Baghdad - For President Obama, Iraq is the anti-war horse he rode to victory in 2008. Many political analysts say opposition to the Iraqi war was the club he used to first pound Clinton then Republicans into submission.
In 2012, Mr. Obama mocked presidential candidate Mitt Romney for suggesting the U.S. should leave a contingent of American troops in Iraq to ensure the fledgling democracy survived.Unfortunately for Democrats facing midterm elections, events in Iraq are playing out exactly, if not worse than, Romney described; they are left to defend Obama's foreign policy on Iraq or jump ship.
Midterms notwithstanding, Mr. Obama has painted himself into a political corner on Iraq. The president announced very publicly this week that the US has no intentions of deploying boots on the ground.
Unfortunately, militant insurgents already occupy many of the country's major cities and are marching on Baghdad. For the administration, doing nothing is not an option and airstrikes will kill people without stopping the militant's siege. In short, Obama's legacy is in the hands of the extremist militants currently routing the Iraqi military and confiscating the spoils of war largely supplied by the U.S.
Mr. Obama’s public assurance of no boots on the ground certainly gave ISIS forces and Taliban insurgents who are busy occupying major Iraqi cities a psychological boost. Unfortunately, most military analysts agree on one thing: airstrikes by US and coalition forces - provided the president can build a coalition - will not change things on the ground in Iraq.Without ground forces capable of intricately supporting an air war, smart bombs will do stupid things, like killing women and children who terrorists use as shields.
When nightly news reports start flashing images of dead Iraqis charred by American munitions, Mr. Obama’s already anemic poll numbers will drop faster than a bunker-buster bomb.
Additionally, the timing of the administration’s release of five of the top terrorists at GITMO for a U.S. soldier who allegedly deserted his post could not be worse.Nervous Senate Democrats fear any Iraqi controversy involving the president is another nail in their political coffins.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has publicly declared that the US will not stand by as the Muslim extremists wrest control of Baghdad. Translation: he is committed, but not so much.
“This is a huge deal,” a former Obama counter-terrorism adviser told the Washington Examiner. “You can’t really overstate how big Iraq is when it comes to perceptions of the president. His arguments aren’t nearly as persuasive if the entire country is in shambles.”
With insurgents marching on Baghdad, some would argue Mr. Obama was caught flat-footed and asleep at the switch. For good reason, leaders in the Democratic Party dread the task of defending Mr. Obama’s actions in Iraq. It’s a lose-lose situation at this particular juncture.
If Baghdad falls into the hands of Taliban insurgents, Iraq becomes Mr. Obama’s foreign policy legacy. On the other hand, if Mr. Obama orders airstrikes of the volume and intensity required to deter extremists who are pillaging Iraq, images of collateral damage will be seared into the minds of voters by November.
The only other option for the administration is to hope. Hope the Iraqi military stops deserting their posts and handing over expensive American war machines for the militants to use against Syria and in Iraq.
His opponents say Mr. Obama is purely political and equally naive on foreign policy and reference a major foreign policy speech the president recently gave at West Point. Mr. Obama claimed in his address that his “main goal” was to avoid messy foreign entanglements whenever possible.
“We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time, but what we can do is to make sure that we are consistently helping to finance, train, advise military forces with partner countries, including Iraq, that have the capacity to maintain their own security,” he insisted.
Republican staffers also wasted no time reminding the administration of a speech in March 2012 by Tony Blinken, now Obama’s deputy national security adviser, in which he claimed Iraq was “less violent, more democratic and more prosperous” than “at any time in recent history."
With militants seizing American-made tanks, Humvees and military weapons and hardware with little or no resistance from Iraqi military forces and civilians fleeing Iraqi cities, such boasting and political posturing by the administration will likely reemerge in Republican campaign ads.
“It appears to me that the chickens are coming home to roost for the president's policy of not leaving anybody there to be a stabilizing force,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Some Iraqi troops have gone to work with their uniforms on with civilian clothes under their uniforms. That's a bad sign.”