Does Obama fear that his inaction will be underlined by real leaders?
Britain, who left Iraq before the US did, has announced its return.
America's New Mission in Iraq
August 17, 2014
Today, one third of Iraq is under the control of Islamist terrorists. Nearly as much of Syria is dominated by the same jihadists, a group that calls itself the Islamic State. Many are advancing in stolen American military vehicles, killing with stolen American arms and ammunition, and taking major cities like Mosul that American troops fought and died to liberate.
All of this, and more, has come to pass since June – the triumphant summer, as the terrorists see it, that gave the modern world its first caliphate. It will surely go down as a storied time in the annals of jihadism. Jihadists from around the world have flocked to Iraq and Syria to join in the offensive, called to a movement that is now bigger and better financed than al Qaeda ever was.
Thousands of innocent civilians – classified by the Islamic State as “nonbelievers” – have fled their homes, endured a mountain siege or else were left behind and met the worst of fates. Entire villages have been “purified” of “infidels” by means of crucifixions and beheadings in nightmarish scenes proudly photographed and posted online by the killers themselves, along with vows to bring the bloodshed to America.
The danger for the United States and other Western nations may still seem remote. And for many Americans, understandably, just about the last thing we want to think about is more conflict in Iraq and what it might require of our country. But we cannot ignore reality. We have come to a seminal moment when America’s action or inaction could be equally consequential. If anything is left of the old bipartisan tradition in American foreign policy – that basic willingness to unite in fundamental matters of security – we need to draw on that spirit now in a big way.
Yes, many on the left will say it would have been better had we never gone into Iraq in the first place. Yes, many Republicans (myself included) would argue that the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq left hard-won gains at risk because it was forced by ideological calculations, not strategic ones, and instilled a false sense of finality and safety. And, yes, still others will tell you that no matter what comes next in Iraq, it’s no concern of ours – we gave it our best effort over there, and we’re done.
To add a further obvious point, it is plainly true that serious presidential attention to the gathering threat of the Islamic State months or even weeks ago would have spared innocent Iraqis a lot of grief and made today’s challenges less demanding and dramatic. Significant material support for moderate rebels in Syria could have helped them gain the upper hand against the Assad regime and could have spared many lives while preventing Syria from becoming an Islamic State stronghold. The White House’s lofty declarations that “Assad must go” weren’t supported by meaningful action.
Rather than rehashing the causes of today’s crisis, we need to focus on outcomes still within our power to influence. We know the jihadists’ objectives in Iraq and in Syria, and we need to be clear and unequivocal about our own.
Irbil, a strategically crucial city in northern Iraq and home to an American consulate, must not be allowed to fall. The momentum of the fight must be reversed, so that cities overrun by the Islamic State can be taken back by Iraqi troops. And in Syria as well as Iraq, this terrorist army that boasts of plans to strike within the United States must be confronted as the serious threat it is to our people.
In recent weeks, President Obama’s response has included limited air strikes in the hope of finally slowing the Islamic State’s offensive in the Kurdish north, along with sending a thousand or so American military advisors and special operators to the region. He has also ordered humanitarian aid to the Yazidis, the religious minority that fled into the mountains to escape slaughter at the hands of the jihadists.
Yazidi men, women and children who were unable to escape their villages were executed, enslaved or buried alive – a chilling reminder that something far worse than a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Iraq. The administration has failed to adequately convey these atrocities to the American people, instead emphasizing the limited air strikes the United States has made. Clearly more strikes will be necessary, with nothing less than a sustained air campaign to degrade and destroy Islamic State forces.
As part of the serious, long-term strategy we will need in the region, America’s contribution of special operations and intelligence will also have to be considerably greater than it has been to date. Allies will also be essential to the effort. Stirred by reports of Islamic State atrocities, Britain, France, and Germany have increased their efforts, and other friendly countries – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others in the region – should follow their example quickly. The Iraqi people are up against a terrorist blitzkrieg that so far has gone unchallenged, and will continue unless confronted with the superior power and technology of the United States and our allies.
One very potent force for the good in Iraq is the peshmerga, a well-trained and disciplined militia in the Kurdish region. Despite some early setbacks, Kurdish forces have the will and the ability to fight back against the terrorists, needing only additional weapons and ammunition sufficient to stop the Islamic States’s advance and put it on the defensive. The United States and our allies should launch an immediate airlift to deliver these assets to Kurdish forces. Peshmerga fighters, aided by American airstrikes in mid-August, have already thrown back the Islamic State in defense of cities that appeared doomed just weeks ago.
As the need for these and other military measures in Iraq become even more urgent and obvious, President Obama will hear warnings in his party about “mission creep.” While it’s often a valid concern, we cannot ignore the Islamic State’s potential to inflict catastrophic terror in our own country, the IS version of mission creep.
While this is not where we hoped our nation would be 12 years after the war in Iraq began and three years after it supposedly ended, the demands of national security require confronting the world as it is, dealing with threats as they arise. Empty rhetoric from Washington is not enough to keep Americans safe, and the consequences of inaction are simply too dangerous.
Britain, who left Iraq before the US did, has announced its return.
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