The Ghost of Iraq Haunts Obama’s Syria Attack Plan

WMD intel, unintended consequences, "regime change" — the greatest hits of the past decade are back

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Win McNamee / Getty Images

President Obama during a press conference in the East Room of the White House, Aug. 9, 2013 in Washington, DC.

When he first ran for President, Barack Obama cast himself as the man to support if you thought the Iraq war was a stupid mistake. “We must not repeat the mistakes of Iraq,” he said in August 2007, lamenting what he called a war of “undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”

But in a stinging irony, Obama now finds his plans for a military strike on Syria hamstrung by memories of George W. Bush’s war. And many of the same objections that Obama once voiced are being hurled back at him by opponents of an intervention in Syria.

“All of this [talk of striking Syria] makes one recall the events that happened 10 years ago, when, using false information about Iraqis having weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. bypassed the United Nations and started a scheme whose consequences are well known to everyone,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement this week.

The Obama Administration is pushing back hard against such talk. “Iraq and Syria are in no way analogous,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday. The question of whether to respond to the Assad regime’s suspected use of chemical weapons “is categorically different than the conversation we were having about possible action in Iraq, period.” Harf said.

It’s not clear whether that argument will stick in a country with dark memories of a decadelong conflict, featuring terrorism, torture and beheadings, which cost more than 4,500 American lives and, by some estimates, more than $2 trillion dollars.

But the Iraq effect is something larger. It has dramatically raised skepticism about the U.S. government’s rationale for applying military force in the name of American security. Both Congress and the news media, two institutions burned badly by the Iraq debacle, are asking particularly pointed questions about Obama’s plans. The benefit of the doubt that Commanders in Chief once enjoyed has crumbled.

The objections come in three main forms. The first is the reliability of U.S. intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. “[W]here is the proof that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria carried out the attack?” a New York Times editorial asked on Thursday. “Given America’s gross failure in Iraq — when the Bush Administration went to war over nonexistent nuclear weapons — the standard of proof is now unquestionably higher.” (The Times, of course, has reason to be especially sensitive to this question.) Pressed on CNN on Thursday about whether he had “hard evidence” of a regime-ordered chemical attack, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers hedged. “Well, that’s hard to say … We don’t have the crib notes of Assad writing to his commanders [saying], ‘Hey, let’s use chemical weapons.’ No, we don’t have that.” Rogers added that intelligence convinces him that “the Assad regime was responsible” for multiple chemical attacks.

(MORE: How U.S. Strikes in Syria Could Make Things Worse)

Second is fear of an escalating commitment and other unexpected outcomes. Iraq-war supporters who’d been led to expect a quick handoff to a new government in Baghdad were horrified as American involvement deepened there; the Bush Administration failed to plan adequately for a breakdown in Iraqi society. Those bad memories were evident in the letter House Speaker John Boehner sent to Obama this week, demanding answers about what steps would follow an initial round of air strikes and how Obama would pay for his mission. “It’s critically important that we remember about unintended consequences,” Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said Wednesday.

Third is an enduring suspicion that the U.S. wants to overthrow Middle Eastern regimes and impose democracy. Assad was likely trying to exploit this sentiment in a recent interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, in which he said the West is “seeking to install ‘puppet’ leaders” in the Middle East. “Our message to the world is straightforward: Syria will never become a Western ‘puppet’ state,” Assad said. The Obama Administration has sought to make clear that toppling Assad is not its goal: “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week. (Although there’s little sign that Obama wants to topple Assad, he has called for the Syrian ruler to leave power.)

For Obama and his aides, the comparisons to Bush must be somewhat surreal. “I think we’ve been clear in this Administration that we are not going to repeat the same mistakes of the Iraq war,” Harf insisted on Thursday. But it’s not clear that the world is listening.

MORE: Israelis Line Up for Gas Masks as U.S. Ponders Syria Missile Strikes

46 comments
Altold
Altold

Please Michael Crowley, make this particular write-up available to Obama, and tell me when he reads it. Thanks a million.

