WASHINGTON – Based on President Obama’s tone and rather relaxed demeanor as he spoke about what the United States intends to do to contain the current Iraq crisis, I have to conclude that he has good intelligence indicating that, while the situation in Iraq is serious, it is not catastrophic.
How bad is the situation in Iraq?
I really hope it is so. Otherwise it would be impossible to ignore the huge contrast between an Iraq on the verge of civil war (that’s what we thought) and a President that talks about Iraq’s predicament with considerable detachment.
Media talk about catastrophe, President Obama describes long term plans.
Crisis or problem?
Indeed, on one side we have news media accounts of a country on the verge of collapse, whose soldiers are literally running away in front of a (not especially large) enemy force that materialized almost out of nothing, and that literally in a matter of days gobbled one third of Iraq.
And on the other side we have a US President who rather calmly describes a US multi-pronged “Iraq Plan” based on long-term counter terror and “terror containment” strategies, the (time-consuming) formation of broad-based political coalitions, diplomacy, negotiations and extremely limited US military actions, to be undertaken, in the future, if and when necessary, (these would include dispatching a few hundred additional US military trainers to Iraq).
What can I say? I hope that the President is getting good intelligence. I hope that we have seen the worst of the ISIL (or ISIS) onslaught. May be they have run out of gas. May be it was easy for them to overrun areas inhabited mostly by Sunnis. May be Baghdad is not in danger.
If it were indeed so, then President Obama’s action plan –a plan that assumes that time is not our enemy– can work.
In his White House press conference, the President very sensibly pointed out that it is impossible to have a country at peace if the Shiites in power in Iraq do not embrace genuinely inclusive policies regarding the large Sunni minority. Sunni resentment will make it easier for Sunni jihadists like ISIL to find more support in Sunni areas in Northern Iraq. Therefore it is sensible for Obama to recommend the establishment of a more enlightened government in Baghdad. All well and good.
Time on our side?
However, as I said above, all this assumes that we have time to encourage new political arrangements, and broad-based international coalitions aimed at containing and ultimately defeating transnational threats such as ISIL. I only hope that the President is offering these –by definition– long term approaches (and hopefully solutions) because his intelligence people reassured him that the situation on the ground is not that bad, after all.
If the opposite is true, if Iraq is about to collapse, then the carefully laid out plan that Obama just presented would be useless. You do not discuss a new preventative health care program when a comatose patient has just been rushed to the ER and the doctors are fighting to keep him alive.