April 12, 2024

Getting right and wrong in Iraq and Syria

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 12 November 2014


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Getting right and wrong in Iraq and Syria

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – President Obama waited until after the election, and until late Friday afternoon before announcing another troop build-up in Iraq. They wouldn’t be combat troops, he stressed, but he wanted the American people to know that he had authorized another 1,500 troops to join the 1,400 already there, a doubling of the U.S. commitment.

These new troops, like the ones who have been there, are to assist the Iraqi army with intelligence, logistics and training. They will not be on the front lines fighting, and it’s unclear whether they will serve as forward observers, moving to the front lines with the Iraqis, which the military has been telling the administration is needed, or the air campaign is literally flying blind in Iraq and Syria, not knowing where the targets are.

It is likely coincidental that one of the military’s more effective attacks last weekend occurred on the heels of Obama’s announcement. The U.S.-led coalition hit a convoy of Islamic State fighters in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, and for several days, the administration let it be known that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi might have been among those killed in the series of air strikes.

There is a $10 million reward for the capture or killing of Baghdadi, but the administration has not been able to confirm his death. And while the ISIS leader’s demise would boost morale on the U.S.-led side, the ideology fueling the jihadist movement would not die with him.

Two new books contributing to the debate over how to confront this new global threat include President Bush’s tribute to his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and how the father and son presidencies view the wars they launched against Iraq (hint: positively) and a book by retired three-star Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, that argues the U.S. has failed so miserably in Iraq and Afghanistan, that there should be a public inquiry into what went wrong.

“Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars” is an account of Bolger’s command in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with a message to policymakers that they should be humbled by the failure of so much firepower to fulfill U.S. goals. In a television interview, Bolger had rare words of praise for President Obama for recognizing that the current crisis in Iraq and Syria cannot be addressed with tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops but only with a coordinated strategy that draws on U.S. allies in the region.

He praised Obama for his candor in saying that it would take years of sustained commitment to roll back ISIS’s gains and keep the extremist movement at bay.

Bush’s book, titled simply, “A Portrait of my Father,” is the memoir his self-effacing father never wrote, and the son gives him his due as a family man and as a leader. In an interview that aired on National Public Radio, Bush was asked to compare how he and his father handled a common enemy, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The interviewer noted that he had devoted much of the book to the two wars, which prompted Bush to interject that it was just 20 pages. If anyone expected the former president to give any ground on Iraq, or express any regrets or second choices, it’s not happening. Instead, Bush found a number of positive comparisons, praising his father and by implication himself, for understanding that when a president speaks, he has to mean it, and he has to follow through.

Any suggestion that the invasion of Iraq didn’t work out as well as his father’s liberation of Kuwait, Bush dismisses by saying the world he faced was more complicated, it was a post-911 world.  The choices he made shaped the world Obama inherited, and on it goes with the decisions Obama is making today, and what they portend for his presidency, and for the presidencies that follow.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.




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