has it right. The Kurds are our boys. Take a look at where they are on the map, take a look at what they’ve done for us in the past, and that’s what we’re doing, giving our boys a breather so they can go on being our boys.

    That’s what we’re doing for now. That we can see.

    Now, we might be making diplomatic moves to, for example, begin looking for some rapprochement and cooperation with Iran, but that’s just speculation based on nothing and of course if that were happening it’s not going to be public. I don’t know, you don’t know.

    But jumping to the conclusion that this is political grandstanding is just absurd.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    ISIL isn’t going to be “rolled back,” not any time soon, and sure as hell not by us. The peshmerga can stop them, but rolling them back is a whole other story. And if Shiite Iraqi troops from Baghdad want that space back they’re going to have to grow a hell of a lot more army than they have so far.

    Iraq is being dismembered along religious/ethnic lines. I suspect Baghdad gets this and tacitly accepts it. I don’t think the game here is roll back ISIS, I think we’re in the containment phase. We have Jordan and the Nation Which Shall Not Be Named just to their west. We have Assad and the Russians to the north, and beyond that, Turkey. We have the Kurds and Iran to the north-east. And we have those imbeciles in Baghdad to the south-east.

    The big hole here is due south: Saudi Arabia. That’s what would worry me, but not overly much since again, those bastrds are our bastrds, and air power is amazingly effective in vast expanses of desert. The question is whether the Al Qaeda-funding Saudis will begin to find ISIL kinda sexy. I worry about an ISIL 5th column in the KSA. Otherwise, it’s really tough to cross hundreds of miles of desert in a Toyota pick-up with drones overhead.

    We have a terrorist threat off these guys, both in the region and potentially abroad, and we have to worry about them heading south and maybe finding friends down there, but once we’ve shored up the Kurds I think we’ll see that ISIL is not ten feet tall. They can’t take on anyone with an air force.

    So the “strategy” here seems obvious: 1) Contain and isolate. 2) Shore up all our pals – Jordan, the Kurds, Baghdad, 3) and try to find some sort of modus vivendi with Iran long-term.

  22. Ron Beasley says:

    My gut feeling is we eventually have at least some troops on the ground to defend Erbil and the Kurds. My gut also tells me we are already talking to Iran covertly and they will be the ones defending Baghdad, I understand they already have troops in and around the city. The ISIS command and control is still in Syria so way may be dragged into that conflict as well. Ironic isn’t it, we suddenly find ourselves on the same side with Iran and Assad.

  23. Lounsbury says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    Yes, actually, it is a quite reasonable hypothesis that air strikes can achieve the evoked objectives. To pretend otherwise is to be willfully obtuse. That the Pesh Merga, with air support and an infusion of materiel, weapons and ammunition in particular to offset the war booty DAISH / ISIS has gotten of late, can stop and within their sphere roll-back DAISH is perfectly reasonable.

    I find the high dungeon about mere air-strikes to be quite puzzling. Were Americans sending troops on the ground, well that would merit such comment, but air strikes supporting an otherwise fairly well-proven ally on the ground?

    As a response to avoid significant strategic assets falling into the hands of DAISH and as a pressure point on the Maliki government, this policy is perfectly scrumptious.

  24. Tyrell says:

    The other night the president spoke about the urgency in Iraq. He correctly laid out a plan of airstrikes, said there would not be another ground troops deployment, but also said that this could take a while. While he gave reasons for this latest action, he should have been clearer to the people about what is happening to people once ISIS gets hold of them: barbarity and callous murder of innocent people that continues unabated. He could have explained by showing some photos of exactly what is happening. Make no mistake: this group does what they say they will do, and will continue to take territories unless they are defeated totally. They will kill any group that does not surrender to them.There can be no negotiating, deals, “containment”, or appeasement with this group. It will total surrender only, or be destroyed. ISIS is committed to expanding into other countries and will send their people into other regions, including the US. There were warnings in the past about this group, and action has come late. Read “evil incarnate”, by Hugh Hewitt
    Read articles about the “4 Blood Moons” and how this fits in with events today: informative, shocking, and scary.

