Iraq Insurgency Turns Up Heat in White House War Room

Military options being mulled as critics assail Obama for failing to see the crisis coming.

Iraqi policemen man a checkpoint in the capital Baghdad on June 12, 2014, as jihadists and anti-government fighters have spearheaded a major offensive that overrun all of Nineveh province. Jihadists are pushing toward Baghdad after capturing a town only 90 kilometres (56 miles) to its north, in a lightning three-day offensive the Iraqi government has failed to stop. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
George E. Condon Jr. and James Oliphant
Add to Briefcase
George E. Condon Jr. and James Oliphant
June 12, 2014, 4:22 p.m.

Pres­sure on the White House to in­ter­vene in the crisis in Ir­aq in­tens­i­fied Thursday as Pres­id­ent Obama’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity team was con­sid­er­ing mil­it­ary op­tions to counter the sur­ging threat posed by an army of Sunni ex­trem­ists march­ing to­ward Bagh­dad.

Former mem­bers of both the Obama and Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions warned that un­less the United States ac­ted quickly and ag­gress­ively, the gains of an eight-year con­flict in the re­gion could be wiped away in an eyeblink. “This has gone bey­ond coun­terter­ror­ism. This is a full-blown mil­it­ary as­sault. We bet­ter be think­ing in terms of a much more hol­ist­ic ef­fort to stem the tide, or we’re go­ing to find the tide swamp­ing us,” said Peter Mansoor, the former top of­ficer to Gen. Dav­id Pet­raeus when he served as the su­preme com­mand­er of Al­lied forces in Ir­aq.

The met­eor­ic ad­vance of forces of the Is­lam­ic State of Ir­aq and Syr­ia (IS­IS) in cap­tur­ing first the key north­ern city of Mo­sul and then Tikrit, which sits a little more than 100 miles from the Ir­aqi cap­it­al, has pushed the crisis to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s front burn­er. (Re­ports Thursday had Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment forces push­ing back in Tikrit while Kur­d­ish forces seized the oil-pro­du­cing city of Kirkuk.)

“I don’t rule out any­thing be­cause we do have a stake in mak­ing sure these ji­hadists are not get­ting a per­man­ent foothold in either Ir­aq — or Syr­ia for that mat­ter,” Obama said from the Oval Of­fice on Thursday.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion, however, cat­egor­ic­ally ruled out send­ing ground forces in­to the con­flict. In­stead, the pres­id­ent said, there are some “short-term im­me­di­ate things that will be done mil­it­ar­ily — and our na­tion­al se­cur­ity team is look­ing at all the op­tions,” which, he said, in­clude send­ing equip­ment, provid­ing fin­an­cial aid, or shar­ing in­tel­li­gence.

But a former Obama ad­viser to Ir­aq ar­gued that those “are for the next crisis, not this one” — and that the White House is more likely con­sid­er­ing more dir­ect ac­tion.

“You have to think [air strikes] are back on the table again,” said Douglas Ol­li­vant, the former dir­ect­or on Ir­aq for the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil dur­ing both the Obama and George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions.

The New York Times re­por­ted Thursday that the Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment had re­ques­ted Amer­ic­an air sup­port to stall the IS­IS ad­vance, but so far those pleas had been denied by the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Ol­li­vant said that stance was likely chan­ging. “It’s prob­ably in our in­terests to in­ter­vene,” he said. “We don’t have an in­terest in a ji­hadist state be­ing carved out or Ir­aq and Syr­ia.”

Nor can the White House wait, Ol­li­vant said, for as­sur­ances from Ir­aqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Malaki that he will form a more in­clus­ive gov­ern­ment that in­cludes Sunni in­terests. “We’re bey­ond this,” he said. “This is much more about an in­vad­ing army from Syr­ia.”

Mansoor, a re­tired Army col­on­el who aided Pet­r­eaus dur­ing the “surge” of 2007-08, also said Obama needed to act swiftly. “The White House has to en­gage. They can wish away this war all they want,” he said. “But this is a crisis and it is one that af­fects U.S. na­tion­al in­terests in the Middle East and our in­terests world­wide in terms of the sta­bil­ity of the world eco­nomy.”

At a press brief­ing just a day earli­er, the White House had again de­clared the war in Ir­aq “ended” as far as the United States was con­cerned, and crit­ics have long con­ten­ded that Obama’s de­sire to define the con­flict as a polit­ic­al suc­cess had blinded him to the mount­ing in­sur­gency.

House Speak­er John Boehner ac­cused Obama Thursday of “tak­ing a nap” as IS­IS mush­roomed in­to a danger to the Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment. Re­gard­less, it marks just the latest chal­lenge for a pres­id­ent who only weeks ago in a ma­jor for­eign policy ad­dress seemed to be step­ping away from in­ter­ven­tion­ism. And, it was only little over a year ago that Obama said he was con­sid­er­ing “all op­tions” in the Syr­i­an civil war — the con­flict that gave IS­IS a foothold in the re­gion — but the mo­ment passed without sig­ni­fic­ant Amer­ic­an ac­tion.

The fresh threat to Bagh­dad had the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­fend­ing its de­cision to pull all forces out of Ir­aq three years ago after a se­cur­ity agree­ment with the Ir­aqi gov­ern­ment couldn’t be reached. “The with­draw­al in Ir­aq in 2011 was not a mis­take,” State De­part­ment spokes­wo­man Jen Psaki told re­port­ers Thursday.

P.J. Crow­ley, a former State De­part­ment of­fi­cial, con­ten­ded that once U.S. forces left this be­came “Ir­aq’s battle, not ours.”

“That is a de­cision ul­ti­mately Ir­aq made, not the United States,” Crow­ley said. “Would we bet­ter off if there were 10,000 Amer­ic­an troops in Ir­aq today? Yes. However, we were not go­ing to put them there without Ir­aq be­ing in­ves­ted in their pres­ence.”

Still, some Demo­crats were wor­ried Thursday about the dam­age an un­stable Ir­aq — on top of the carnage in Syr­ia and the Rus­si­an in­va­sion of Ukraine — could do to Obama’s in­creas­ingly em­battled pres­id­ency. One prom­in­ent Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant warned that even if Ir­aq was viewed as Bush’s war, this pres­id­ent will be hammered without some man­ner of ro­bust U.S. mil­it­ary ac­tion.

“We have to do more than we want to, be­cause there’s no choice,” the con­sult­ant said. “If Bagh­dad falls, the fail­ure will be ours polit­ic­ally.”

Tom DeFrank contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Source:
REQUIRES CHANGE IN LAW
Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
2 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Source:
MEASURE HEADED TO OBAMA
Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
2 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login