Boots on the ground in Iraq

Back we go into Baghdad, in a mission whose difficulty will reinforce the importance of the status-of-forces agreement Barack Obama didn’t get.  We’re (initially) sending a few hundred troops to adapt to a volatile situation that probably could have been avoided without firing a shot, if a small force of well-established US troops had been on station when ISIS decided to play “Road Warrior” with Mosul.  That would also have averted the horrific slaughter perpetrated by the terrorist invaders, as well as the economic crisis building as we speak.

But here we are, playing bad cards again, as Barack Obama’s six-year on-the-job training program still hasn’t taught him the importance of timing.  Right after declaring that ground forces absolutely would not be deployed to Iraq, the armed forces got their marching orders, as reported by CNN:

As Islamic militants continue their murderous advance in Iraq, the Pentagon is moving more firepower and manpower into the region to prepare for whatever U.S. President Barack Obama orders.

Already at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, dozens of Marines and Army troops have moved in to beef up security. Another 100 personnel are in the region to provide support if needed, the Pentagon said.

The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush and five other warships are now in the Persian Gulf. More than 500 Marines and dozens of helicopters are on standby.

A top priority: evacuate all Americans at the embassy if it comes to that.

In order to give Obama loyalists some talking points for a brutal round of Sunday shows this weekend, the troops will be “equipped for combat,” but “not authorized to engage in combat.”  So if you parse his words with an electron microscope, you can pretend the President’s actions today are consistent with his “no troops in Iraq” assurances from yesterday.

Fox News and the Associated Press report that up to a hundred special forces operators might be sent in as well, although their mission is not yet clear: training for Iraqi forces?  (That would be the swiftest and most intensive training program in history, wouldn’t it?  The Iraqis who changed into track suits and ran away at Mosul would have to learn proper soldiering from US special forces faster than Neo learned kung fu in “The Matrix.”)  Tactical and command support for Iraqi units during a massive battle for Baghdad?  Targeting for American air power?  A show of force to stiffen the spine of Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki, who just hasn’t been the same since the day he didn’t have American military power backing him up?

What happens if, God forbid, any of these soldiers are killed or captured?  Is anyone looking forward to watching Master Negotiator Barack Obama – who, let’s not forget, recently claimed he ignored US law because the Taliban told him to – cut a prisoner-swap deal with the fiends of ISIS?

Fox quotes a BBC report about fighting less than 40 miles from Baghdad, in the city of Baquba, where Sunni insurgents were briefly in control.  A remarkable passage from this report quotes the Kurds – who have their act together better than anyone else in Iraq – saying they think the shape of the country has already been permanently changed, after only a few months of pressure from ISIS, and just a few weeks of the military maneuvers that almost convinced President Obama to skip his 175th and 176th rounds of golf:

The prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, has told the BBC he thinks Iraq may not stay together as Sunni areas feel neglected by the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.

He said it would be very hard for Iraq to return to the situation that existed before the Sunni militants, spearheaded by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), took control of the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit in a rapid advance last week, and Tal Afar on Monday.

It’s yet another lesson in the importance of timing to foreign policy.  It’s not good enough to let everything go to hell, spend a few days huddled with your political spin team to gain control of domestic media headlines, and then ask the Pentagon for options.  There might not be any way to reverse the damage which has already been done… exactly as those who advocated retaining a presence in Iraq understood.

For the rest of this week, Washington will be curled in a fetal position, choking and punching itself, as the big topic of debate becomes who is “allowed” to venture an opinion on what to do in Iraq.  Democrats are still hopeful the whole thing can be pawned off on George Bush, now out of office for six years, even as Obama once again pretends to have arrived in the Oval Office yesterday.  Meanwhile, the national security and intelligence communities are working behind the scenes to educate Obama and his teenage White House staff as to why we can’t afford to lose Iraq to either al-Qaeda or Iran, no matter how much the left-wing fringe would love to crow about the ultimate failure of Bush’s intervention.   We’ll know comprehension has fully dawned on the White House when the President does something that cannot possibly be construed as merely preparing for the evacuation of our embassy in Baghdad.

Yesterday’s dizzy dance with Iran – in which Secretary of State John Kerry took to babbling about a military partnership with the mullahs, until the Pentagon and State Department rushed out to deny that any such coordination was under active consideration – demonstrates how the Administration is still putting domestic politics over national security.  They want cooperation with Iran both on, and off, the table, so that no matter what happens, they can hit the talk-show circuit to claim it was part of their plan all along.  One also suspects the famously loose-lipped Kerry was a day or two behind the White House in hearing the experts explain why legitimizing Iran as a U.S. partner, and bringing a big chunk of Iraq into their sphere of influence, is a hideous strategic error.

Obama’s Middle East policy was premised on the assumption that Western power was always and everywhere wrong, from the turn of the 20th century to the turn of the 21st.  Just pull everything out, knock over the last few Western-supported (or, in the case of Qaddafi, cowed) strongmen, let the “Arab Spring” bloom, let indigenous political cultures flourish, give a couple of nice speeches as you beam warmly down upon the new, more “authentic” Middle East…  How’s that working out for everyone?  Does anyone not named “Obama” still think Barack Obama can talk everyone into harmony?  Does anyone still think he’s a genius who can handle all foreign and domestic crises on the fly, working part-time at best, without any long-term strategy?

There’s a nasty symmetry between our domestic Big Government disasters and what’s happening in Iraq, where the fall of Mosul surprised this President as much as the crash of HealthCareDotGov allegedly did.  The difference is that this crisis can’t be resolved by screaming about the “settled law of the land” and ordering the Treasury to print up a few billion more deficit dollars to pay web designers.