Regio121
Regio121

Sometimes the answer to US policy aboard especially towards the Arab countries may be upfront but unwilling to act upon, due to non-national interests. feed one, but thousand will brake you.

renfieldc
renfieldc

It's amazing what a little 'skirmish' can develop into, isn't it? 

ZuZu
ZuZu

To bring Iraq , again , in the present situation of Syria : one has to ask the inevitable question : how on earth a president, 

GW Bush lied to the American people about the WMD in Iraq , which were not found , and still free and enjoys his time

 in his ranch in Texas !!!!! . Nixon was forced to resign in 1974 over the Water Gate ,which ,in comparison to what G W Bush, was a minor affair!!!! .

DavidHollenshead
DavidHollenshead

A cruise missile and drone strike to destroy the delivery methods would be in order, given what Syria has done. No ground troops, or even human pilots are needed to destroy their military airbases and aircraft. 

Or we can just watch the news and say isn't that unfortunate that all those people keep getting gassed by a government that is doomed.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE SENIORS, WRITTEN IN CAPS....I CARE FOR THE POOR, THE WEAK, THE ELDERLY

OBAMA......IS NOW BECOMING A MEGALOMANIAAC......THE AFRUCAN TRIBAL CHIEF......WHO PREVENTS THE USE OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION......

DEAD.....IS DEAD.....

OBAMA IS SUPPORTING THE SYRIAN REBELS......WHO STOP TRUCKERS AT THEIR CHECKPOINTS......AND IF NOT OF THE SAME RELIGIOUS SECT AS THEM.......INSTANTLY......MACHINEGUNNED.......SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR CHRISTIANS......THEIR HEADS ARE CUT OFF......JUST LIKE IN THE OLD GENGHIS KAHN DAYS......AND THESE IS WHAT WE ARE GOING TO BOMB SYRIA FOR!!!!!!!

WHO IS GOING TO SAVE US FROM OBAMA ....WHO MAY START WORLD WAR 3......WITH THE RUSSIANS.....THE IRANIANS....THE CHINESE......OVER WHART????.....O BAMA's MEGALO-EGO!!!

50 MILLION AMERICANS ARE ON FOOD STAMPS.......90% OF BLACK WOMEN GIVE BIRTH WITHOUT THE BENEFIT OF MARRIAGE.....MORE FOR THE WELFARE ROLLS........70% OF BLACKS WHO GRADUATE CANNOT EVEN REAR OR WRITE PROPERLY......I SAY.....OBAMA....LET US CARE 1ST FOR OUR BLACK POPULATION.....1/2 OF YOU IS BLACK.....AND THE OTHER 1/2 IS WHITE. WHICH YOU HATE AS COLONIAL BLOOD......LET US TAKE CARE FIRST OF OUR BLOOD BROTHERS AND SISTERS.....CHARITY.....BEGINS AT HOME.....THE USA......NOT.....IN SYRIA!

WHO WILL SAVE US FROM OBAMA......THIS MAN IS COSTING US PLENTY......IN TERMS OF LIVES KILLED.....PEOPLE SUFFERING, JOBS LOST.......ALL FOR THE SAKE OF HIS ......AMBITION.....TO BE....THE EMPEROR.....LIKE IN STAR WARS......SENATOR PALPATINE STARTED AS A SENATOR......THEN BECAME THE EVIL EMPEROR.....LIKE OBAMA???

WHERE ARE THE JEDI KNIGHTS WHO WILL SAVE US FROM THE EVIL EMPEROR?

VALENTINE, COMEDIAN....LOL

cent-fan
cent-fan

Lobbing a few cruise missiles to send a message to a gangster government so cavalier with indiscriminant and random slaughter to maintain power VS dropping troops and digging the leader out of a hole in the ground so he can be hung in some basement by a kangaroo court... and then sticking around for ten years.  I don't see the similarities.

If somebody isn't outraged by Miley at the VMA's then let's stick a real finger up an orifice on live network TV.  If somebody isn't outraged by an easy kill of 300 sleeping citizens because they can then let's replace tear gas with nerve gas and have a party all over the world.  Let it slide and it all slides eventually.

