A Whole New War

So last night, Barack Obama finally unveiled his strategy for dealing with ISIS (you may remember them; he was joking about them earlier this year). For all the Republican carping about his “I don’t have a strategy yet” gaffe, I didn’t mind it. ISIS is a difficult issue to tackle. Do we go to war? If so, for what purpose? Can we actually destroy ISIS? Is containment possible? These are not easy issues to grapple with.

His strategy is detailed here, although calling it a strategy is a bit generous. It’s mainly a continuation of our existing policies (with one notable change that I’ll get to) He wants to expand the bombing campaign, train the Iraqi and Kurdish armies, attack ISIS in Syria, arm “moderate” Syrian rebels, try get Saudi Arabia and others to help out and keep American troops off the ground. I also suspect there is a part seven: quietly get Iran to help out. But you can’t say that openly without opening yet another sectarian rift.

I’ve been a bit concerned lately that this country might go down yet another bloody rabbit-hole to fight ISIS. And after last night, that concern remains. The President’s tone and words sounded awfully familiar. It could have been any number of the speeches that ultimately resulted in us going to Iraq back in 2003. And this incremental ratcheting up of our involvement leads me to believe that more is planned. He says we won’t be putting any troops in. But what do you call nearly 500 “advisors”? I call it the camel’s nose in the tent.

The major change is that he will order airstrikes into Syria and help Syrian rebels, hoping that we’ll somehow manage to fight Assad and ISIS simultaneously without empowering either of them. And we’ll also train Syria rebels, hoping they won’t join ISIS after their training. Absurdly, however, Obama is claiming that he doesn’t have to get permission of Congress because of … the 2001 AUMF that authorized going into Afghanistan. Seriously:

Obama’s using the law that authorized attacks against al Qaeda to justify his new fight in Syria and Iraq. One small problem: ISIS and al Qaeda are at each others’ throats. Legal experts were shocked to learn Wednesday that the Obama administration wants to rely on that 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaeda for the new ISIS war.

“On its face this is an implausible argument because the 2001 AUMF requires a nexus to al Qaeda or associated forces of al Qaeda fighting the United States,” said Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “Since ISIS broke up with al Qaeda it’s hard to make that argument.”

You may remember that the Bush people floated the idea of going into Iraq without Congressional approval based on the 2001 AUMF. They ultimately changed their minds because it was absurd (and ultimately unnecessary, as Congress punted the war power as soon as they could). It’s even more absurd now. The 2001 AUMF was put in place to get at the people who carried out 9/11. It’s not a blanket approval to attack anyone we can call a terrorist. Obama might as well be citing the 1801 law to attack the Barbary Pirates.

Frankly, if there is any doubt, the President should go to Congress. Congress’s war power it not something to be bypassed or ignored by legal mumbo-jumbo. It is a critical check on Presidential power (on those rare occasions when our spineless Congress uses it).

Needless to say, the war-mongers are coming out of the woodwork to proclaim that they were right all along and that Obama needs to do a lot more. Dick Cheney is one of the leaders in saying that Obama fumbled Iraq after the Bush Administration had “won” it. Weigel:

The timer starts four years after the start of the Iraq war, and two years after Cheney insisted, pre-surge, that Iraqi insurgent groups were in their “last throes”?

Yes, that’s the new rule. We are to analyze the situation of 2014 by crediting the Bush administration not for the Iraq war, but for post-surge Iraq. This has been the argument since 2011, when the Obama administration failed to extend the three-year status of forces agreement that (to the satisfaction of hawks) Bush had handed to him. The theme at the time, as Charles Krauthammer put it, was that Obama was “handed a war that was won,” and he blew it. (There were 54 deaths in the risidual coalition forces in Iraq in 2011, so being assigned there wasn’t exactly like being assigned to peaceful South Korea.

It’s not clear at all that having more American forces there would have done anything other than get some of our boys in the crossfire. What Cheney and Krauthammer and McCain are saying is that we should have had a permanent surge. But it’s not even clear that such a massive presence would have stopped ISIS. Rand Paul has argued that it was the initial invasion that set the stage for ISIS, not our withdrawal. Frankly, I don’t think we need lessons on how to stabilize Iraq from the people who screwed the pooch in the first place.

John McCain is also out there proclaiming vindication to anyone who will listen because he wanted to bomb Syria last year. Of course, McCain wanted us to push Assad out of power and was opposed because people feared the power vacuum would be filled by … groups like ISIS. But I’ll give McCain partial credit. If you spend your political career advocating that we should bomb everyone, eventually you will mention someone we should have bombed. McCain is like a stopped clock that is right once a day and then explodes.

