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Getting Dragged Back Into Iraq

Obama's Libyan adventure undercuts his promises to keep the latest bombing raids from escalating.
Obama situation room Iraq

Ramzy Mardini makes the case against military action against ISIS:

President Obama would be best served by demonstrating military restraint. Armed intervention will not end the civil war in Iraq, and therefore will not end the atrocities being witnessed today. The horrors experienced by Iraq’s religious minorities at the hands of militants are indeed catastrophic, and the United States should do all it can short of direct military engagement to assist their safe passage – especially with regards to humanitarian aid, logistics and intelligence.

ISIS is certainly a problem that must not be ignored, but it does not sufficiently constitute a strategic threat to the United States. The logic to exercise military force remains weak. The more the U.S. becomes militarily entangled, the more likely that localized insurgent movements will incur transnational aspirations, thus exacerbating the blowback risk of terrorism against U.S. interests. In the end, armed intervention does little to quell insurgencies that receive popular support on the ground, while retaining the likelihood of making a bad situation worse.

Obama has justified the decision to attack ISIS partly as a defense of American personnel in Iraq and partly as a defense of the Iraqis being targeted for annihilation by the group. As reasons for military action go, these are better than most, but I keep coming to the conclusion that these airstrikes are still a mistake. Many of the usual objections to military action don’t apply here, but a few still do. The airstrikes are being presented as a “limited” response, but it is hard to believe that military action of this kind will continue to be “limited” for very long. It is also taken for granted that military action won’t make things worse, but it is entirely possible that it will.

These airstrikes are at best a stop-gap measure to slow the advance of ISIS’s forces, and to the extent that they are effective they will likely become an ongoing commitment that the U.S. won’t be able to end for the foreseeable future. Administration officials claim that there is no plan for a “sustained” campaign, but now that airstrikes have begun it will be only a matter of time before there are demands for escalation and deeper involvement, and sooner or later I expect that Obama would yield to those demands. Having made the initial commitment and having accepted that the U.S. has a significant military role in Iraq’s internal conflicts, the U.S. will be expected to continue its commitment for as long as ISIS exists, and that will leave the U.S. policing the Iraqi civil war for months and years to come.

Last night, Obama said that he “will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” but that’s hard to take seriously. This is the same president that went to great lengths to pretend that the war in Libya that the U.S. was fighting didn’t qualify as “hostilities” in order to evade the requirements of U.S. law. Obama doesn’t allow the U.S. to be dragged into new wars except when he does. We already know that Obama is “allowing” the U.S. to resume combat operations in Iraq, which he had previously refused to “allow,” and it is probably just a matter of time before he “allows” that to escalate into another war that he and his subordinates will refuse to acknowledge as such.

Mardini’s last point is the most important one. While it may seem unlikely in this case, military action frequently makes things worse in the countries that it is supposed to be “helping.” That has been true of all U.S.-led interventions over the last decade, and I don’t see why it won’t be true of this one.



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