FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America’s Return to Iraq

by

In an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on August 8, President Obama stressed that the US was only fighting the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) in Iraq as a partner, not as Iraq’s or the Kurds’ air force. Obama claims his officials are reminding everyone, “We will be your partners, but we are not going to do it for you. We’re not sending a bunch of US troops back on the ground to keep a lid on things.” Now, less than three weeks later, the strategic picture has changed, and emphases on “partnerships” have faded while the US military complex advances largely on its own.

US air strikes temporarily stalled the IS advance, but its expanding territorial control (now roughly equal in area size to Jordan) and the beheading of an American reporter led Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to declare IS a threat “beyond anything we’ve seen.”  Washington hasincreased the number of US advisers sent to Iraq, and there is even talk of carrying out air strikes in Syria. Drones are already flying overhead.

We have witnessed this sudden turnaround many times before, haven’t we?  The pattern is all too familiar.  First, the President and other top US leaders soft-pedal talk about a modest direct role in a conflict: no boots on the ground, just a few air strikes to create better odds for our side.  Then the characterization of the threat changes, from local to regional and even global, exemplified Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby’s warning on August 26, of the “global aspirations” of ISIS.

What was once called a terrorist group is now an insurgency with grand ambitions that may carry to our doorstep.  This change in scope is followed by dropped talk of partnership and political reform in our ally’s capital.  Now the threat takes on highest priority.  Congress follows the administration’s lead by abandoning its responsibility to authorize war or otherwise challenge the commander-in-chief.

Once the stakes have risen in the minds of decision makers, the US role becomes paramount.  After all, if not us, who?  The US thus becomes the victim of its unilateralist impulse.  When presidents of both parties have decided to intervene abroad—in Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and Iraq, for example—they always acted in the name of national security and were quite prepared to go to war without allies.  When they accepted offers of help, it was only on the condition of total US control of war making.  War “by committee” was unacceptable, as Donald Rumsfeld famously said in relation to the first Gulf War.  What the US wants are “coalitions of the willing”—governments willing, that is, to follow US orders.begging slogans2

Now the US is facing the IS largely on its own. The “we” in Obama’s interview with Friedman includes no one else but us—unless, that is, you include Syria, whose dictator has already thrown down the welcome mat at the prospect of the US becoming involved in its civil war and bombing IS soldiers.

Where are US allies in this supposedly monumental battle—not just the Europeans in NATO but the Japanese, the Koreans, and the Australians?  If the IS is an “imminent” threat to “international security,” as Chuck Hagel has suggested, why haven’t others clamored to join the battle? Why hasn’t the US brought this global threat to the United Nations?

The US is again playing sheriff without a posse and the consequences are predictable and dire. US bombs will kill a certain number of IS fighters, but how many more recruits will IS gain as a result?  How much more likely will an attack on a target in the US become as Washington makes the war on IS its own?  How much less likely will a political settlement of Iraq’s internal struggle be?

As the US, the Lone Ranger, focuses its attention and resources on the threat du jour, political change and the development of civil society in Iraq and Syria will remain on hold.  Yet those transformations are the keys to demobilizing the IS and neutralizing its grandiose ambitions. Trying to level the playing field unilaterally with bombs and advisers is a sucker’s game and will only make things worse.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail