The view of the Iraqi situation behind the president’s “lid” remarks is that the U.S. invasion of Iraq unleashed murderous sectarian forces that had been kept in check — under a “lid” — by the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. After a period of chaos and great violence, which grew even with the presence of more than 100,000 U.S. troops, President George W. Bush sent a surge of even more troops into the country — the peak number was 168,000 — to put a new lid on Iraqi sectarianism. The surge succeeded, but later, when American forces left under an order from commander-in-chief Obama, the lid came off. Now murderous sectarian violence threatens the very existence of Iraq as a nation.
Yes, the United States could re-impose a lid on Iraqi sectarianism, Obama is saying, but only by taking extensive military action, which would certainly involve sending American ground troops back to the country. That is something the president will not do. Now, the question for Obama’s critics is how many American troops would it take to put that lid back on Iraq, which might, or might not lead to a lasting solution to the problem of sectarian violence?