No easy Iraq choices for Obama

No easy Iraq choices for Obama

June 17th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

These words were in the middle of a McClatchy News Service report in Sunday's Times Free Press: "After the United States left Iraq in 2011 under a timetable set by President George W. Bush ..."

Since President Barack Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, he blamed his predecessor for everything the 43rd president deserved some responsibility for and much he didn't. But Iraq? Obama was going to get the country out of Iraq, and when the last combat troops left the country, he made it known to all - with the media's help - that he was responsible for getting the country out of the morass Bush had gotten it into.

He worked it into campaign speeches in 2012 and tossed it out on the stump for all who would lap up the words.

Now that much of the Middle East country has fallen into the hands of Islamic extremists comes the reminder from a media source that, in fact, it was the Bush administration which worked out the timetable for the country's exit from Iraq (with allowances for the number of troops that might be kept behind). So, wink, wink, if there's any blame to be assigned for the country's collapse into chaos, heap it on Bush.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had an interesting take on the whole "if-Iraq-hadn't-been-invaded-in-the-first-place" mantra being bandied about in recent days.

"Is it seriously being said that the revolution sweeping the Arab world would have hit Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, to say nothing of the smaller upheavals all over the region, but miraculously Iraq, under the most brutal and tyrannical of all the regimes, would have been an oasis of calm?" he wrote in a 3,000-word essay.

"Easily the most likely scenario is that Iraq would have been engulfed by precisely the same convulsion ... The risk would have been of a full blown sectarian war across the region, with states not fighting by proxy, but with national armies."

In truth, it matters less now about which president was responsible for what part of the U.S. exit from Iraq but more about what the current president does about the present crisis.

But we're fooling ourselves if we believe there are easy and perfect answers to be had.

Obama has said he has no plans to send troops back into the country, and Blair said in his essay he wouldn't advise doing so, either. Nor would the war-weary country stand for it.

But the president - who was in California over the weekend raising money, golfing and sarcastically dissing those who don't follow his climate change template as the foreign policy crisis worsened - has said words to the effect that everything else is on the table, which would include air strikes and/or drone strikes.

Word is the administration is considering opening a direct dialogue with Iran over the situation. This, of course, is the same Iran that presidential candidate Obama vowed he could talk to but which President Obama has found it difficult to have dialogue with as the country continues inexorably toward building a nuclear bomb.

The president is - and should be - wary of any additional influence by Iran in Iraq, but Iran already has sent in some 500 men to fight alongside Iraqi government troops. Further, too much coziness between Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Shiite Iran President Hassan Rouhani won't go over too well with Iraq's large Sunni minority.

The marauding al Qaeda splinter group in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), wants to create an Islamic state from Iraq into northern Syria. The group claimed two major cities in northern Iraq with little effort last week. It boasted that it has killed at least 1,700 Shiites - and horrific released photos show Iraqi security forces reportedly about to be executed in a mass murder - but the Iraqi air force fought back Monday and claimed it killed more than 200 militants with air strikes.

U.S. air strikes, some on the ground have said, would be difficult because ISIS members blend into the civilian population.

The U.S. also could increase its shipments of weapons and equipment to the country, but the problem most Iraqi experts acknowledge is that the Iraqi army is not well trained or well led.

So, like him or not, Obama, who rejected the suggestion of commanders to leave 14,000-18,000 troops in Iraq (instead of none) and failed to support pro-Western opposition in next-door Syria as that country fell into civil war, all of which allowed ISIS to power up, is pulling the strings. But he may be making the choice, as U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said over the weekend, "to face [an Islamic extremist group] in New York City or we're going to face it [in Iraq]."

Let's hope the president gets plenty of good advice and makes the right decisions.