President Obama came to office on the promise of ending America’s war in Iraq. Last night he committed the country to degrading and destroying ISIS in Iraq and Syria, albeit with relatively few boots on the ground.
It’s not just the surface-level reversal which is striking, it’s the justification the President is using to get there. As Vox pointed out last night, there is some deep irony here which needs to be savored. Obama made clear last night that he doesn’t see ISIS as a threat to the U.S. right now. At the moment they are a threat to Iraq and the regio, but Obama wants us to degrade and destroy ISIS now before they get a chance to attack us later. That’s one flavor of what used to be called the Bush doctrine. Here’s Vox:
Obama is using George W. Bush arguments to launch a war in Iraq.
Bush argued that the United States needed to launch wars against
regimes that might sponsor terrorist groups before they were imminent
threats to the US. Obama is applying a version of that preventative war
logic to ISIS.
It’s not just the preventative strike argument which is reminiscent of 2002. Another cause to invade Iraq, one mentioned in the Iraq war resolution, was Saddam’s human rights abuses against his own people. Similarly, the 150 or so bombing runs the U.S. has so far engaged in were initially described by the President as America “coming to help.” The goal was to help prevent genocide of Yazidi refugees who fled into the mountains. Last night the President took credit for the humanitarian success of the strikes saying, “These strikes have helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.”
The similarities would be noteworthy on their own, but coming from the same person whose opposition to the war made him a leading candidate for President they are strikingly ironic. Add to this the increasingly strong rhetoric (which would have been likened to the drumbeat of war under a previous administration) and you have quite a reversal of fortune. The anti-war movement would no doubt have something sharp to say about all of this if it hadn’t evaporated moments after Obama was elected.