  25. Eric Florack says:

    If Obama hadn’t pulled out prematurely, he’d not have had to do what he’s being forced by events to do now. We now are suffering, what the WaPo of all places, correctly labeled the result of Obama’s inaction in Iraq.

    He can scream as much as he likes about an “inclusive government in Baghdad… but because of his stupidity in pulling out before the task (hearts and minds) was completed, ISIS is now surrounding that city, and the chances of those bastards putting together an inclusive government once they move into the city… and they will… seems non-existant.

    Face it, guys, be honest for a change… Obama chose his path willingly after first being sworn in… changed Americas stance on the whole region not because it was the wise thing to do, but simply because it was a was policy opposite to Bush’s. These recent events prove Bush had it right. ISIS is in control now because we pulled out at a time designed to create political impact in the states… not because our task was completed in Iraq.

    Remember why Obama said we needed to drop Iraq and get involved in Afghanistan? We couldn’t afford to have a large area in the middle east, where Islamic radicals can plot attacks against us. Because Obama was more concerned about politics here than about getting the job in Iraq completed we now have in Iraq what Obama was supposedly worried about in Afghanistan.

    Clearly, our national interest in tye long term is damaged by this Obama Blundering, and as a result, frankly, I wonder if there is any solution left.

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    It is simply a lie to claim Obama “pulled out.” It’s not a mistake, it’s not a difference of opinion, it is a lie.

    Now, I understand that you’ve been told this lie many, many times, but that does not change the facts, which are:

    1) Iraq had a government set up in large part by Mr. Bush.

    2) That government had sovereignty.

    3) That government refused to offer basic legal protections for US troops.

    4) We had zero choice but to get out unless we were prepared to assert that the whole Maliki government and the alleged democracy that led to it was a fraud and we were a foreign occupier.

    In addition:

    1) Had we kept 10,000 guys there they would not have been combat forces, they’d have been trainers, logistics guys, some Special Forces and intelligence people.

    2) Therefore the 10k would not have been in a position to battle ISIL militarily, on the contrary, they’d have been a big fat target which we would have to protect by sending in more force protection.

    I realize Eric that you can’t handle anything above the Hannity level of thought, but why don’t you see if you can deal with reality rather than fantasy, just for a little while. Just for a change.

  27. Lounsbury says:

    @Eric Florack:
    First, you daft git, it was your lovely Bush ibn Bush who did not get the Status of Forces agreement.

    Second, leaving aside idiotic empty minded partisan caterwauling (which one must recognize is the extent of your intellectual capacity), no foreigners are going to be able to transform Iraq into a magical wonderland versions of Little Americans. Sticking your troops around longer would have merely been being useful idiots for the Shiite supramacist wing of the Iranians.

    You can’t force Iraq to be something it is not, not with your troops or your ahistorical provincial dreams of transformation.

    The British empire learned rather early on that clients and power through clients in unstable frontier regions is the way to go, and to forget about French style Civilizing Mission Messianic nonsense dreams. You’d be well served to stop spouting the NeoCon retreads of that.

    Bloody Americans still pining for another WWII in all its magnificence and simplicity.

  28. Eric Florack says:

    @superdestroyer: Yeah, really. Again the point of liberloon honesty. Remember Bush was supposedly at about the oil?

    @Lounsbury: Ah, yes, the Statfor. I’ve already stated that we should have written our own start for, regardless of what they wanted. The issue was one of long term, and Bush was too busy kissing the UN’s ass, and trying to convince the world that Islam is a religion of peace. Remember… and you’ve apparently forgotten, I’m no fan of Bush, either.. In any even, do you really think that given the statfor, Obama would have stayed? We both know better.

