The Washington Post editorial board sees a parallel between the “foreign-policy” disaster that President Obama confronts in Iraq and the one President Bush confronted at the end of 2006:
[Bush] had ordered an invasion of Iraq without a sufficiently large force to occupy the country and without a well-considered plan for its reconstruction. Under his direction, the Iraqi military and government were dismantled with nothing to take their place, and by 2006 the nation was on the verge of a full-blown sectarian war.
As for Obama:
[He] had gambled that the United States could withdraw from Iraq and (by 2016) Afghanistan while staying aloof from the civil war in Syria. The result has been growing turmoil that he can no longer ignore: humanitarian catastrophes in both Syria and Iraq; widening territory under the control of a vicious al-Qaeda offshoot with a goal of sending attackers into the United States; and, once again, a potential bloody disintegration of Iraq.
Bush, the Post reminds us, was up to the challenge he faced:
Without explicitly acknowledging his miscalculations, Mr. Bush changed course. He replaced his defense secretary and his field commanders. He ignored the advice of a bipartisan commission to essentially accept defeat, deciding that U.S. national security would be harmed by Iraq’s fracturing. He ordered a surge of troops and a new strategy that helped restore stability.
Is Obama up to the current challenge? The Post is hopeful. It notes that on Thursday he acknowledged that “it is in our national interests not to see an all-out civil war inside of Iraq” and “in making sure that we don’t have a safe haven that continues to grow for . . . extremist jihadist groups.” The Post also applauds Obama’s “deployment of as many as 300 military advisers.”
I wish I could share the Post’s mild optimism. Unfortunately, when it comes to advancing our interests abroad, Obama’s declarations are, as Hillary Clinton would put it, “just words.” If you don’t believe me, ask the Syrians who took the president’s declaration of a “red line” seriously.
As for the “as many as 300 military advisers,” what does Obama (and the Post) suppose a contingent that paltry can accomplish?
Will 300 advisers change the balance of power between ISIS on the one hand and the Maliki government and the Shiite militias that support it on the other? I don’t see how.
Will they restore the U.S. role as a power broker capable of forcing Maliki to step down or at least significantly reform his government, as Obama argues is necessary? Again, this seems highly unlikely. If there’s a foreign power capable of influencing Iraqi politics, it is now Iran.
Will 300 advisers persuade Sunnis to turn against the jihadists, as our troop surge did in 2007? Of course not. Sunnis were persuaded then because the U.S. jumped into the deep end with them. Under Obama, we’re merely sticking our toes back in the water.
The Post’s editors sense this. They urge Obama “to take care that his judiciousness isn’t overtaken by events, which have repeatedly caught U.S. officials by surprise.”
That’s a polite and not terribly accurate description of what has repeatedly happened on Obama’s watch. Charles Krauthammer is closer to the mark. He sees “abdication,” not “judiciousness,” and notes that the fruits of the abdication were “predictable and predicted.”
Now, it is predictable that if Obama wants to be a player in Iraq, he will have to ante up much more than 300 advisers. The “judiciousness” of that bid is good evidence that Obama, his words notwithstanding, still doesn’t really want to be a player in Iraq.