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Iraq - Obama's No-Win Doctrine

Politics / US Politics Aug 08, 2014 - 09:43 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop

Politics

Innocent Mr Obama Addresses the Nation

Long ago in politics, in 2011, in his address to the nation from the East Room on March 18 the president said he had to act in Libya.  Without international action, he said, there would be "atrocities against [the] people." and "many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners”. Obama in 2011 also said  “The calls of the Libyan people would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun”.


Today he is now innocent. His administration's officials, for example John Kerry tell us the US can't do anything “in a multipolar world” and specifically concerning Iraq it was all the fault of George W. Bush.

Helping out Obama with a little philosophy, he could try the type of syllogism Aristotle was able to laugh at and destroy 2300 years ago

Major premise: Ignorance is innocence.
Minor premise: Innocence is beautiful.
Conclusion: Therefore we are beautiful.

But Obama is already under heavy criticism for his hesitation or refusal to “send a signal” to his western partners and allies, and send more US military aid and “limited ground-support missions” to Iraq's ever-shakier government headed by el-Maliki in Baghdad. El-Maliki isn't innocent.

In his late-evening address to the nation from the White House, August 7, Obama said he has authorized airstrikes and humanitarian water and food drops to fleeing civilians in northern  Iraq, as ISIS or 'Daech' forces push back under-equipped and under-armed Kurd Peshmerga forces and threaten the Kurd stronghold and oil town of Erbil. ISIS forces have now taken control of the Mosul dam, although their claim is denied by the Peshmerga, this dam not only supplying Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest city which ISIS took on June 10, but also supplying a swath of Iraq stretching from Mosul to Baghdad.

Kurdish Peshmerga commanders cited by ekurd.net and other sources said that while they still had a large numerical superiority of fighters compared with ISIS, they had neither the heavy weapons ISIS has, nor the  willingness of ISIS to operate as kamikaze and use terrorized civilians as human shields. Civilian atrocities by ISIS are now widely reported, only days after its new advance to the east and south began.

One Kurdish commander said his men wanted to return home alive and eat with their wives and families “but ISIS fighters want to dine in Heaven with the Prophet Mahomet”. Obama knows that too, so he will avoid “US boots on the ground” for as long as it takes. The real problem however, and totally unlike Libya in 2011, is the absence of any one single defined and located enemy. There are only shifting forces battling for towns and cities, and strategic assets of any kind – not only oil, but water, roads and bridges, power plants and military equipment.

ISIS now boasts it has fighters “from dozens of countries” in its ranks, making for constant splintering of the movement which is only united in its Apocalyptic aim of “The Grand Caliphate”. Any ground force attempt to eradicate the movement might take several hundred thousand ground troops – a nightmare.

Iraq Today, Libya Today, Syria Today

Obama in Iraq faces exactly the same can't win situation as Libya or Syria faces today. There is no single enemy and a constantly shifting “balance of forces” in a country that no longer exists. While the Baghdad government of el-Maliki clamors for military support from anywhere – Iran, the Kurds, the USA, European countries, Russia and perhaps Turkey and Azerbaijan – maintaining the pretence of a single nation with a recognized central authority is weakening and winding down.

Obama's administration has prepared US public opinion for his powerlessness, in Obama fashion. He endlessly repeats that he ran for president on his commitment to pulling all US troops out of Iraq or “ending the war”. That formal-type war ended, but several other wars of different types started. The US invasion and occupation of Iraq, its various divide-and-rule stratagems hailed as a great success against Al Qaeda in Iraq surely and certainly helped create today's situation. But being wise about that spilt milk, spilt blood and billions of lost dollars after the event is a waste of time.

Obama's administration has also pinned the blame, unsurprisingly, on George W. Bush for starting the US war in Iraq, in 2003. but Obama has nobody but himself – and his French and UK allies - to blame for the Libyan disaster. It all looked like it would be so easy – before the event. The local dictator would be thrown out (and killed), in the Libyan case without even having to put boots on the ground, and hey presto a new regime with full authority, and possibly with elections too, would pop out of the sand!

Obama's Benghazi debacle and disaster sealed those pipedreams forever. The only thing to do in Libya was, henceforth, to keep out. In Syria, after Russia and China saw and did not like what happened in Libya, it was impossible to “regime change”. The ISIS nightmare in Iraq is only a much larger and more bitter serving of the same lesson.

Too Late for Divide and Rule

Obama and his “western allies and partners” in Iraq have no choice but to try this strategy, but at a much higher level than previous. French president Hollande, talking with KRG president Massoud Barzani August 7 in Paris said that France would “aid forces opposed to ISIS” while he carefully avoided using the term 'Kurdish goverrnment forces'. Hollande said the crisis in Iraq could only be settled by “international action starting in the Security Council”, which will be the prelude to a full and supposedly final carve-up of Iraq.

Unfortunately time is working against any significant action by “the international community” which has had a horse and cart driven through it by the intensifying standoff with Russia over Ukraine. Russian and Chinese distrust of the west in general, and “regime change” in particular, is now massive. The pretence of “the international community” being tangible and real and united has withered or shattered. It is itself dived – with no ruler, whatever Obama might like to dream while playing golf.

Iraq has been touted in France's Hollande-serving media as a new opportunity to unite and mobilize “the international community” but coming the same day as Russian counter-sanctions on food exports by countries including France, the UK and USA this is typical Hollande pipedreaming. Divide and rule only works when there are approximately equal and opposed forces inside a real country. When all those parameters change, the strategy is likely to be a disaster – as the USA found out, belatedly, after its “Surge” in Iraq.

Therefore there are first has to be unity, before the dividing and conquering can start. Put another way, how do you divide an already divided and shifting set of powers and forces in a country that doesn't exist?

Also in practice, Hollande's brave talk about Security Council action can and will only lead to exactly what Obama has now ordered – airstrikes against some ISIS motorized columns and food drops to some fleeing civilians. Piecemeal and stopgap. No western country will be putting serious numbers of troops into Iraq, for reasons that feature ISIS kamikaze tactics and its more-than-willingness to slaughter civilians.

ISIS is not a country but a movement. It claims it is “creating a Caliphate”, but the nearest equivalent to that, in modern history, was the Ottoman Empire. It was heavily divided internally, which for some time was attenuated but never solved by its strategy of external conquest and war. The differences between ISIS and any modern state or entity or empire are however so enormous that it trumps any comparisons and defies all logic.

ISIS could or might be divided by physical means – bombardment. It could or might then reappear Hydra-style and even more menacing. With the just-possible exception of Saudi Arabia, no regional country wants a Caliphate, either Sultan-size or smaller but the major “technical and strategic” problems for fighting ISIS include its ever-growing number of hardened fighters from Georgia, Chechnya, Dagestan and other countries where Russia intervened either wholly or in part to stamp out Islamic extremists. Thousands of former Baathists of Saddam Hussein's army are also either direct or indirect allies of ISIS.

Obama and his “western allies and partners” have a very tough row to hoe in Iraq. The tipping point in fact happened a long while back, and like a bag of mercury thrown on the floor, the beads are going to be hard – or impossible – to scrabble back into their original shape. Whether or not ISIS goes on a sabotage binge of oil and gas installations or decides to flood Mosul and Baghdad remains to be seen. Too late now.

By Andrew McKillop

Contact: xtran9@gmail.com

Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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