U.S. air strikes have permitted thousands of Yazidi refugees surrounded by the brutal terrorists of the Islamic State to flee, the Pentagon announced late Wednesday night. Though thousands remain on Mt. Sinjar, “it is far less likely now” the United States will undertake a rescue mission, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.
But many military experts say the limited military actions President Barack Obama has authorized won’t stop the relentless advance of IS, which in the last two weeks has seized from the Kurds many towns, two oilfields and the Mosul dam. IS controls “a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations,” according to Janine Davidson of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Kurdish Peshmerga militia earned a reputation for ferocity in battle, but retreated when they ran out of ammunition. Their fighting capability has eroded since President Obama cut off military aid, belatedly resumed this week.
IS is flush with weapons, some accidentally supplied by the CIA, which wasn’t careful about which Syrian rebels it armed. IS seized a town in Lebanon Aug. 4. It’s a metastasizing cancer.
Still, President Obama likened IS to a “jayvee team” in an interview back in January. He blames his Mother of All Miscalculations about IS on bad intelligence. But the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency begged to differ, and former CIA deputy director Michael Morell said that underestimating IS was a policy failure, not an intelligence failure.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a former intelligence officer, said, “The intelligence community has been trying to warn him about this for well over a year — about the blitzkrieg in Iraq for months — and the White House just shut down.”
Evidently Mr. Obama was still underestimating IS July 27 when he asked Congress to repeal the authorization to use force in Iraq. Had Congress complied, the air strikes that rescued some Yazidis would have been illegal.
War-weary Americans who think we can sit this one out are mistaken. IS forces are within 30 miles of Erbil, the Kurdish capital which has become a major oil center. If Erbil falls or IS captures or destroys Baghdad (which IS may now have the capacity to do), the world economy could suffer a shock like that from the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974.
Americans may not be interested in war, but war may be interested in us. IS says it’s planning attacks in America. IS can hurt us much more than al-Qaida ever could, says Iraq war vet David French. The limited military actions the president has authorized won’t hurt them much — but surely will annoy them.
Appalled by IS atrocities, alarmed by the threat the terrorists pose to their economies, France and Germany, which opposed the Iraq war in 2003, have offered military aid. Britain has sent troops. Australia is considering it.
President Obama seems to have provided belated, inadequate assistance to the Kurds chiefly to forestall domestic political criticism. Defense Secretary Hagel’s remark Wednesday may have been intended to excuse in advance more dithering by the equivocator-in-chief.
He doesn’t plan to use U.S forces to defeat the IS, Mr. Obama said. As the terrorist group beheads Christians and buries Yazidis alive, his aides prattle about a “political solution.”
In 2012, Mr. Obama boasted about removing all U.S. troops from Iraq. Now, as the world descends into chaos, he seems to be concerned mostly about evading blame. But when even his former secretary of state and the French foreign minister are taking potshots at him, that could be hard to do.
If the president had armed “moderate” Syrian rebels like she’d asked him to, Hillary Clinton said in an interview published last Sunday, the crisis could have been averted. She also distanced herself from him on Israel and Iran. The president’s foreign policy lacks gravity, an “organizing principle,” she implied.
That Mrs. Clinton is criticizing the foreign policy she implemented means the supposedly “shrewdest political mind in the country” (her husband Bill) has concluded Mr. Obama “is dead in the water, will go down in the books as the worst failure ever, that war weariness will soon be eclipsed by disgust at his failures and that the only hope for a Democrat who hopes to succeed him is to break with him,” wrote Washington Examiner columnist Noemie Emery.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).