President Obama just finished a brief statement at the White House focused on his response to ISIS in Iraq and Russians in Ukraine. With regard to ISIS, Obama first downplayed U.S. goals in Iraq, then expanded them and finally said we had no strategy at all.
Using a transcript provided by the Washington Post, here’s how Obama explained our foreign policy in Iraq [emphasis added]:
Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in
Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure
that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel
Where we see an opportunity that allows us, with
very modest risk, to help the humanitarian situation there, as we did in
Sinjar Mountain, we will take those opportunities after having
consulted with Congress.
But our core priority right now is just
to make sure that our folks are safe and to do an effective assessment
of Iraqi and Kurdish capabilities.
So that’s pretty clear. Protect U.S. personnel from a repeat of Benghazi with humanitarian side-missions. But just moments later Obama said this:
my priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made
in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern
itself effectively and secure itself.
If that sounds like a bit of mission creep to you, it did to me too. There are plenty of ways to protect U.S. personnel including pulling them out of Iraq, something the President has not hesitated to do in the past. Rolling back ISIS’s gains in the country sounds like a much bigger campaign. Are the dozens of airstrikes we’ve already made intended to protect the Yazidis or roll back ISIS independent of the Yazidis?
The President has plans to engage a partner to get the, much larger, job of rolling back ISIS done. Unfortunately that partner is an Iraqi government that doesn’t exist yet:
in order for us to be successful, you got to have an Iraqi government
that is unified and inclusive. So we are continuing to push them to get
that job done.
As soon as we have an Iraqi government in place,
the likelihood of the Iraqi security forces being more effective in
taking the fight to ISIL significantly increases.
The President also made clear that dealing with ISIS in Syria was probably on the agenda though the strategy for accomplishing all of that…well, we don’t have one yet:
in order for us to degrade ISIL over the long term, we’re going to have to build a regional strategy…
I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a
strategy yet. I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports
suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at
than we currently are. And I think that’s not just my assessment, but
the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we’ve
got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will
consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.
there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before
I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get
the job done.
So there you have it. Don’t get carried away with our very limited involvement in Iraq. We’re just there to protect U.S. personnel (and perform humanitarian side missions). That’s the extent of what we’re doing right now.
Also, the President’s goal is to roll back ISIS gains in Iraq and possibly go after them in Syria with the help of an Iraqi government that doesn’t exist using a strategy we haven’t developed yet. More on that later perhaps.