BrahmandamLakshmiNarasimhaMurthy
BrahmandamLakshmiNarasimhaMurthy

Iraq ,Libya never threatened american security,still they were destroyed in the name of democracy.Now Syria never threatened US but finds itself increasingly liable to be destroyed.America's uncontrolled urge to dominate the world and be its policeman is disgusting, and the biggest threat to world peace.It is a shame that a tiny country called Israel dictates US foreign policy.

saintgeorge5
saintgeorge5

Why are our politicians so dumb?  Tel Aviv, is the US foreign capital.  As most of the lawmakers are aligned to AIPAC and Industrial Military Complex.  The great moral leader, Dwight Eisenhower, warned us in his retiring speech of this menace.  He would be aware of the situation being great military leader, Supreme Commander of Allied Power.


Unles we tackle the the revolving door of Pentagon Generals, who after retiring work for arms lobby.  Stop that, clip their wings and all these illegal wars will stop.  That is what I say.

RonaldWinstonGumbs
RonaldWinstonGumbs

The POTUS should ask for congressional resolution to authorize any military intervention in Syria and stop telegraphing or leaking tactical information.  It is important that there be a debate in Congress, similar to that in the House of Commons yesterday.

warrenswil
warrenswil

IF OBAMA ATTACKS SYRIA, 100,000 MISSILES COULD BE LAUNCHED AGAINST ISRAEL

One aspect of an attack on Syria that has hardly been mentioned in the media is the potential fallout on Israel.

We talked by David Bedein, bureau chief of Israel Resource News Agency (which aids reporters covering the Middle East) who says the consequences for the Jewish state could be dire.

Our exclusive interview is published this morning at Privately, Israelis are worried about fallout from the attack.

http://warrenswil.com/2013/08/30/israel-calmly-prepares-for-the-worst/

The country is calmly preparing for the worst. Assad has 100,000 missiles he could target at the Jewish state in retaliation.

Obama should take this into consideration in making his decision.

In the (K)now blog

http://warrenswil.com/

JamesCorbett2
JamesCorbett2

Having spent considerable time in Southeast Asia during the 1960s where over 58,000 Americans died and seeing what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm very wary about intervening in what is basically a civil war even though Assad's use of chemical weapons is inexcusable. The time to have intervened was 2 years ago when the rebels were consolidated. You now have Hezbollah and Iranian fighters there, among other splinter groups. We did not intervene in the Rwandan Genocide during which an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 were killed, most killed by machetes. A few thousand UN peacekeepers could have stopped that genocide. Had we armed the Syrian rebels 2 years ago as Sen. McCain suggested, the outcome might have been different. To overthrow the Assad regime now means an Islamic government will, in all likelyhood, take the place of a totalitarian, but secular gov't. Iraq may yet dissolve into civil war more than 10 years after we invaded on what turned out to be false pretenses. I'm still waiting for an explanation as to why over 58,000 Americans had to die in Vietnam, a country from which we import coffee and clothing, among other goods. Be careful what you step into because you might stink for years to come.

aa50404
aa50404

It is obvious that neither America's closest ally nor the American people are ready for an attack on Syria, no matter how intensely humanitarian the reason for doing so is.  Neither can they be blamed for not supporting a prospective attack, for the world still feels the tremors of the Iraq war.  Even south asian countries that are not directly affected by war in the middle east are concerned about the economic consequences.  It may be wiser to postpone the attack until one of the following steps is achieved:

1) The President should win over the US congress and the British parliament by making a cogent argument based on legal as well as ethical grounds and by convincing them that the chances of  success in case of a limited, time-bound attack are near 90%.  It appears the British parliament members were not convinced by the information provided to them.

