As the crisis in Iraq continues to escalate, with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) vowing to attack Iraqi Army forces head on by advancing on Baghdad, U.S. war hawks are pressuring President Obama to intervene militarily. Critical voices, however, warn that U.S. invasion is the root cause of the unfolding violence—not the solution.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, President Obama said his military advisers are monitoring events in Iraq closely and that he and his team are "looking at all the options" in order to offer assistance to the Iraqi government. “I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foot hold in either Iraq or Syria," said Obama, portending a decision about the possibility of U.S. military involvement in the coming weeks, if not days.
Prominent U.S. war hawks have put forth a narrative that blames the unfolding violence in Iraq on the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. soldiers.
On Thursday morning, the Pentagon delivered a briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the deteriorating situation in Iraq. As they exited the briefing, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham made comments to The Guardian's Dan Roberts.
"We are facing a disaster here, not only in Iraq but Syria," said McCain of the situation. "Extremist groups now control more territory than at any time in history."
"What I heard today scared the hell out of me," said Sen. Graham. "The briefing was chilling … Iraq is falling apart."
McCain said the U.S. failure "to leave forces behind in Iraq is the reason that Senator Graham and I predicted that this might happen and unfortunately our worst fears are being realized."
Offering his solution to the crisis, McCain said President Obama "should get rid of his entire national security team, including the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and bring the team in who won the conflict in Iraq in to turn this situation around."
Speaker of the House John Boehner also chimed in, calling for immediate action. "I think what we should do is provide the equipment and technical assistance that the Iraqis are requesting," said Boehner on the House floor. "It's not like we haven't seen this problem coming for over a year, and it's not like we haven't seen … these terrorists moving in and taking control. They're 100 miles from Baghdad, and where's the president? Taking a nap!"
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Obama's real problem, writes Robert Parry, is his failure to make "a clean break with the neocon strategies of the Bush years and for not purging the U.S. government of hawks who are too eager to use military force."Others say the real and original culprit of the current crisis resides in the misguided and illegal U.S. invasion carried out by the Bush administration in 2003.
"The emerging neocon-preferred narrative," explains veteran journalist Robert Parry, "is that the jihadist victory in the northern city of Mosul and the related mess in neighboring Syria are the fault of President Barack Obama for not continuing the U.S. military occupation of Iraq indefinitely and for not intervening more aggressively in Syria’s civil war."
Obama's "real problem," according to Parry, was not removing troops in 2011 but his failure to make "a clean break with the neocon strategies of the Bush years and for not purging the U.S. government of hawks who are too eager to use military force."
"Rather than adopt realistic approaches toward achieving political solutions," argues Parry, "Obama has often caved in when confronted with pressure from Official Washington’s still influential neocons and the mainstream media that follows their lead."
Writing for The Guardian on Thursday, journalist and commenter Owen Jones recounts how anti-war protesters who marched in opposition to the war in 2003 are singular in having their pre-invasion stance vindicated. In the single largest protest in world history, those who marched in cities around the world on February 15 warned that the U.S.-led invasion would not only cause immediate death and destruction but unleash other and long-felt catastrophes inside Iraq and across the region.
According to Jones, who counts himself among them, says even the anti-war movement failed to fully appreciate just how destructive the invasion would ultimately be:
We were wrong because however disastrous we thought the consequences of the Iraq war, the reality has been worse. The US massacres in Fallujah in the immediate aftermath of the war, which helped radicalize the Sunni population, culminating in an assault on the city with white phosphorus. The beheadings, the kidnappings and hostage videos, the car bombs, the IEDs, the Sunni and Shia insurgencies, the torture declared by the UN in 2006 to be worse than that under Saddam Hussein, the bodies with their hands and feet bound and dumped in rivers, the escalating sectarian slaughter, the millions of displaced civilians, and the hundreds of thousands who died: it has been one never-ending blur of horror since 2003.
The invasion was justified as an indispensable part of the struggle against al-Qaida. Well, to be fair, large swaths of Iraq have not been handed over to al-Qaida: they are now run by Isis, a group purged from al-Qaida for being too extreme. Iraq and Syria are trapped in a bloody feedback loop: the growth of Isis in Iraq helped corrupt the Syrian rebellion, and now the Syrian insurgency has fueled the breakdown of Iraq, too. Those who believe that the west should have armed Syria's rebels should consider the fact that Isis reportedly raided an arms depot in Syria which was stocked with CIA help. Support from western-backed dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Qatar has fueled the Syrian extremists now spilling over into Iraq.