WaPo: Obama Iraq strategy 'not coherent'

The editorial in the Washington Post is very tough on President Obama, accusing him of developing a strategy in Iraq that fails to address the threat of Islamic State to the region:

While U.S. airstrikes and drops of supplies may prevent the terrorist forces from massacring the Yazidi sect or toppling the pro-Western regime in Kurdistan, Mr. Obama lacks a plausible plan for addressing the larger threat posed by the Islamic State. In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have described the danger in hair-curling terms: The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.

Yet by the White House’s own account, the measures ordered by Mr. Obama are not intended to defeat the Islamic State or even to stop its bloody advances in most of the region. Instead they are limited to protecting two cities where U.S. personnel are stationed and one mass of refugees. The hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere threatened by the al-Qaeda forces will receive no U.S. protection. Nor will the terrorists’ hold over the areas they already control, including the large city of Mosul and nearby oil fields, be tested by U.S. airpower.

U.S. officials say that Mr. Obama has refrained from a broader campaign because he believes the Islamic State is “an Iraqi responsibility,” as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put it. The administration is pushing Iraq’s political factions, sharply divided along sectarian lines, to join in forming a new government; once such a government is formed, Mr. Obama said, “the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support.”

The White House is hopeful that a new prime minister could be nominated this weekend. Even if that occurs, it probably will take Iraqis many more weeks to agree on a common political program, if they are able to do so at all. Kurds and Sunnis are demanding a major decentralization of power, and one of the “other countries” that the United States must balance is Iran, which seeks to perpetuate Shiite dominance in Baghdad. Meanwhile, as senior Kurdish leaders told the administration in a visit to Washington last month, Iraqi army and Kurdish forces probably cannot defeat the Islamic State on their own.

The Post calls the president's policy "minimalist" and "unrealistic." He has been told that the combined Iraqi and Kurdish armies cannot stop Islamic State, and yet the pinprick strikes he's made so far haven't slowed the progress of Islamic State forces in most of the country.

The president is probably correct that ultimately, the boots on the ground that will take on Islamic State are going to have to be Iraqi. But if Iraq can't get what it needs from America, they will turn to Russia and Iran for help. It's hard to see how that would be a plus for US policy.

 

The editorial in the Washington Post is very tough on President Obama, accusing him of developing a strategy in Iraq that fails to address the threat of Islamic State to the region:

While U.S. airstrikes and drops of supplies may prevent the terrorist forces from massacring the Yazidi sect or toppling the pro-Western regime in Kurdistan, Mr. Obama lacks a plausible plan for addressing the larger threat posed by the Islamic State. In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have described the danger in hair-curling terms: The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.

Yet by the White House’s own account, the measures ordered by Mr. Obama are not intended to defeat the Islamic State or even to stop its bloody advances in most of the region. Instead they are limited to protecting two cities where U.S. personnel are stationed and one mass of refugees. The hundreds of thousands of people in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere threatened by the al-Qaeda forces will receive no U.S. protection. Nor will the terrorists’ hold over the areas they already control, including the large city of Mosul and nearby oil fields, be tested by U.S. airpower.

U.S. officials say that Mr. Obama has refrained from a broader campaign because he believes the Islamic State is “an Iraqi responsibility,” as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put it. The administration is pushing Iraq’s political factions, sharply divided along sectarian lines, to join in forming a new government; once such a government is formed, Mr. Obama said, “the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support.”

The White House is hopeful that a new prime minister could be nominated this weekend. Even if that occurs, it probably will take Iraqis many more weeks to agree on a common political program, if they are able to do so at all. Kurds and Sunnis are demanding a major decentralization of power, and one of the “other countries” that the United States must balance is Iran, which seeks to perpetuate Shiite dominance in Baghdad. Meanwhile, as senior Kurdish leaders told the administration in a visit to Washington last month, Iraqi army and Kurdish forces probably cannot defeat the Islamic State on their own.

The Post calls the president's policy "minimalist" and "unrealistic." He has been told that the combined Iraqi and Kurdish armies cannot stop Islamic State, and yet the pinprick strikes he's made so far haven't slowed the progress of Islamic State forces in most of the country.

The president is probably correct that ultimately, the boots on the ground that will take on Islamic State are going to have to be Iraqi. But if Iraq can't get what it needs from America, they will turn to Russia and Iran for help. It's hard to see how that would be a plus for US policy.