Another 1,500 boots on the ground in Iraq

The running joke about how President Obama will claim he kept his “no boots on the ground” promise by ordering fresh troops deployed to Iraq to wear sneakers is starting to sound like something he might actually do.  Or, given how dense the bubble around this President has become since the midterm elections, he might just claim he never said there would be no boots on the ground.

That foolish political bluster has put Obama in a tough spot, because as Foreign Policy’s article on the new troop deployment notes, the enemy is forcing the White House to “take steps it wished to avoid.”

President Barack Obama authorized the Pentagon to double the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, bringing the number to 3,100, as the White House continues to take steps that it had wished to avoid in its escalating fight against the Islamic State.

The Pentagon announced Friday that it had received authorization from Obama to send an additional 1,500 U.S. personnel to Iraq over the coming months. Up until now the cap had been set at 1,600 U.S. troops, with roughly 1,400 already deployed, advising and assisting Iraqi security forces in their fight to halt the advances of the Islamic State, which controls a large portion of the country and has been expanding its control over the strategically vital Anbar province. The U.S. troops are also helping the Iraqis plan a major counteroffensive to reclaim lost territory that is planned for sometime next year.

The new troops will be placed under the same noncombat restriction as those already deployed, but they will be moved closer to the front lines. It will be several weeks before the first of the new troops arrive, a military official told reporters at the Pentagon.

In other words, ISIS still has the strategic initiative, and the only thing getting “degraded and destroyed” is Obama’s strategy, although it looks like we came tantalizingly close to degrading or destroying the spiritual leader of the Islamic State the other day.  Depending on who you ask, chief scumbag Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was either killed in an airstrike by the Iraqi air force on Saturday, grievously wounded, slightly wounded, or completely unharmed.  His death probably wouldn’t be a knockout punch to ISIS – let’s all remember the lesson of the Osama bin Laden kill – but it would be demoralizing to the bad guys, and a much-needed indisputable win for the Iraqis.

Sounding every bit as bubbled and out-of-touch as he has since the morning after the Democrat midterm election slaughter, Obama went on CBS’ “Face the Nation” to promise that the new troops wouldn’t go into combat – they won’t have to, since his operation against ISIS is going so well.  “The airstrikes have been very effective in degrading ISIL’s capabilities, in slowing the advance that they’re making,” the President declared, without a shred of evidence to back up that assertion.  “Now what we need is Iraqi ground troops that can begin pushing them back.”

As for his fabled promise about keeping boots off the ground, well… “As Commander-in-Chief, I’m never going to say never.”  See, I called it!  I knew he’d start claiming he never made that dopey promise!

Obama’s strategy is working so well that he’s been obliged to write secret mash notes to the Ayatollah of Iran, begging for help with fighting their common enemy in the Sunni Islamic State.  Let that sink in for a minute: Obama’s “leadership” has reduced American prestige to the point where he has to sweet-talk the Iranians into helping out against ISIS… and the Ayatollah ignored him.

“I was frankly stunned that the President of the United States would write a letter of that nature and in effect, legitimize a nation and a leadership which is violating international norms and is threatening the world,” said Obama’s 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, who you may recall was absolutely right about the rising threat of ISIS, and was mocked for his prescience by Obama.  Imagine what the reaction would have been if Romney had predicted that Obama’s ignorance of the ISIS threat would eventually lead to him going through back channels to set up an under-the-table military alliance with Iran.

That’s on top of becoming the de facto air force for the Iranian client whose ouster Obama named as a top foreign policy priority just a year ago, Bashar Assad of Syria.  Assad is delighted to see American air strikes taking out the most militarily effective (and evil) elements of the resistance to his regime.  The Turks are not happy that Assad is happy.  The Syrian resistance is really unhappy… to the point that two of the most important “moderate” rebel groups armed by the U.S. just surrendered to al-Qaeda.  They handed over their American weapons and military bases to al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise Jabhat al-Nusra, and some of their fighters also swore allegiance to the terrorist group to boot.  al-Qaeda has been making noises about using its new weapons and fighters in a bid to launch a caliphate of its own.

That’s right, sports fans: the entire movement Obama was counting on to serve as his proxies against the Islamic State on the northern front is collapsing.  Soon there won’t be much left of the Syrian resistance that hasn’t either allied with, or been absorbed by, either ISIS or al-Qaeda.  One of the few remaining non-terrorist elements in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, just found itself on the receiving end of a U.S.-led airstrike, apparently because there were fears its new leadership was considering an alliance with Jabhat al-Nusra.  “However, Ahrar members are also seen by many Syrians as moderates who protect them,” a CNN report notes, “and these strikes, if they did hit Ahrar, risk again confirming the idea that the United States is seeking to benefit the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”  

That leaves only two sides of Obama’s anti-ISIS triangle intact: the improving, but still somewhat unreliable, Iraqi military and the Kurds, who have been doing a magnificent job of holding the Islamic State at bay, but are definitely playing defense for the time being.  Judging by this NPR article, the Kurds are determined to protect their own land, but they don’t sound eager to launch any risky offensives on behalf of an Iraqi government that treats them like dirt:

The men are bitter about their treatment from Baghdad’s central government. They are never paid on time, and when they do get paid, it’s months late. On top of that, they’re ill-equipped, using aging weapons with limited reach.

