Iraq crisis: Threat of new jihadist foe forces President Obama's hand in rethink of US involvement

 

Share

How many ironies can you fit into one foreign policy crisis? Many, if you are Barack Obama confronting the rapidly developing insurgency in Iraq.

The President this weekend appeared to be on the verge of ordering air strikes in a country from which he has worked tirelessly to extract the United States. If he does take action, he could wake up and find that Iran is his new best friend. Also, he could intervene without first consulting Congress, because the 2002 law that authorised George W Bush to invade Iraq – and which Mr Obama has repeatedly condemned – is still in effect. That is suddenly convenient.

At least the crisis gives Mr Obama a degree of leverage over the Iraqis that he hasn't had for a long time. On Friday, he referred, without offering detail, to occasions in the past when the US has secretly offered help to the government of Nouri al-Maliki only to be rebuffed. So now you need us? The price of US assistance, he said, is Mr Maliki finally reaching out to his Sunni foes.

But this is a lousy hand for Mr Obama. Even though it was only in April that Mr Maliki forged a new coalition after elections, there is no guarantee he has the standing in Iraq today to bring about the quick political reconciliation that Washington seeks. As problematic is propping up a military that has shown itself to be virtually beyond rescue.

The despair over Iraqi soldiers fleeing their posts is particularly deep given how much the US has spent training them. "We were surprised and disappointed by the poor performance of some of the Iraqi forces units up there in the north," Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, conceded.

Domestically, it's a crevasse, too. Withdrawing from Iraq and, by 2016, from Afghanistan had until last week stood as possibly the only two intact planks of a splintering foreign policy legacy. Every synapse in Mr Obama's brain is urging him to pretend this isn't happening. But if he doesn't act he could be the president who let Iraq become the breeding ground for jihad extremism.

Already, Mr Obama runs the risk of being seen to be dithering. His suggestion on Friday that he will take some days to decide what to do instantly drew rebukes from Republicans. The only thing he has said with clarity so far is that he won't consider putting US troops on the ground. That is an easy political calculation. Popular opposition in the US would be enormous.

His critics say he has been taken by surprise. "This threat has been growing for months, and Iraqis have been asking for assistance to attack these terrorist camps through drone strikes, which has been denied. Why has the Obama administration been taken off guard?" asked Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

There is evidence that Congress was napping. When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel went before a Senate hearing on Wednesday to explain the swapping of Guantanamo Bay prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl, he wasn't asked one question about Iraq over five hours. Yet the White House and the Pentagon were following events on the ground in Iraq.

Mr Obama will be hoping that the experts who are telling him that Baghdad itself won't fall to the rebels are correct. If he does order action, it will probably be stepped-up aid for the Iraqi military and attacks on the insurgents by drones, planes or guided missiles.

The President will be all too aware that those who accuse him of having pulled out troops from Iraq too early are, in many cases, the same people who urged the US to go into Iraq in 2003. The ones who started the whole mess.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the paraphernalia of a practised burglar – screwdrivers, gloves, children

Guy Keleny
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?