    ISIS/ISIL, whatever managed to gain a foothold because nature abhors a vaccum. Keeping people in place as a deterrent, and showing courage and commitment is a policy. Playing whack a mole with Islam isn’t.

  29. anjin-san says:

    regardless of what they wanted

    Well sure, because Bush’s war was all about freedom!

  30. Davebo says:


    It’s understandable that someone who believes a SOF agreement should have been “shoved down the Iraqis throat” (to use a term the right seems to love these days) would also think that any attempt at building an international consensus through, say the UN, is tantamount to “kissing ass”.

    Frankly with all your fantasies about kissing ass and having things shoved down your throat I’m amazed you find yourself comfortable with the GOP.

    Stockholm Syndrome? Who knows. But you’re obviously overcompensating here.

  31. Ron Beasley says:

    I heard this morning we already have special forces on the ground.

  32. Lounsbury says:

    @Eric Florack:
    You really are a daft, unlearned provincial git.
    “Ah, yes, the Statfor. I’ve already stated that we should have written our own start for, regardless of what they wanted.”
    In short, a clumsy primitive colonial military rule of the sort that became impossible even for British empire, which actually knew a thing or three about running Empires to pull off as of c. 1950.

    Such idiocy would have ensured you lot, rather than say DAISH would be the object of attacks, and yet more endless, pointless drain on your Treasury.

    A policy of primitive cluelessness asserted by unlearned provincial sods. I ran into enough of your sort of thinking when I was in the area during the horror that was “Coalition [Bush Ibn Bush hanger on coalition] Provisional Authority’ days. Simple minded provincial sods all about ‘ramming things’ through and down Iraqi throats. They were greatly responsible for the incredible, pointless waste of resources and lives, Iraqi and American, that followed.

    The issue was one of long term, and Bush was too busy kissing the UN’s ass, and trying to convince the world that Islam is a religion of peace.

    Glad to see you drag in unlearned religious bigotry into your general idiotarianism.

  33. stonetools says:

    Here is an excellent Sullydish post referencing a range of opinion on the Obama offensive. It begins:

    Aug 9 2014 @ 4:46pm

    First, the good news. Some progress has been made in aiding the Yazidi refugees trapped on Sinjar Mountain:

    Iraqi Kurdish security forces have opened a road to Sinjar Mountain in northwestern Iraq, rescuing more than 5,000 Yazidis trapped there after running away from fighters from the Islamic State (IS) group, a Kurdish army spokesman has told Al Jazeera. “I can confirm that we succeeded in reaching the mountains and opening a road for the refugees,” said Halgord Hikmet, a spokesman for the peshmergas the Kurdish security forces.

    Early days yet, but it appears that the President’s “hapless” policy is off a good start.
    I spoke earlier about this conflict being like a scenario out of the strategy game RISK but really, it’s more complex than any game I’ve heard of. There are so many players with overlapping enemies, interests , and factions that it seems like a war of “all against all”. One thing is certain, it doesn’t look like WW2 with three clearly defined guys permanently wearing black hats. This is why the noninterventionists are saying , “Stay out! It’s too complex!” Meanwhile the neo-cons are shouting, “Onward! with more cowbell!”
    Both approaches are wrong. We need to go in slowly, with eyes open and limited short term goals. There is no grand strategy to be had, and non-intervention won’t automatically make things any better either.

  34. Eric Florack says:

    @Davebo: so, NOW, suddenly, you’re willing to say Bush did the right thing by “building consensus”? You’ll pardon me if I laugh out loud.

    @Lounsbury: Colonial rule?
    Ah, so that’s what’s been going on in Germany and Japan all these years? Who knew?

  35. Eric Florack says:

    @Lounsbury: Oh… religious bigotry, is it?
    How many Christians, and for that matter how many non-extremist Muslims do we have to see beheaded on via and posted on Facebook, before we can address the elephant in the room without tripping over your bogus “bigotry” nonsense?