Look, I think we can help keep the thoroughly evil ISIS in check, mostly by empowering the Iraqis who oppose it. But it’s not worth one drop of American blood and I’m not sure it’s worth any drop of treasure. Despite hysterical claims to the contrary, ISIS is not currently a threat to us. They are evil and vicious and if we can do something to stop them we should. But, in the end, the only people who can stop ISIS are the people who live in its shadow.

Obama’s speech, however, indicates he wants to move closer and closer to a war footing.

Comments are closed.

  1. TxAg94

    Two things, I keep having this nagging feeling that ISIS is getting help from somewhere else. Perhaps China, perhaps Russia, who knows. It just seems like all these little groups are similar to the various dominoes we said we had to keep upright in the Cold War. Any number of countries, or combination of, could easily be using these militant groups to keep up off balance, unfocused and burning through money and international relationships. Maybe I’ve been reading spy thrillers too much but something feels organized about the bigger picture of it all.

    Second, seems like American support for fighting ISIS is high so why won’t the President go to Congress? I wonder if it has more to do with both sides of Congress NOT WANTING him to go through them. Maybe all of this is a stall until after the mid-terms.

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  2. Xetrov

    Maybe all of this is a stall until after the mid-terms.

    Bingo. Everything coming out of Washington is an effort towards the midterm at the moment. After the midterm, everything coming out of Washington will be an effort towards 2016. We live in a perpetual election with leaders who make decisions based on getting votes.

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  3. hist_ed

    “Despite hysterical claims to the contrary, ISIS is not currently a threat to us.”

    Just like the Taliban/Al Qaeda around August 2001.

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  4. hist_ed

    So resident war monger here. I really think we need to stomp these assholes. Partly because we have no idea if they are a threat. We know that they like killing non-Muslims. We know they are pissed at us because we bombed them. We know that there are hundreds or thousands of European and US passport holders among them. It would be easy for them to send five or ten people to the US, have them buy rifles and then send them to shoot up half a dozen malls all on the same day (or set up as snipers in half a dozen big cities during rush hour). As long as the religious nuts don’t care if they die, they can hit us.

    The other reason we need to we need to hit them hard is that we need to show the world we still can. While our military is not quite as capable as we might hope, it is still by far the most lethal force on the planet. It would be a salutary message to say “Hey you killed two Americans. Now we are going to kill about 20,000 of you and break you.”

    We should not re-occupy Iraq. Go in, kill as many ISIS fuckers as we can, hand the territory back to the Iraqis and then install some heartless bastard to run the place and load him up with guns. Forget about democracy for the Iraqis, they obviously can’t handle it. Maybe we should give the Kurds a chance to run the place-they seem to be the only ones with any clue about how to govern.

    People forget after the muddle of the occupation that we the conquest or Iraq took a few weeks and was, militarily speaking, something of a cakewalk. And ISIS is not the force that the Sadaam era Iraqi army was.

    Or just nuke ‘em from orbit. Only way to be sure.

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  5. Poosh

    ISIS have at least showed to the world actual Islam’s true face and intentions. Still don’t see many of these moderate Muslims in our own populations protesting them …

    They won’t stop until the world is brought under heel. The whole globe. ISIS, however, seem clumsy and prone to errors. I’m not sure they could garner the competence to carry out the strikes on the West that they desire. ISIS are clearly biting off more than they can chew (surely?) if they go after Russia and Iran at the same time. They’re opening up too many fronts.

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  6. Hal_10000 *

    Just like the Taliban/Al Qaeda around August 2001.

    They were not in the middle of their own civil war and had already demonstrated they could strike in the US (the first bombing). If ISIS wins their civil war, they might become a threat.

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  7. hist_ed

    Actually, they were in the middle of a Civil War. Ahmad Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance, was assassinated Sept 9th, 2001. While the Taliban controlled the majority of Afghan territory, the Northern Alliance had been fighting for years. Our entire Afghan strategy was predicated on the fact that there was a significant anti-Taliban force to support.
    While ISIS has not demonstrated that they can strike the US, is waiting until they do so to take them seriously really a great plan?

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  8. Hal_10000 *

    While ISIS has not demonstrated that they can strike the US, is waiting until they do so to take them seriously really a great plan?

