The U.S. Shouldn’t Intervene in Iraq
James Jeffrey goes into full alarmist mode and calls for a major air campaign against ISIS:
In this brew, and with time of the essence, the only game-changing U.S. move would be an air campaign against ISIS of the magnitude of that used against Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011.
The U.S. could conceivably do this, but does it make any sense? This wouldn’t change any of the underlying political problems in Iraq for the better, and it could easily lead to calls to expand the campaign to include targets in Syria. It has all the makings of an open-ended mission that the U.S. doesn’t need. At least in Libya, the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime told us when the U.S. and its allies could stop bombing, but in this case it is not clear when the U.S. could end its campaign or how it would keep the campaign from escalating into deeper involvement in Syria’s conflict. So long as the forces opposing Maliki can tap into genuine Sunni grievances against the government, bombing insurgents will be a stop-gap measure at best, and could well make things worse. Needless to say, a campaign such as this would certainly inflict civilian casualties, and that would further inflame hostility to the government and to the U.S. A bombing campaign on this scale would also likely be responsible for adding to the number of refugees that is already quite large. Tom Ricks raises some other practical objections:
The last thing we need is American pilots being held prisoner by the new guys. And where would you base your combat search & rescue helicopters, and what do you do when one of them gets shot down?
The other pressing question is whether it is necessary for the U.S. to do this. ISIS has scored some impressive gains recently, but that has prompted a massive response from the Iraqi Shia population that suggests that Iraqis will be able to take care of this threat on their own. Jeffrey leans very heavily on creating the impression of impending catastrophe, but that appears to be alarmist exaggeration aimed at scaring people into endorsing the very dubious idea of sustained military action in Iraq for months and perhaps years to come. Once we think through what Jeffrey is proposing, we should all be able to see that an air campaign would be just the sort of stupid, knee-jerk reaction to a crisis that the U.S. should strive to avoid.