And count me as extremely apprehensive.
It seems to me, the President is taking a gamble that a discrete application of force at just the right point will tip the balance in precisely the right direction to prevent catastrophe. I am very, very skeptical that this is a good gamble. It has almost never worked out in the past.
We do not have a political strategy for Iraq, or for the region, and so we cannot even say whether a given military outcome would serve that strategy. Are we encouraging the Kurds to seek complete independence, and the final collapse of a unitary Iraq? Are we planning to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of Iraq by helping Christians, Yazidis and other minorities get out of the country? Do we want Assad to defeat the ISIS-aligned groups within Syria?
I don’t think we have any idea what our answers are to these questions. We literally do not know what outcome we are trying to achieve, outside of the realm of fantasies about liberal democrats holding all the existing states together within their existing borders.
I am terrified by what ISIS represents. I think a case can be made that our top priority for Iraq and Syria should be defeating the group. Logically, though, that likely means accepting an Assad victory in the Syrian civil war and greater Iranian influence in Iraq. And accepting those two outcomes puts us on the opposite side from the major Sunni powers, particularly Saudi Arabia. What else will we have to sacrifice to mollify them?
Back when ISIS first came on the scene in Iraq, I argued that we have a moral responsibility to do what we can to ameliorate the situation in Iraq, but also that direct military intervention would likely prove counter-productive. As the situation in northern Iraq gets worse and worse, I stand by both views.
Even if our plan is simply to get the most vulnerable populations, like the Yazidis, out of the region entirely, there needs to be a much clearer articulation of how we are going to achieve that, and what is going to happen once that goal is achieved. Even more so if our goal is effectively to undertake a long-term commitment to Kurdistan. And in the absence of any kind of regional political process for containing and ultimately resolving the war, even the most limited operation strikes me as extremely risky.
I understand why we’re getting in. But we have no idea what we’re getting into here.