    There are a lot of groups that want to attack the United States. We can’t go after all of them. We have to concentrate on the ones that present the greatest threat.

    One of the things we should be doing is identifying their financial support-wherever it comes from-and cutting it off. Without cash flow, groups like this usually fall apart and wind up killing each other so we don’t have to. Kind of like the mafia.

    Saudi Arabia. Our “ally”.

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  9. Poosh

    Once you start blowing them up from the air and using them as rag dolls, they’ll no longer be the strong horse, things will calm down.

    However a lot of damage has already been done, a lot of innocent people and good people have tasted true Islam and are now dead. They’ve already proved Islam can rise again. And Obama et al seemed to be fully aware this was happening, yet stood back and let it happen.

    Why? Pure stupidity? Liberalism? Or something else?

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  10. Section8

    Saudi Arabia. Our “ally”.

    Yeah I’ve grown a little tired of those aholes. Anyhow, Obama is not getting much backing from the rest of the world on this. Especially in the ME. I was hoping his strategy would be more of a response that we would supply help, but the rest of the world needs to take charge. Again, they’ll sit back and do nothing, then use us an excuse for whatever happens down the road. If the “moderate” Muslim world has at best a muted interest in stopping these guys, then to me there are no victims over there. Not our problem.

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  11. hist_ed

    “There are a lot of groups that want to attack the United States. We can’t go after all of them. We have to concentrate on the ones that present the greatest threat.”

    Exactly. What groups, in your opinion, are a greater threat than ISIS?
    They control a nation sized territory, they are flush with cash and have significant oil revenue, they are ideological fanatics that have demonstrated they are willing to die for Allah, they openly declare that their goal is to take as much territory as possible, they have directly threatened the US, they disregard any threat of retaliation from the US, they have members who are US and EU citizens who can travel freely home (do you really think we know every American who has joined up?) and they are recruiting more, they have shown they have a desire for publicity from gruesome acts and they are pissed at us and think we are weak pussies (justifiably so).
    So really, who is the greater threat?

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  12. mrblume

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  13. AlexInCT

    I would be more interested to find out whom is giving ISIS/ISIL their marching orders. Remember how desperate the Obama crime syndicate was to start bombing Syria? Well now they are getting to go after whatever group they really wanted to hit again by pretending they are taking action against ISIS/ISIL, in yet another conflict that will grind down people and equipment in our armed forces, with no clear objective or outcome. I also am willing to bet tha as soon as it becomes politically expedient they will throw whatever troops they put in harms way under the bus.

    Democrats can’t be trusted with power (not that republicans do much better, but they are not as corrupt and evil as these democrats truly are). Find out whom this WH really wants t target out there and why. That’s the relevant issue at hand.

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  14. Iconoclast

    On the rare occasion that I begin to feel our civilization may be a superior moral accomplishment…

    “Rare occasion”? This begs the question of how you define “moral accomplishment”. You consider video recording yourself beheading an innocent victim to be a “superior moral accomplishment”? Or even an “equal moral accomplishment” to what the West has accomplished? Or are you simply blind to what the West has accomplished?

    It strikes me that as a war journalist, if you really have to die on the job, you’d want to be a beheading. It seems to be the only way to elicit empathy from American right wingers. Too bad if it is the Syrian army that murders you; no avenging hydrogen bombs for you.

    You really do have a twisted view of things, don’t you? You seem to revel in making utterly inappropriate analogies. There is a world of difference between getting caught in crossfire and having your deliberate, targeted execution video recorded and released to the internet. This has nothing to do with “sympathy” and everything to do with sending messages to one’s enemy, namely, ISIS sending a message to its enemy, the USA. But then, you mock the concept of treason, think you’re just like Jesus and, well, pretend to sit on a pretty high horse in general. You are a real piece of work, assuming you’re for real at all. Perhaps you’re just a troll. You certainly act like one.

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  15. AlexInCT

    This has nothing to do with “sympathy” and everything to do with sending messages to one’s enemy, namely, ISIS sending a message to its enemy, the USA

    In case people don’t get the message, remember that in the islamic culture beheadings are the mandated punishment for criminals. The point these douchebags are making is that they consider us all criminals for not believing what they believe in and for refusing to bow down to them. It would be the equivalent of us westerners electrocuting or using lethal injections on them for their crimes.

    I am NOT justifying their actions: I am pointing out how fucked up they are because they truly believe we are all fucking doomed and criminals. We ignore that little fact at our own expense.

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