The United States is once again at war in Iraq — sort of.
Thursday night President Barack Obama authorized humanitarian airdrops to the some 40,000 Yazidi refugees trapped on Mt. Sinjar and “limited” airstrikes on the ISIS terrorists who want to exterminate them.
The belated American intervention comes at the 11th hour for Iraq, where it is rapidly approaching midnight. It remains to be seen whether the “narrow,” defensive, heavily conditioned airstrikes the president approved will be enough to avert catastrophe, or if they’ll just make a terrible situation worse.
“Bombing once started makes enemies and kills people. Unless it is done for a definite object and terminal state in mind, then it is better not done at all,” noted Richard Fernandez at PJMedia. “Any action sufficient to ‘stop the genocide’ requires defeating ISIS. Either Obama aims to defeat ISIS or he is merely prolonging the agony.”
Daniel Greenfield, who analyzes radical Islam for FrontPageMag, wrote, “Obama’s doctrine of largely defensive and reactive airstrikes in Iraq drags the U.S. in, without accomplishing much of anything. … The airstrikes won’t intimidate ISIS, which now has a chance to directly humiliate America by continuing its advance. If it can do that, then things will get ugly.”
If ISIS wipes out the Yazidis — who adhere to the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism — it would be akin to the Hutus hacking to death nearly a million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, said Dan Hodges of the London Telegraph.
That’s just for starters. ISIS has seized control of the Mosul dam on the Tigris. If it were breached, Baghdad could be covered by 15 feet of water within hours.
You’d have to be extremely cruel and more than a little crazy to do that deliberately, but ISIS qualifies on both counts. A few months ago, it destroyed the dam that supplied water to Fallujah.
The Mosul dam is built on water-soluble rock in a region prone to sinkholes. It may fail on its own if the fighting around it disrupts routine maintenance, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If ISIS takes or destroys Baghdad, the likely consequence would be an oil price shock comparable to the Arab embargo of 1973-1974, says oil-industry analyst Andrew McKillop.
The Pentagon announced Friday that U.S. Navy FA-18s dropped two 500-pound bombs on ISIS forces approaching Irbil, the Kurdish capital. But airstrikes alone — especially “limited” airstrikes — aren’t likely to stem the ISIS tide.
The Kurdish Peshmerga have a well-deserved reputation for ferocity in battle, but their capabilities have declined substantially since the Obama administration cut off military aid, ex-CIA analysts and special forces soldiers told Jacob Siegel of the Daily Beast. When the ISIS offensive began last weekend, the Peshmerga had to retreat because they’d run out of ammunition.
The Peshmerga are stretched thin because they must defend hundreds of miles of border. “ISIS can give up territory, but the Kurds cannot,” a former special forces officer told Mr. Siegel.
In an editorial Thursday, The Washington Post said President Obama’s response to the emergency has been late and “listless.” In his news conference that night, the president expressed ambivalence about whether U.S. military action would be required halt the ISIS advance – though it ought to be clear by now to all who are sentient that monsters such as they can be stopped only by killing them.
In Afghanistan Tuesday, Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene was killed and 15 others wounded by an Afghan soldier turned terrorist. Gen. Greene was the highest-ranking American service member to be killed since the war on terror began, the 2,203th to die in Afghanistan. More than 73 percent have died since Barack Obama became president.
Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine, according to NATO. That could produce an “oil shock” as great as if Baghdad falls, Mr. McKillop said. As a show of force, Russian bombers have penetrated northwestern U.S. air defense zones 16 times in the last two weeks, an unusually sharp increase.
Islamists have seized control of Benghazi, Libya. Hundreds are dead in fighting throughout the country. Britain has closed its embassy. The Royal Navy is evacuating Europeans.
“Foreign Policy No Longer Obama Strong Point,” headlined an AP news analysis Aug 1. Well, duh.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).