Iraq War III is chugging along right on schedule, the mission creeping with increasing speed. The latest: Gen. Jack Dempsey, El Commando Supremo, is saying he may have to send in more ground troops:
"’I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that [Iraqi security] forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by US forces, but we’re certainly considering it,’ Dempsey said….
"Even with potential US involvement in ground combat looming, Dempsey and his boss, defense secretary Chuck Hagel, said further troop increases would be ‘modest,’ and not on the order of the 150,000 US troops occupying Iraq at the height of the 2003-2011 war.
"’I just don’t foresee a circumstance when it would be in our interest to take this fight on ourselves with a large military contingent,’ Dempsey said. But should the Iraqi military prove unwilling to take back ‘al-Anbar province and Ninewa province’ – the majority of territory in Iraq seized by ISIS – or should new Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi exclude Sunnis from power, ‘I will have to adjust my recommendations,’ Dempsey said."
You’ll recall Dempsey raised this prospect back in September, only to get slapped down by the real Commander-in-chief, who basically reiterated his "no ground troops" pledge – and then proceeded to send yet more ground troops to Iraq, doubling their number in recent days.
Note the various conditions Dempsey attaches to the notion that the US role in Iraq War III is going to be limited: if the Iraqis are "willing" – not able? – to "take back al-Anbar and Ninewa province[s]," if the new Iraqi prime minister isn’t mean to the Sunnis – if, if, if.
So what’s our policy? You can’t really tell from here what this most "transparent" of administrations is up to, and what’s particularly scary is that one doubts whether even they know. Obama says one thing, and then does another. Dempsey says more, Obama says less. This game of seesaw between the President and Dempsey is a bit banana-republic-anish – I mean, who’s in charge here, exactly? Or are we being fooled into thinking Obama is the "reluctant interventionist," as he cynically plays the game once played by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the run up to our last world war?
FDR, you’ll recall, pledged "again and again" that "your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars" – even as he was scheming and plotting to get us in by doing everything possible to provoke a German attack on our trans-Atlantic shipping. While FDR pussyfooted around – or appeared to – his allies and advisors clamored for more decisive measures, to which he eventually and gladly gave in.
Whatever the President’s real views, we are sliding down the Iraqi slope pretty rapidly. Hardly a week goes by when we don’t hear of another few hundred GIs being quietly shipped to Iraq – "non-combat" troops, to be sure. Yes, they’re going over there to engage in some pretty dangerous and potentially lethal "non-combat" – and when they start getting killed in numbers high enough to notice, will they come back in non-bodybags?
The vagueness isn’t all on the War Party’s side, however: the anti-interventionists in Congress, such as they are, don’t look to me like models of clarity. The usual suspects on the Democratic side of the aisle have been so low-key as to be nearly subliminal on this subject. On the Republican side, I hear complaints from Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Justin Amash that only Congress has the power to go to war, Obama is violating the Constitution, blah blah blah – but this really evades the key point, which is: Is this our war? Do we need to re-invade Iraq, or is it time to let the people of the region sort this one out by themselves?
I don’t know if Rep. Amash has gone into detail on this matter, but Sen. Paul, who is contemplating a presidential run, certainly has – although the more he talks about it the less clear his position seems to be. He’s said he’s in favor of "destroying ISIS," but he’s also ruled out US ground troops and kind of implied that he’d let the Syrians, the Iraqis, and the Iranians take care of the problem, while the US lobs bombs in the general direction of the Bad Guys every so often.
As I said in this interview with Kurt Wallace of Rare – citing the evil David Frum’s infamous attack on antiwar conservatives – "war is the great clarifier." You’re either for it, or against it: there’s no in-between. As we careen down that slippery slope, back into the Iraqi quagmire, two key votes are coming up in Congress: a re-jiggering of the original Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and appropriations for US military operations in Iraq. The anti-interventionists, if they raise their heads during this debate, will have their work cut out for them in trying to limit the scope of the AUMF while tying funding to some kind of check on the nature and extent of our involvement.
Looking at the politics of this, it’s clear that by the time the presidential sweepstakes begin in earnest – with actual voting in primaries, interspersed by occasional intra-Republican debates – the ISIS scare will have passed as quickly and definitively as the Ebola scare, and largely for the same reason, i.e. it was never that big a deal to begin with. Perhaps some new domestic crisis will rear its head – Ferguson exploding, or the economy imploding – and the pressure will be off Sen. Paul. Yet there’s always a new foreign policy scare waiting just around the next corner – the War Party will make sure of that.
Whether it’s Iraq, Ukraine, or some as yet unanticipated and equally ginned up "crisis," it’s always something – some new reason why we can’t focus on the very real problems here in our own country and must instead let ourselves be jerked around by a band of savages in the wilds of Badlandistan. The War Party lives for this sort of thing – and so do the jihadis, who revel in their weirdly symbiotic relationship with the "Crusaders," as they call us. As Osama bin Laden put it:
"All we have to do is send two mujaheddin … to raise a small piece of cloth on which is written ‘al-Qaeda in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses."
The generals race there, with the politicians not far behind. However, in the race for the White House, 2016, the one politician who lags behind the others may gain the ultimate advantage.