“We don’t do this for money,” [Peshmerga Brigadier General Ali] Mughdeed says, looking out from the rugged mountaintop. “We do this to defend our land.”

He blames the central government for their financial misery.

Baghdad hasn’t sent the funds allocated in 2014 for the mostly autonomous Kurdish region. The Iraqi finance minister recently said the central government is close to broke, though salaries for the peshmerga are finally coming in this week, two months late.

“Unfortunately, Baghdad is behaving like these are not their citizens according to the law or to the constitution,” says Nouri Othman Sinjari, chief of staff to the prime minister of the Kurdish region.

Iraqi authorities in Baghdad dispute that claim, arguing the problem goes both ways and that Kurdish leaders are acting unilaterally, seizing territory outside the autonomous Kurdish region and pursuing independent oil deals in the midst of this crisis.

The spokesman for the peshmerga ministry, Halgord Hikmat, says some 500 peshmerga forces have been killed. The West has provided some weapons and training, but it’s just a drop in the bucket of what the forces need. The peshmerga has a nearly 700-mile frontline with the Sunni extremists of ISIS.

With the Iraqi military in tatters and the American forces long gone, the peshmerga is the only viable force to stave off ISIS in Iraq. Yet it shows no interest in advancing beyond the territories the Kurds want to claim as a part of a future independent state.

There was a spate of wistful “maybe the Islamic State is slowing down” articles from Obama-friendly media right before the election, but even those happy-face efforts were half-hearted at best; nobody can spin the non-war as anything less than a disaster.  ISIS might not be expanding as rapidly as it did during the early days of its blitzkrieg, but they’re still bringing in fresh recruits, keeping their most effective Kurdish adversaries on defense, and visiting nightmarish oppression upon captured peoples – they’ve reportedly been publishing price lists for purchasing Christian and Yazidi slaves, including some recent price drops due to soft demand that put Yazidi and Christian girls from 10 to 20 years of age within reach of the budget-conscious jihadi at just $129 a head.  Girls with blue or green eyes are available for a modest surcharge.

President Obama will need another $6 billion or so in funding from Congress for the Iraq operation.  He might not get it without some strings attached, as even some Democrats are growing uncomfortable with endless bombing runs under dubious legal authority, to debatable effect.  “I do not think the President has the ability under current authority to authorize 1,500 troops without Congress acting,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) over the weekend.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was, naturally, much more forceful on this point in a Daily Beast op-ed:

For a generation, Democrats stood up against Republican presidents who they deemed to be too eager to go to war???or too ready to put troops in harm???s way without the full consent of the American people through their elected representatives in Congress.

Where have those Democratic protectors of the constitutional authority of Congress gone? Was it always just a partisan attack on Republican presidents?

If not, when will Democrats???who so vociferously opposed a Republican president???s extraconstitutional war-making powers???stand up and oppose President Obama???s unconstitutional usurpation of war-making powers?

Yale Professor Bruce Ackerman puts it succinctly: ???The war against the Islamic State is now illegal. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 gave President Obama 60 days to gain consent from Congress and required him to end ???hostilities??? within 30 days if he failed to do so. This 90-day clock expired this week.??? And yet, there???s been no consent, and no end to the fighting.

I believe the president must come to Congress to begin a war. I also believe the War Powers Act is misunderstood; President Obama acted without true constitutional authority even before the 90 days expired, since we were not under attack at that time.

But in either case, this war is now illegal. It must be declared and made valid, or it must be ended.

Paul went on to list a variety of other areas in which Republicans have criticized Obama for abusing his authority, including immigration and ObamaCare.  “But conservatives can???t simply be angry at the president???s lawlessness when they disagree with his policies,” he warned.  “They should end their conspicuous silence about the president???s usurpation of Congress??? sole authority to declare war???even if (especially if) they support going after ISIS, as I do.”

That’s the ISIS crisis in a nutshell: Obama created it through his blinkered misreading of the situation in Iraq, and now he’s breaking the law in his effort to cobble together some minimal effort that will let him look tough, while nudging the issue off the front pages.  Those who view the Islamic State as both a strategic threat and a moral outrage – come on, civilized world, are we really going to let these guys bring back chattel slavery to go along with their barbaric slaughter of civilians and abuse of captives? – want them dealt with effectively.  The last thing we need is Obama not merely launching an illegal unilateral action, but losing to the caliphate.  And if the big “achievement” to date involves slowing the rate of their advance a bit, limiting them to terrorist attacks in Baghdad while they consolidate their conquests, and Obama is reduced to asking Iran and Syria for help because the mythological “Syrian moderates” aren’t going to take the field, then his strategy is failing.