2)  Countries that are immediate neighbours and most affected by the Syrian civil war - Turkey and Jordan - should take the initiative and make the case for an attack on Syria based on 'self-defence' and muster support of Islamic countries that are US allies.  This coalition should then approach the US for action.  This way, the US will not be blamed for initiating an attack without the permission of US security council.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

Obama just never learns to keep that big mouth of his shut. Trying to be a tough guy when you are not can come back to you. Now he painted himself into a corner, and the country has to bail him out and the nation credibility. President are supposed to represent the nation`s interest. Obama belittle and blame Dubya but turns out Bush shoes are to big for him. Putin, now there`s the tough guy.


yodadog
yodadog

"Iraq and Syria are in no way analogous,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday"

Darn right their not. Iraq did not have Russia, China and Iran as allies, and the option to attack Israel in retaliation, which Syria is threatening, drawing us and those three into an extremely dangerous conflagration. The only thing analogous is if Assad is toppled, Syria will descend into chaos just as Iraq has, and probably emerge with a radical, Islamist government, in charge of one of the largest, high tech weapons collections in the world. Only a fool would step into this in order to "send a message".

6 years into the job, our amateur president is still an amateur, drawing lines in the sand and boxing himself into a very stupid corner.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

As soon as a immensely popular musical act abruptly become persona non grata for having the temerity to say something bad about the President then we can discuss comparisons to Iraq. As it stands, badmouthing the President is now the NEW "Patriotic" 



barneydidit
barneydidit

If Obama starts calling opponents of a strike against Syria "unpatriotic", THEN I'll compare him to George W.. For now though, he seems to be looking at any options as something he'd rather not take part in if it all possible, and that's a huge difference between him and George. 

BlakeGarlick
BlakeGarlick

And what I have learned has blown my mind.My friends sister has been making 78$ a day.Shocking but true.See more at.== > w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.ℂ­o­m

MrObvious
MrObvious

So did the Ghost of Iraq also hang over Libya?

God I wish Media had spent so much time asking tough questions about Iraq, instead of acting as a bunch of cheerleaders. But then those dirty hippies was marching against the war and felt like a nuisance as they blocked traffic and stuff.

How things change.

KahnKeller
KahnKeller

so... Obama wants to use our  exhausted military for a limited strike on Syria.... sure ....what could go wrong ?

applefellup
applefellup

The caption should read: Even Presidents Fart!

emeraldseatown
emeraldseatown

@DavidHollenshead Except that it wouldn't work.

Then we would be torn between quitting, embarrassed, or committing more forces to do the job right.

Before you know it, we have 100000 troops in country and are fighting a war against both the Assad government and the Al Qaeda factions of the rebels.  Like Iraq, but so much worse.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@valentine.godoflove The "elderly" can do without your all caps.  Find your release button, and use it.

 Also, the correct construction of an elipse is three periods separated by spacds.  And the appropriate usage of an ellipse is infrequent.

Further,  while we're at it, the use of "1st" is not appropriate in text, except as would be used in "1st Cavalry."  .  The proper word is "first."

If you want to be taken seriously (which, so far, you are not) use standard form.  Shouting in all-caps, whatever your excuse, is noisy and unpersuasive.



YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

@BrahmandamLakshmiNarasimhaMurthy It is far more a shame that hypocrites like yourself think that it's OK to let Assad keep poisoning his country folk so he can rule forever by brute force against the popular will. Israel isn't involved in selecting a new tyrant for Syria, but she is the real hostage to Assad's policy of indiscriminate terrorizing of the innocent. And your urge to destroy won't be satisfied until Israeli babies meet the same end as the poor Syrian ones. Why don't you go to defend Assad more meaningfully, like standing between him and the Tomahawks?

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

@saintgeorge5 How dare you attribute the death of 120,000 civilians, 500,000 invalidated for life, 7 million displaced and 1 million hungry children to anyone but the dictator who gave the orders to target them? And don't use Eisenhower's name to propagate your anti-Semitic views. Eisenhower fame was born out of his role in defeating the Nazis, an evil power operating 4,000-6,000 Milles from the nearest shore of the USA, who, like Assad, excelled in gassing the innocents as long as they were safe from retribution. 

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

@warrenswil If you want to save Syria, advice Assad to keep his fingers away from the launch pushbutton. It doesn't matter how many missiles are stored in his bunkers, he will depart from the history within 48 hours of the first missile take-off. We do not consider threats of terror retaliation as a reason to do nothing. This is the privilege of the chicken hearted.  

manlyman
manlyman

@warrenswil If Obama's actions prompt an attack on Isreal, it will be considered a win-win by him and his liberal worshippers.

