John Kerry, the Secretary of State, tells us the War on ISIS isn’t a war.
“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counter-terrorism operation,” Kerry said. “If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counter-terrorism operation.”
“I don’t think people need to get into a war fever on this,” the secretary of state added.
President Obama ran his 2008 campaign almost entirely on the premise of withdrawing the US from Iraq. Secretary Kerry was a staunch opponent of the war, at least after he voted to authorize it.
And in 2011, President Obama used the Bush administration’s planned withdrawal of forces, a signed agreement, as the reason for the complete withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq.
But even while the Bush administration had a signed agreement for the withdrawal, they were also negotiating and arguing for a continued US presence in Iraq. Rather than having US Brigade Combat Teams conducting operations, the US wanted BCTs configured as “Advise and Assist” BCTs to support Iraqi Army operations.
As then President Bush stated in 2007:
“To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States,” Bush cautioned.
He then ticked off a string of predictions about what would happen if the U.S. left too early.
“It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to Al Qaeda.
“It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale.
“It would mean we allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan.
“It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”
Forward to 2009, and the new Obama administration half heartedly continued the negotiations with Baghdad for a continued US presence. Arguing that an unsatisfactory Status of Forces Agreement could not be reached with the Iraqi government, the Obama administration allowed the talks to collapse, and in 2011 executed the complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The administration not only allowed this, they praised it as a political triumph. They demanded (and received, politically) credit for this state of affairs.
The important thing was, just as Obama had promised, the US was out of Iraq. Iraq became a political and diplomatic non-entity. Obama was quick to tout the end of the war in Iraq in his campaign of 2012.
But the war in Iraq wasn’t over. Just the US influence in the war.
While Iraq was remarkably stable at the time of the US departure, and our forces had generally achieved their objectives, serious people knew that the underlying civil society was not so stable as to preclude a descent back into chaos.
The goal of the desire US A&A BCTs would have been two-fold. First, the most obvious- to assist the Iraqi Army in defeating attempts at destabilizing the recognized Iraqi government.
The second, less visible, but arguably more important role, was to serve as both carrot and stick for that Iraqi government. Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shia, led a shaky coalition government that purported to represent both Shia and Sunni. But Maliki tended, not surprisingly, to favor Shia elements, at the expense of the Sunni population. US A&A BCTs, and other forms of US power, such as funding of reconstruction projects, could be granted or withheld as needed to influence Maliki to treat both Shia and Sunni somewhat equitably. Maliki could be convinced to listen to legitimate Sunni issues as long as he knew US assistance would be available to confront illegitimate Sunni factions.
But the absence of any US backing meant Maliki could only turn to his political base, the Shia population. And not surprisingly, in doing so, he invited increasingly effective Sunni attacks upon the Baghdad government. And that led to a spiral of ever greater repression of Sunni elements, which in turn fueled every greater sectarian Sunni violence.
This isn’t particularly deep analysis here. This is exactly what almost everyone predicted would happen with the total US capitulation of any role or influence in Iraq.
If ISIS hadn’t been the one to march on Iraq, it would have been some other group.
But the Obama administration refused to even consider such an eventuality. The talking point was that Obama would end the war in Iraq, and so it must be. There was a steadfast refusal to see any possible outcome other than a campaign trail soundbite. The important thing was to move opinion polls, not advance America’s interests.
And since Obama ended the war in Iraq, there can be no further war in Iraq. No matter how many US troops find themselves there, no matter how much ISIS insists it is at war with the US, the proclamation is that there is no war. A major counter-terrorism operation sounds more a police matter, not a war.
Which is cold comfort to the American serviceman facing the nation’s enemy. An enemy whose cruelty and wanton violence has shocked the conscience. We dare not work ourselves to war fever on his behalf.
As an old friend of ours was fond of saying, it is to weep.