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Monday, July 07, 2014

How Obama let ISIS take over Iraq

How did the Obama administration lose Iraq? The same way it lost every other country in the Middle East - inflexibility followed by indecisiveness. Eli Lake explains:
On November 1, 2013, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the White House, and made a rather stunning request. Maliki, who celebrated when the last U.S. troops left his country in 2011, asked Obama to quietly send the military back into Iraq and help his beleagured Air Force develop targets for air strikes; that’s how serious the threat from Sunni insurgents led by the extremist group ISIS had become. 
Twelve days later, Brett McGurk, a deputy assistant secretary of state and the Obama administration’s senior U.S. official in Baghdad since the crisis began last month, presented to Congress a similarly dark warning. ISIS was launching upwards of 40 suicide bombers a month, he said, encouraged in part by the weakness of Maliki’s military and the aggressively anti-Sunni policies of the Shi’ite prime minister. It was the kind of ominous report that American intelligence agencies had been delivering privately for months. McGurk added that ISIS had “benefited from a permissive operating environment due to inherent weaknesses of Iraqi security forces, poor operational tactics, and popular grievances, which remain unaddressed, among the population in Anbar and Nineweh provinces.”
Maliki's requests were rebuffed; McGurk’s warnings went largely unheeded. The problem for Obama was that he had no good policy option in Iraq. On the one hand, if Obama had authorized the air strikes Maliki began requesting in January, he would strengthen the hand of an Iraqi prime minister who increasingly resembled the brutal autocrat U.S. troops helped unseat in 2003. Maliki’s heavy handed policies—such as authorizing counter-terrorism raids against Sunni political leaders with no real links to terrorism—sowed the seeds of the current insurrection in Iraq.
But while Obama committed to sell Maliki’s military nearly $11 billion worth of advanced U.S. weaponry, he was unwilling to use that leverage in a meaningful way to get him to reverse his earlier reforms where he purged some of his military’s most capable leaders and replaced them with yes men. As a result of this paradox, the Iraq policy process ground to a halt at the very moment that ISIS was on the rise.
Two months later, ISIS captured the strategically important city of Fallujah in Anbar province.
Five month after that, Iraq’s second-largest city—Mosul, in Nineweh province—fell to ISIS and an army of Sunni insurgents. At the time, senior Obama administration officials went out of their way to proclaim just how impossible-to-predict the collapse of Mosul was. But interviews with a dozen U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officials, diplomats, and policy makers reveal a very different story. A catastrophe like the fall of Mosul wasn’t just predictable, these officials say. They repeatedly warned the Obama administration that something like this was going to happen. With seemingly no good choices to make in Iraq, the White House wasn’t able to listen.
“It’s simply not true that nobody saw a disaster like the fall of Mosul coming,” Ali Khedery, who served as a senior adviser at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, told The Daily Beast. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I literally predicted this in verbal warnings and in writing in 2010 that Iraq would fall apart.”
“I and a zillion other people said in 2014 that we needed to do more than the very slow and inadequate reaction,” added James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. “If [ISIS] could move in and seize Fallujah and they were on the offensive, and they were active in Mosul and Nineweh [province] too, the army was lethargic and not doing very well, at that point there was a possibility for us to provide air strikes and advisers.”
Instead, the Obama policy meandered through a series of half-measures. As the Wall Street Journal reported last month, unmanned surveillance flights over Iraq that would provide crucial overhead intelligence on areas where ISIS operated were limited to about one mission per month until about mid-June.
He's Carter reincarnate. He doesn't get that sometimes when you're a superpower, you have and must pursue shared interests with dictators. Oh wait.... Obama has fixed it so the US isn't a superpower anymore. 

Read the whole thing.

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