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Uncle Sam: The Mideast’s Useful Idiot

Once more, into the breach while the region's governments hold our coat
Iraqi Freedom
U.S. Army Spc. Jarrod MacEachern provides on the ground security while conducting a tactical check point near Patrol Base Doria, Iraq, March 21, 2007. MacEachern is assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway) (Released)

Let me say from the beginning that I don’t care how many ISIS fighters we kill. They deserve it. They will have brought it onto themselves.

That said, does anybody think this will go well? Does anybody think it will be anything but a fiasco?

Daniel Larison has been slicing and dicing the Obama administration’s policy. For example:

That draws attention to one of this war’s basic flaws: the U.S. is taking the regional threat from ISIS more seriously and doing more to oppose it than many of the regional states that have far more to lose. The U.S. has allowed itself to be pulled into a new, open-ended war for the sake of “partners” that are contributing little or nothing to the war.

Read all his ISIS warblogging here. 

I think David Frum has a good piece translating Obama’s terrible speech into English. Excerpt:

In plain English: We don’t really have a plan. We don’t have a definition of success. We see some evildoers and we’re going to whack them. They deserve it, don’t they?

And sure, ISIS does deserve it. The group is a nasty collection of slavers, rapists, thieves, throat-slitters, and all-around psychopaths. The trouble is: so are the people fighting ISIS, the regimes in Tehran and Damascus that will reap the benefits of the war the president just announced. They may be less irrational and unpredictable than ISIS. But if anything, America’s new unspoken allies in the anti-ISIS war actually represent a greater “challenge to international order” and a more significant “threat to America’s core interests” than the vicious characters the United States will soon drop bombs on.

The question before the nation is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?”

That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable—at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.

The Iranians must wake up every morning and thank Allah that they have an enemy like the United States, which installed their clients in Baghdad, and who is now going to fight their insane Sunni enemy for them. And by the way, what about the regime in Saudi Arabia (the one that just arrested a bunch of Christians for meeting to pray)? Americans are risking their lives again to make the world safe for the lunatic Islamic country whose sons brought down the World Trade Center and destroyed part of the Pentagon. Once again, people who do not have our best interests in mind are willing to hold our coat while we do the fighting for them.

Lindsey Graham and John McCain want us to go all in, saying on the Senate floor today:

“There is no way in hell we are going to beat these guys without an American ground component in Iraq and Syria . . . you don’t need the 82nd Airborne, but we’re going to need thousands of troops over time on the ground, holding the hands of the Arab armies that are going to do the fighting along with the Syrians to make sure we win.”

Graham and McCain also challenged the president’s notion that the Islamic State posed no direct threat to the American homeland. Instead, they suggested, the U.S. is in more danger now than it has ever been.

“Because of a feckless foreign policy, America is in greater danger than it has been, in some respects, in my lifetime,” said McCain.

Greater danger than it has been in John McCain’s lifetime! Wow, how about that? Who believes this crap anymore? Conor Friedersdorf collected the evidence the other day that Sen. McCain’s opinion about foreign affairs ought not to be trusted. This is the thing that gets to me: as awful as Obama is, the Republican alternatives are almost always worse.

Still, Obama’s speech was a mess. Look at this:

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

Of course ISIL is Islamic. Why does he even say such stupid, obviously untrue things? They are a particularly fierce, vicious Islamic sect, but what good does it do to pretend that they aren’t Muslim because No True Scotsman Muslim would do what ISIL does? ISIL defines itself as religious, and is imposing religious law in the areas it conquers. It is not “Islamophobic” to point that out; in fact, if we euphemize away ISIL’s nature, we won’t understand it, and why so many fighters are attracted to it.

And of course ISIL is a state. What else do you call an entity that controls a large swath of territory, and administers it? From Foreign Policy:

In some areas under their control, the Islamic State is opening hospitals, building new roads, launching bus services, rehabilitating schools (at least for boys), and launching small-business programs designed to juice the local economies. In Syria, where bread is a core staple, the militants focus on managing local wheat mills and bakeries to ensure that supplies remain high enough to feed a population that was in some areas on the edge of starvation.

The group’s focus on good governance, at least by militant standards, starts at the top. In his first public comments after conquering Mosul, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called on“scientists, scholars, preachers, judges, doctors, engineers and people with military and administrative expertise” to help govern the land his group controls. Those weren’t just words: Shortly after taking control of Mosul, Baghdadi transferred the Islamic State’s hospital administrator for the Syrian city of Raqqa to Mosul to take that same job there, Kilcullen said.

Words mean things. Why does the president feel the need to lie to the American people about the nature of the enemy in order to sell this new war?

More from Obama:

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.

Really? This again? We spent $25 billion and the better part of a decade training the Iraqi security forces. And? Duncan Black (Atrios):

When this newly organized force appeared, the Iraqi army, those who we had spent so much time, money, and lives training, apparently dissolved, leaving their weapons behind. Those weapons then had new owners, and our current airstrike campaign is, in part, aimed at destroying those weapons.

So the plan is, once again, to conduct combat missions and train and inevitably arm yet another Iraqi army. Maybe our training methods have improved in 11 years. Maybe this time the weapons will remain in the hands of the designated “good guys.” Maybe we can declare victory and make it home in three years. For real this time.

Look, ISIS (ISIL) is evil. Obama has no good options, only a range of bad ones. But this, again? Have we learned nothing? I’ll give Lindsey Graham credit: he’s probably right about not being able to root out ISIS except with ground troops. What the president is undertaking is either going to be futile, or is going to drag us back into a war that we can’t win, and that isn’t ours to fight.

That speech of his, summed up: “Something must be done. This is something. We must do it.”

UPDATE: Read this by Bruce Ackerman, just published in the NYT. Excerpt:

BERLIN — PRESIDENT OBAMA’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.

Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written.

This became clear when White House officials briefed reporters before Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Wednesday evening. They said a war against ISIS was justified by Congress’s authorization of force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that no new approval was needed.

But the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not apply here. That resolution — scaled back from what Mr. Bush initially wanted — extended only to nations and organizations that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

 Daniel Larison wrote about this earlier:

It is a little strange that Obama wouldn’t ask for a new authorization specifically for attacking ISIS, since Congress and the public would appear to be behind the war at the moment. It seems unlikely that there would be a repeat of the Syria debate in Congress. If pressed to vote on this war, both houses would likely vote yes in large numbers. However, we already know that many Democrats in Congress don’t want to have to vote on this ahead of the midterms, and there are just as many Republicans that are happy to let the president start a war that they don’t have to vote on. That way all of the members can avoid taking a hard and potentially unpopular vote, and they can collectively avoid any responsibility for the war. They will probably be grateful that they can avoid voting on this war, since it seems likely to be an open-ended conflict and its goal of “destroying ISIS” still seems just as unrealistic as it was before the speech.

So the president can wage an illegal war, and Congress is willing to let him ignore the law because it is to their political advantage. What has this country become?