How has Barack Obama’s reactive strategy to the sweep of the Islamic State across Iraq been received so far in Washington? Not well, as critics arose across the partisan spectrum. “It takes an army to defeat an army,” Senator Dianne Feinstein said yesterday in regard to the threat ISIS now poses to the region — and the US:
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned Friday of the risk that the insurgent group ISIL could be preparing fighters to attack American and European targets.
“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard,” the California Democrat said in a statement backing military action authorized by President Barack Obama. “We simply cannot allow this to happen.”
Feinstein called for a broader military campaign against ISIL, not just the targeted missions authorized by the president.
“It takes an army to defeat an army, and I believe that we either confront ISIL now or we will be forced to deal with an even stronger enemy in the future. Inaction is no longer an option. I support actions by the administration to coordinate efforts with Iraq and other allies to use our military strength and targeting expertise to the fullest extent possible,” Feinstein said.
That’s a sharp rebuke to Obama, who has tried to walk a tightrope between his claims of victory in Iraq and the acute need to stop the genocide of Yazidis. Obama spoke earlier today before flying off to his vacation on Marine One reinforcing his remarks on Thursday, promising nothing new. “Once again, America is proud to work” with our allies, Obama insisted, but announced no new efforts on their part other than diplomatic expressions of support. The only call Obama made was for Iraqis to unite, claiming again that “only Iraqis” can secure Iraq. Feinstein very obviously does not want to sit idly by while waiting for Iraqis to wipe out ISIS (or ISIL) in order to remove the threat to American national security.
Neither does Sen. Marco Rubio, her colleague across the aisle:
But America’s security interests extend well beyond the fate of Iraq’s religious minorities. Because ISIS, with thousands of foreign fighters, many of them from the West, will not rest once it has taken Erbil or Baghdad. Its expansionist ideology will lead it to attack U.S. allies in the region and eventually Europe and the United States.
We have seen time and again in recent decades that terrorist groups, once established, use safe havens to launch attacks on the United States and our interests. We ignore this history at our own peril.
Instead of confronting this challenge head on, President Obama has until now avoided taking decisive action. He has let the civil war in Syria simmer for years, creating the space for this jihadist threat to grow and letting instability spread to Syria’s neighbors. Even after ISIS captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, in June, the President was hesitant in his response, sending several hundred military advisors but not confronting ISIS directly even as it made military gains. Now, we are rightfully providing food and water to people who face slaughter from extremists who have pledged to kill them. …
ISIS’s continued rise is not just a problem for Iraq or its neighbors. If we do not continue to take decisive action against ISIS now, it will be not just Iraqis or Syrians who continue to suffer, it will likely be Americans, as a result of a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or on our personnel overseas. America was faced with the same choice President Clinton faced in the 1990s during the emergence of al Qaeda: take action now, or we will be forced to take action in the future.
It is time to begin reversing this unprecedented tide of jihadist victories. America’s security and the safety of the American people are at stake.
For that matter, so does the Washington Post editorial board. Their editorial scolds Obama for clinging to his “minimalist and unrealistic” policies and start taking the threat seriously:
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 will probably 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.
It’s past time for Mr. Obama to set aside a policy that is both minimalist and unrealistic. The United States should offer sustained military support to friendly forces that fight the Islamic State, beginning with the Kurds and including moderate Syrian rebels and Iraqi Sunni tribesmen. It should seek to erode the Islamic State’s military power as much as possible with airstrikes. It should not press for a new Iraqi government unless Shiite leaders and their Iranian sponsors agree to a fundamental restructuring of power. And it should forge a political and diplomatic strategy that encompasses both Iraq and Syria and their interrelated conflicts. The primary aim should not be to minimize U.S. involvement — as Mr. Obama would have it — but to defeat the forces that are destroying the region.
Obama spent a lot of time talking about the “weaknesses” of the Iraqi government, but kept insisting that if only Baghdad would reach out to the Sunnis and Kurds, the problems would be solved. The Shi’ites, though, have been facing this existential threat for months and still aren’t cooperating, because they don’t want to give up power and think Iran will bail them out.
Obama also suggested that Iraq’s Sunni neighbors would “join the fight” against ISIS, but … why would they do that? The Saudis in particular have been attempting to push Bashar Assad out of Syria, which led to the vacuum that allowed ISIS to metastasize. Does Obama really think that the Saudis will join a military campaign against ISIS that will benefit Assad, Maliki, and Iran in the short run? Does he think the Jordanians will go to war against ISIS in western Iraq? Why would either of these nations do so when the US insists it will sit it out? The only neighboring nation that would launch military strikes against ISIS might be Israel, which this administration has spent the last several weeks attempting to hamstring while Hamas lobs missiles at civilian population centers.
No one will march into western Iraq to fight ISIS without the US leading the way … which means no one will be fighting ISIS other than the collapsing Iraqi forces for the foreseeable future, and the Kurds who are bravely attempting to protect their homeland from the barbarian horde that threatens to overrun them.
In today’s final question, Obama got challenged on whether he should have left troops in Iraq after all. Obama proceeded to offer a cynical and disingenuous exercise in buck-passing, claiming that it was all Iraq’s fault that American troops were not left in the country. Let’s recall that Obama bragged about bringing all the troops home in the 2012 election, and that it was well known that the US had a clear opening for a follow-on force. Instead, Obama and Joe Biden blew off the negotiations, refusing to even come to the phone in an attempt to salvage them. He got the short-term boost to his approval ratings that he sought at the time, and now when his approval levels are cratering, Obama claims he was helpless to do anything in the face of Iraqi intransigence. Not only will few buy that explanation, those who do will have to explain how being impotent with Maliki makes Obama a foreign-policy genius.
Obama today: "As if this was my decision."
Obama in Oct 2011: pic.twitter.com/fnTQSKxt7N
A promise he kept, and he's running from it? #OwnIt
— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) August 9, 2014
Well, it’s never his fault, right?