  36. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    Funny how you never mention the countless innocents in Iraq that died in Bush’s war. Do we just get a pass for the people we blew to bits in the “shock & awe” bombings?

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Every time you’re called on some bit of nonsense you try to shift your ground, always coming back to throat shoving and other manly formulations.

    I actually believe Iraq could have worked as a Japan 1945, but only if we’d been ready to commit vast amounts of money, vast amounts of manpower, great stretches of time and to return to a level of brutality with which civilized people are rightly uncomfortable.

    But we were led by people who talked a big game but play the penny slots. They were people who sounded just like you. Lots of macho b.s. no actual balls.

    It takes a great leap of dishonesty to make any of that Barack Obama’s fault. You seem to think Republicans can break everything in sight and then blame Obama for failing to quite clean it all up.

    The mess we are in was caused by your side. My side has labored mightily to undo the mess your people left. Now your side wants to blame my side for failing to undo all the damage. I invite you to take that idea and shove it right up your Hannity.

  38. anjin-san says:

    @ Florack

    You seem to favor military action pretty much every time the subject comes up. I’m curious, how is it that you never served in the military?

  39. anjin-san says:

    The current headline on foxnews.com

    Tides turning in Iraq? Kurdish fighters take back 2 towns from ISIS militants

  40. wr says:

    @Eric Florack: “These recent events prove Bush had it right. ISIS is in control now because we pulled out at a time designed to create political impact in the states… not because our task was completed in Iraq.”

    If ISIS is in control, it’s because Bush chose to take out Saddam, who was enough of a threat to keep such forces at bay, and who was a thug but a secular thug. Or will you now claim that invading Iraq was Obama’s idea in the first place?

  41. michael reynolds says:

    People who actually care about the ISIS-Kurdish conflict might find this interesting. It’s a Reddit AMA from a Kurd/Brit at present in Kurdistan.

  42. humanoid.panda says:

    Given what’s going on in Baghdad (Maliki might or might not be staging a coup d’etat), I think it’s hard to argue that Obama is not pursuing the best among bad options. Letting ISIS run free is not an option. Going all in in support of Maliki’s regime that is falling apart is basically pouring good money after bad one. Supporting the Kurds, the only stable political formation in the country, seems to be the only way to constrain ISIS without making things worse in the rest of the country.

  43. LaurenceB says:

    @michael reynolds: Thanks for the tip. The AMA was fascinating.

    (Dumb post from Maconis by the way. But, whatever. )

  44. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: It was a damnsight fewer than what we are seeing now.


  45. Eric Florack says:

    @humanoid.panda: No.
    ISIS is now in control because Obama left a vaccum in place following our action there.
    Isis being in control was not inevitable. It was set up by Obamas withdrawal.

  46. Eric Florack says:

    @michael reynolds: the problem is, our =current leadership didn’t have the courage to see the plan through.

    And I’ve been saying the commitment would be a long and costly one right from the off… Long before Obama descended from the clouds. Do you really need me to post the links?

  47. humanoid.panda says:

    @Eric Florack: ISIS is in control because the Iraqi army fell apart upon first contact with them. The reason that happened is because Maliki turned the army into his personal piggy bank, because the best Shi’te soldiers prefer to work for militias, and because Sunnis and Kurds didn’t want anything to do with the army. Now, it’s conceivable that if we left a fighting contingent of American troops, say 50,000 or so soldiers, they could have stopped ISIS. But how long do you think the US could keep pouring money into an endless pit, given that even the Shi’ites wanted us gone?
    Now, I know that you think that the answer to this dilemma is that we should have deposed Maliki and installed a ruler that would have done whatever we wanted. However, such a move would have definitely trigerred a repeat of the civil war or 2003/6. We of course could quench that, but only at the price we paid last time: a huge amount of soldiers and treasure, and some kind of political arrangement with local militia leaders. That arrangement, would of course, trigger an agreement to withdraw American forces, and then the cycle would start all over again.
    Sorry, the seeds for last month’s events were sown three times: once when the US declined to pay for a real occupation and decided that the Iraqis are not people prone to ethnic strife, second time when the US decided De-Ba’athify the country and broke all institutions that bound different communities together, and a third time when Maliki declined to use tehe time the US bought for him to rebuild those institutions. Obama’s only contribution to the situation was a decision not to pospone the inevitable, and to prefer Iraqi blood and treasure to American blood and treasure. That is not a nice decision, not an ethical one, but this is why he is the American Commander in Chief.

