Sunday, August 10, 2014

Iraq - America's Familiar Nemesis

I can understand the 'rosy picture' Matt Yeglesias paints of President Obama's Foreign Policy; but I think there is more to that than a simple cherry Liberal reading.

We cannot keep aside a failure here to anticipate that Iraq would not hold itself together under the disastrous leadership of Nouri al-Maliki once Americans left Iraq. Regardless, President Obama owes to Americans to articulate dangers of fragmented Iraq under the influence of Jihadis. May be President Obama was caught up too much in fulfilling his campaign argument of 'winding down the dumb war'. Indeed, Iraq war was the dumb war, no doubt about that; but what was required then was to forewarn Americans that we had had 'broken just too much pottery in the barn' so as America would receive a call back to intervene. Candidate Barack Obama got enamored in his 'peacenik' rhetoric so much that he did not find it politically correct to mention all these hard choices.

Given all that, what is needed from this President is to 'condition' Americans for a greater involvement than what is today. It is a good start that President made it clear out of the gate that this could be a longer term engagement.

Will there be then the danger of 'American boots on the ground'? Sure, that danger persists. The only way such a danger would go away is when Americans know that the job is done. For that, one has to define the 'end goal' and strategic road map to achieve those goals. That is where Obama Administration has a task cut out for them as the Administration is yet to articulate any such strategic plans.

It is a straight forward 'sale' to American Public that to defend Erbil and Yazidis, America is getting involved. That is the easy part - Kurds are allies worth to defend (remember how they were slaughtered by Saddam upon taking up arms against him on cues from America?) and humanitarian crisis of Yazidis is obivious where an American intervention can make clear difference. However, think tomorrow when Jihadis - IS - determine that there is no point taking on Erbil and Kurds and turn their attention back to Shiite community near Baghdada. Imagine thousands of Shiite population is surrounded by Jihadis and incompetent al-Maliki's forces are unable to defend. Will there be any choice for America apart from being 'al-Maliki's Air Force' to avoid yet another genocide? That is the quagmire America has got into. Obviously this is not the contingency Commander-in-Chief would like to say publicly. But then Publicly it might be required to say that 'unless Iraq puts in place an inclusive government' (preferably without al-Maliki)  that region is going to see 'one genocide after another'. President Obama has said that he does not want to be Iraqi Air Force and politicians sympathetic to Administration are saying so too. What is needed is President in a sense talks this truth to Iraqi People directly and finds an occasion to demonstrate that 'he walks the talk' without coming across as a by-standing observer to a genocide(*).

President Obama has got himself in a bind in some sense. He argued correctly that a sovereign Iraq in 2008 did not want American boots on ground and that left no choice for him apart from pulling out all American troops from Iraq. That sovereignty argument is equally constraining him today in demanding removal of al-Maliki explicitly. It is all going to be behind  the screen diplomacy and using all leverages at disposal, more so as America gains leverage by defending Iraqis beholden by Jihadis and by defending Erbil, Baghdad; that Obama Administration has to bring in political change needed to stop further deterioration in Iraq. That is the skill Obama Administration has to bring to the table to minimize America's exposure in Iraq. Otherwise, many decades would pass and we will still have American military presence in that part of the world.

(*) Hillary Clinton is charging that President Obama essentially standing as an observer for the genocide in Syria as well as unfolding national security challenge there. But as many observers have pointed out, why would America take arms against Assad right now when he is battling our longer term true enemy - Jihadis i.e. IS? May be there was a window before Islamic Jihadis came into the picture. But still for Hillary to come out swinging against Obama before November 2014 elections is no good. That is neither helpful for her candidacy, Obama Base is still large and significant, nor helpful to Democratic candidates on the ballot. Any ways, Hillary is more near to "bomb-bomb, bang-bang, shoot-shoot" gang of Lindsay Graham- John McCain than middle of the road Obama Liberals. After all she did find herself at home in committing the original harakiri of sending in USA troops to topple Saddam ....What all that means is Hillary needs to trade waters very carefully here. She has lot of baggage, including not achieving anything substantive when she was Sec. of State, and we all know that "cowboy strategy" is still disastrous compared to "don't do stupid stuff". 

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