The pundit class came out in full force after President Barack Obama authorized air strikes on Iraq when the situation deteriorated rapidly. Unsurprisingly, ghosts of past foreign interventions loom large over the conversation.
Time’s Michael Crowley defended Obama’s decision to intervene in Iraq:
Did Obama flip-flop on a matter as serious as genocide? That would be too glib a conclusion. Seven years after Obama’s comments in New Hampshire, Iraq is a different place. The U.S. Army is long gone, and taking action there doesn’t prolong an ongoing occupation. Nor is Obama ordering anything like a reinvasion of the country. He has authorized — though not yet specifically ordered — only limited strikes against ISIS fighters in the region. “We are not launching a sustained US campaign against [ISIS] here,” a senior Administration official told reporters Thursday night.
What’s more, Obama’s new urgency, while framed mainly in humanitarian terms, is about something more. Obama is also prepared to use air strikes to prevent Sunni militants from storming the Kurdish capital of Erbil — a vital city to an important regional ally, and one the U.S. would protect even if dozens of U.S. diplomats and military advisers were not stationed there. If Obama decides to strike at IS, then, he’ll have strategic and national security reasons, as well as humanitarian ones, to do so.
Glenn Greenwald is more skeptical about both the outcome and the motivation:
For those who ask “what should be done?,” has the hideous aftermath of the NATO intervention in Libya – hailed as a grand success for “humanitarian interventions” – not taught the crucial lessons that (a) bombing for ostensibly “humanitarian” ends virtually never fulfills the claimed goals but rather almost always makes the situation worse; (b) the U.S. military is not designed, and is not deployed, for “humanitarian” purposes?; and (c) the U.S. military is not always capable of “doing something” positive about every humanitarian crisis even if that were really the goal of U.S. officials?
The suffering in Iraq is real, as is the brutality of ISIS, and the desire to fix it is understandable. There may be some ideal world in which a superpower is both able and eager to bomb for humanitarian purposes. But that is not this world. Just note how completely the welfare of Libya was ignored by most intervention advocates the minute the fun, glorious, exciting part – “We came, we saw, he died,” chuckled Hillary Clinton – was over.
But Joe Klein posits that Iraq is patently different from Libya:
The answer should be obvious: the chaos in Libya is a civil war among competing tribes. It is part of a regional struggle to redraw the straight lines on the maps that were drawn by Europeans 100 years ago. It will be a bloody fight for a generation and, in most cases, will be peripheral to our national interests. But when a terrorist group establishes an actual state, as seems to be the case with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, it is an entirely different story. The world cannot tolerate a safe haven from which attacks can be launched against religious minorities, as is now happening, or against us–which is the stated intent of the ISIS leadership.
At the Washington Monthly, Ed Kilgore admires the narrow scope of Obama’s intervention:
On the face of it at least, the airstrikes appear limited and appropriate to the opportunity and risk. The humanitarian emergency seems real enough. The strategic impact of ISIS overrunning the Kurdish capital would be large. Yes, Obama had hoped to avoid any limited military action in Iraq at least until such time as the country had a truly viable government. But an autonomous Kurdistan is a pretty important part of any future configuration in the region, and a constant obstacle to the creation of an ISIS megastate. Temporary airstrikes and aid to stabilize the situation seem sensible according to what we know (which may not be a lot) of the facts on the ground. Any “floodgates” fears would seem to ignore the bright line Obama has drawn against any ground troops under any circumstances.
Yet Max Fisher worried that the narrow scope of Obama’s intervention will send the wrong message:
The United States will use military force against ISIS if — and only if — the group threatens Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region. That is the red line. ...
If you are a member of ISIS, here is how you might hear Obama's message: Stay away from Iraqi Kurdistan, and the rest of northern Iraq is yours to keep. Based on Obama's words and actions so far, you would not be so wrong.
Members of Congress also sounded off:
Airstrikes needed to protect U.S. personnel and Christian refugees in Iraq http://t.co/HBwJYRkTBi— Candice Miller (@CandiceMiller) August 8, 2014
Jeff Goldberg called for an alliance with the Kurds last month, writing, “if Obama is interested in grappling with the reality of the Middle East; if he is interested in pursuing justice on behalf of oppressed people; and if he is interested in midwifing a nation that will be a strong ally of the U.S. and a vigorous opponent of Islamist terror — then he will reconsider the U.S.’s Baghdad-centered policies and align himself with the Kurds' aspirations.”
If only the Syrian opposition had ever told the world that thousands of innocents were on the verge of dying suddenly....— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) August 8, 2014
No consensus, no surprise.