Former US ambassador wonders why Kerry isn't in Baghdad

The ambassador who represented the US in both war zones under both the Bush and Obama administrations wonders why John Kerry isn’t winging his way to Baghdad in this crisis. Ryan Crocker served as the US ambassador in Baghdad during and after the surge, and then went to Kabul as ambassador until 2012, working to increase high-level contacts between both governments and Washington. Crocker criticized the Obama administration for neglecting those channels over the last few years, and wondered why the Obama administration is still not engaging properly in this crisis:

Secretary of State John Kerry “should be on a plane right now for Baghdad,” former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said Tuesday.

“The focus has been on the conflict, that is indeed serious, but, you know, diplomacy is what is crucial right now,” Crocker said on “CBS This Morning.” “We need to work with the Iraqis at the highest level,” which, he said, entails having Kerry urge Iraq’s leaders to pursue a national unity government. …

The Obama administration should have had more high-level diplomatic engagement with Iraq, he argued Tuesday, and emphasized the U.S. must now respond with urgency.

“We are hard-wired into their political system. We helped create it. We can’t walk away from it,” Crocker said.

“I would have preferred since 2011 to see us more deeply and intensively engaged at the highest levels of government. I don’t think it’s too late, but we better move now.

CBS News has plenty of updates on the situation in Iraq this morning. First, Clarissa Ward reports on the latest developments in and around Baghdad:

Bill Plante reports from the White House, where not too many developments are taking place at the moment:

The battle in Iraq has reached Baqubah, a key location on the outskirts of Baghdad. ISIS forces killed 44 detainees in the area:

Heavy fighting between government forces and rebels was reported Tuesday in Baqubah, on the northeastern approaches to Baghdad, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. The BBC reported that rebels took over several neighborhoods in the town 38 miles from the Iraqi capital and captured the main police station. Government forces were also trying to recapture the town of Tal Afar, which fell to the insurgents Monday, the BBC reported.

Police said at least 44 detainees died when insurgents attacked a police station northeast of Baghdad and fought with pro-government Shiite militiamen defending the jail, the Associated Press reported from Baghdad. There was conflicting information on how the detainees died, the AP said.

As Plante reported above, the Washington Post also reports that the White House is conducting outreach to Iran despite claiming that no military alliance is being considered at this point:

Besides weighing its options, the United States has also taken the highly unusual step of having its diplomats engage with diplomats from its longtime adversary, Iran, to discuss possible cooperation to help stop the Islamist insurgents’ lightning advance. The White House has ruled out the possibility of military cooperation with Tehran, however.

What should the US do about the situation? According to a new poll released this morning by PPP, Barack Obama is in sync with the current consensus. Only 20% support the idea of sending ground troops back into Iraq (which isn’t really a realistic option in any significant numbers in the timeframe needed anyway), while 67% want the US to offers supplies and intelligence, but no ground troops. The majority (52%) wants the US to organize a mobilization of the international diplomatic community to “stabilize” the situation in Iraq, although it’s difficult to grasp what diplomacy would look like when applied to ISIS. To Crocker’s point, it might involve Kerry being in Baghdad rather than at the “Our Oceans” conference in the middle of this crisis.

Most tellingly, people choose Obama over McCain when it comes to whether we should have left a strong residual force in Iraq by almost 2:1, 54/28. If that polling holds up — and the demos look at least reasonably representative — then Crocker had better get on the phone to whatever contacts he has left in Baghdad and tell them, “You’re on your own.” Keep this PPP poll result in mind in 2016 when we pull out of Afghanistan in the same way we did from Iraq, and when things go south a lot quicker there than they did in Iraq.