  48. humanoid.panda says:

    @Eric Florack: And by the way, since I am pretty sure that since you feel that the national debt is catastrophe that will destroy us all, you’d surely appreciate the fact that the Iraq war cost us about 2.3 trillion dollars, over a ten year period. This year, the dreaded ACA coverage expansion will cost about 1.5 trillion over a ten year period, all of it, or at leas healthy chunks of it, paid for. How come the fiscal conservatives are the one so gung-ho to going back to spending unpaid for money for an enterprise without any benefit, while hating a project that offers concrete upsides with at least a nod for paying for it with a fury of million suns?

    PS. You still haven’t responded to my table and its refutation of your entire theory of American politics.

  49. anjin-san says:


    Dead is dead. Is your moral justification for blowing women & children to smithereens with bombing runs and tomahawk missiles really “well, we did not behead them, so it’s ok”?

  50. bill says:

    @wr: yet we let khadafy & mubarack get bounced for even worse “leadership”? and we want assad out of syria, i doubt if his replacement will be any less savage. maybe we think these people have western values and such, but they don’t- pretty contrary.
    @anjin-san: i thought it was all about oil and helping out all his oil buddies? yet we’re still paying $3.50/gallon 6 yrs later- is obama paying off his oil buddies or something? see how dumb that sounds now?

  51. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Fair point ”

    Several good criticisms, and you say nothing.

  52. Barry says:


    “Once again, politicians can save themselves a tremendous amount of money, time, and grief if they would just apply the Powell Doctrine to anything that might involve military action. Since the Obama Administration does not have a clear achievable goal in Iraq, has not defined the level of military support to achieve what ever goal it has set, and has no exist strategy, then the U.S. should not be involved.”

    This is dumb (of course; it’s superdestroyer). The Powell Doctrine is good when evaluating wars of choice. Note that it wasn’t used in the first Gulf War; we got in with a goal of kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and no real exit strategy, just hopes. And in the end we didn’t have an exit strategy, just a strategy of managing the problems.

  53. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack:

    “If Obama hadn’t pulled out prematurely, he’d not have had to do what he’s being forced by events to do now. We now are suffering, what the WaPo of all places, correctly labeled the result of Obama’s inaction in Iraq. ”

    Stop f*cking lying.

  54. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: “Ah, yes, the Statfor. I’ve already stated that we should have written our own start for, regardless of what they wanted. The issue was one of long term, and Bush was too busy kissing the UN’s ass, and trying to convince the world that Islam is a religion of peace. Remember… and you’ve apparently forgotten, I’m no fan of Bush, either.. In any even, do you really think that given the statfor, Obama would have stayed? We both know better.”

    Truth and you don’t talk much, do you?

  55. Barry says:

    @Eric Florack: “Ah, so that’s what’s been going on in Germany and Japan all these years? Who knew? ”

    Come up with an example which is not WWII.

  56. Eric Florack says:

    @Barry: Why? Its the last time we did things correctly… we won the war FIRST, instead of negotiating our way out of it,

    Youd rather, perhaps trying to negotiate with these dirt scratchers?

  57. Eric Florack says:

    : @bill: Never bet against his ability to ignore how his stuff doesnt stink, OK?

  58. Eric Florack says:

    @Barry: he-he… Lying?
    That would be Obama.
    Did you perchance notice him trying to blame Bush again?
    That same tired lie.