It seems that what Vox.com called Barack Obama’s “problem from hell” shows no signs of letting up on the president. After taking the weekend to ruminate on the suboptimal options available to him for dealing with the rapidly escalating crisis in Iraq and acting on none of them, the president awoke on Monday to his former acting CIA Director Mike Morell telling CBS’s This Morning hosts that the ISIS insurgency in Iraq poses an immediate threat to American national security.
Morell began by quashing any hope that the administration could quietly outsource Iraqi security to Iran. After CBS host Charlie Rose noted that the head of Iran’s Quds forces was organizing defensive operations on Baghdad and how the U.S. might work with Iran to stem the growing threat to Iranian security, Morell said that the U.S. should do no such thing.
“I do not believe that it is in the interests of the United States to work with Iran,” Morell said. He then gave voice to the obscenely 20th Century notion that there is an ongoing struggle between Iran and a variety of Middle East powers for regional hegemony, and the U.S. would only aid in Tehran’s quest to secure hegemonic status by working with them to secure Iraq.
After spreading blame for the current crisis around to everyone from the Bush administration to the al-Maliki regime, Morell ominously conceded that the time for finger pointing is ending.
When asked what ISIS’s goals are, Morell was blunt:
“One is to set up that caliphate and, it’s not just in Iraq and in Syria,” he warned. The former CIA chief noted that The Levant, or greater Syria, includes territories in modern day Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.
“Their second goal then is to use that as a safe haven to attack the United States,” Morell added.
This grave assertion was met with a prolonged pause from the CBS hosts. The use of those terms to describe the situation in Iraq from a former American spy chief is not a minor development. In that moment, Morell limited Obama’s freedom of action.
Having defined a pressing national security threat in Iraq, Obama now faces the political nightmare of his two terms. The president must decide whether to legitimize the Iraq War and ratify the Bush doctrine of preemptive war. If he does nothing, he preserves the political goal of extricating the U.S. from Iraqi affairs. If that inaction costs American lives down the road, however, his presidency will be regarded as a failed endeavor.
Maybe the White House should look on the bright side. At least he didn’t caution Americans that Iraq’s “smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”