US must take a careful and limited path on Iraq crisis

June 13, 2014 

Iraq, a land long ripped by explosions, bloodshed and fierce religious and tribal divides, appears at last to be coming apart.

Kurdish forces have taken control of the oil-rich north. Iraqi soldiers are deserting before waves of Sunni insurgents. Iran is poised to enter the conflict to protect its fellow Shiites. The chaotic national government is frozen by its divisions as Baghdad, the capital of a nation that seems no longer to exist, prepares for invasion from all directions.

President Obama has wisely resisted calls for the United States to become re-involved militarily in the nation it invaded and tried to rebuild before leaving in 2011. The president said options for helping Iraq are being weighed, but he ruled out involving U.S. troops. U.S. action is also limited by the failure of Iraq’s government to support a common plan and response.

“The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” Obama said.

Going back now would be as futile and dangerous as it was to go into Iraq in the first place. In contrast to the rash and hugely costly decision to invade by President George W. Bush, Obama is taking a careful and deliberative approach and avoiding putting Americans in harm’s way when Americans are not directly threatened.

While Obama’s restraint has kept the United States out of battles in Syria, Ukraine and, so far, Iraq, some Republicans continue to rattle sabers at every conflict. U.S. Rep. Howard (Buck) McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is one of them. He wants the president to stop deliberating and start launching a significant response.

“The White House has a history of ‘considering all options’ while choosing none,” McKeon said in a written statement. “There are no quick-fix solutions to this crisis, and I will not support a one-shot strike that looks good for the cameras but has no enduring effect.”

If truth is the first casualty of war, then the next, at least on the part of some Republicans, is memory. Sen. John McCain, whose tendency to rant has made his opinion easily dismissed, is claiming that Iraq had achieved a stability under the U.S. that was lost because of Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq entirely. How long did Americans abide by such Republican claims of “making progress” in Iraq during the Bush years only to see more U.S. soldiers die and the Iraqi government founder?

Fortunately, the administration and the nation remember the terrible losses in soldiers and treasure the United States endured in Iraq and have learned, again, the limits of what can be accomplished by bombings and invasions.

Still, it is painful to watch Iraq implode. Iraq’s innocents have suffered unrelenting trauma from Saddam Hussein’s murderous rule to the years of terrorist bombings that followed the U.S. invasion and the violence that flared anew after the U.S. withdrawal.

Iraq was never a true nation of common bonds. It is tribes pulled uncomfortably together by national borders drawn by European powers.

Now it appears it is coming undone, and there is little the United States can do to stop the inevitable unraveling of a country that never truly was one.

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