They already have engaged them, of course, per the otherwise successful raid to liberate an ISIS prison in Iraq last week that ended with one American soldier being killed. That sounds suspiciously like combat, and if there’s one thing Barack Obama stands for, it’s that the era of combat in Iraq is over.
How can combat not be combat? Easy. Just call it something else. It wouldn’t be the first Orwellian euphemism this White House has used to reassure progressives that they may be at war but they’re not at war-war.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook had been blunter on Thursday: “Our mission in Iraq is the train, advise and assist mission. This was a unique circumstance. … This was a support mission in which they were providing support to the Kurdistan Regional Government. U.S. forces are not in an active combat mission in Iraq.”
But before Carter left the podium on Friday, he offered this explanation for why he couldn’t reveal more details of Wheeler’s actions: “This is combat. Things are complicated.”
The rules of the official advise-and-assist mission meant the Americans were to “stay behind the last covered and concealed position,” but when the fighters they were supporting began taking fire and casualties, they stepped in and acted. As Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren noted from Baghdad, “In the chaos of combat, when you see your friends being hit, I would submit to you that you’re under somewhat of a moral obligation.” Again, combat.
“Combat,” in theory, refers to engagement with the enemy in the course of an indefinite foreign occupation involving many thousands of troops. Barack Obama certainly doesn’t support that, except in Afghanistan, where he only kind of supports it and only because his haste in ending combat in Iraq has turned out to be a catastrophe. What the U.S. did last week in that ISIS prison, as Carter explains below, was a “raid.” A raid is a time-limited pinprick strike involving a few dozen soldiers with a very specific purpose. We won’t engage ISIS in “combat” but we’ll “raid” the sh*t out of them. Just like we wouldn’t “bomb” Libya, we’d participate in “kinetic military action” there. Just like Russia’s invasion of Crimea, which the White House didn’t want to respond to, wasn’t an “invasion” but an “uncontested arrival.” Just like the attack on the consulate in Benghazi wasn’t terrorism, it was a “spontaneous protest” by a mob incensed at a YouTube video critical of Islam.
Carter can put as much perfume on his BS as he likes but what he’s telling Congress, and you, here is to prepare yourselves for more American casualties in Iraq as U.S. special forces wade more deeply into the fight. And of course, the task of announcing this falls to him, not to the commander-in-chief, because Obama doesn’t want to have to symbolically face his base after promising them the Iraq mess is in America’s rearview mirror. The question to ask yourself is: Why now? Why, after umpteen thousand ISIS atrocities, has the White House decided to risk the lives of America’s most elite troops for operations like freeing prisoners in Iraq? The obvious answer, I think, is that it’s a small bit of muscle-flexing in response to Russia’s much more significant incursion across the border in Syria. Our Middle Eastern Sunni “allies” can’t help but notice lately that, when you’re in a pinch, it may be more useful to have Vladimir Putin as a friend than Barack Obama. So here’s Obama making a show of helping the Iraqi government in rescuing prisoners with American boots on the ground in support to demonstrate his own good faith. More of this to come, no doubt.