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

@aa50404 1. The question of legality is hypocritical. In what meaningful terms does the vote of politicos change the essential question: Is it right for outsiders to intervene in a civil war when the tyrant is mass killing the populace? If it is right, and only then, the politicos can debate the cost/benefit reaction options. Their calculations are important in any democracy, but that doesn't change the immorality of doing nothing.

2. Do not expect to see an Islamic country take the initiative. It will never happen. And the USA will be blamed in any case. Just as it was blamed lately for: a. supporting Mubarak. b. deserting Mubarak. c. supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. d. supporting the military counter-revolution. e. not-supporting the military coup. You can't do the right thing if you listen to the wrong voices.

barneydidit
barneydidit

"Presidents are supposed to represent the nation's interests"? So Mitt "I'd bomb Iran because they might explode a dirty bomb in Chicago" Romney was your choice to run the country Rene? As I've said before- criticizing Democrats isn't all that hard...coming up with viable alternatives however is a different story, and something Republicans haven't been able to do since the mid 70's. 

jmac
jmac

@yodadog Are you referring to the president who got Osama bin Laden?  That "amateur" president who took out the man who took down the twin towers?  That president?  

There's no way we can compare the president who took out bin Laden to the president who wanted to go after the petty tyrant Saddam from the first week of his presidency,  was willing to lie about the reasons for going in and completely  ignored the fact that Syria, North Korea and Iran were always the big problems.   He went into a nation that was weaker than when his Dad took back Kuwait.   That amateur got away with it with the help of his propaganda channel - Fox.  

yodadog
yodadog

@PaulDirks Yes-and the country still owes Natalie Maines a big apology for stating the truth.

jmac
jmac

@MrObvious THose hippies were right!  It kills Andrew Sullivan and his ilk to admit it - but we were right.  

Occupy Wall Street was right  and go no where.  They  were proclaimed  a bunch of hippies.   The press loves a fight but frequently falls short on informing it's readers.   

Tim63
Tim63

@YehudaElyada @BrahmandamLakshmiNarasimhaMurthy Perhaps the hypocrite is you. You would like to think that the American public buys the story that Assad is gassed his own citizens. There is no conclusive proof of that as reported by this article. Moreover, Mr Putin has said it made no sense for Assad to do that. Assad already has his hands full dealing with rebels sponsored by the US and Saudi Arabia. Why would he want to challenge Mr Obama's red line? What happens in Syria is none of your business. It is an internal affairs with foreign interference namely, Saudi Arabia that wants to see the Shia regime replaced by Sunnis. And what is your babel about  Israeli babies in all of that? You are not making any sense at all.

saintgeorge5
saintgeorge5

@YehudaElyada @saintgeorge5 

I personally think your closet ultra Zionist -racist.  Your contemptous racist remarks to label me anti-Semitic is so puerile and beneath contempt.

What is wrong with?  It is an open secret that AIPAC is very powerful force to reckon with and America's foreign policy is influenced by this body.

To make factual statement, on any subject matter, makes me anti-Semitic, shows that you cannot make a rational judgement.  Your self delusion of self vicitimisation is pathetic.


Tim63
Tim63

@YehudaElyada @saintgeorge5 Are you playing the holocaust card? Safe it, we are tired of it. The Assad administration had nothing to do with that. And if you are an Israeli, you are illegally occupying Arab land. The Arabs are not responsible for what happen to the Jewish communities during the last world war. Horrific as it may be, the world do not owe the Jewish community anything for that tragedy. It was an unfortunate war time incident just like the Nanjing  massacre or any other massacre in history. Secondly but not least, do not hijack the word Semitic for your own end. Semitic people includes all Arab people of which Jews are only a subset.

saintgeorge5
saintgeorge5

@YehudaElyada @saintgeorge5

Who are you to dare me?  You think of yourself as master class of authority on this matter.

Listen to arguement put forward by vsrious war mongers.  Their language is couched in words like salm duck, no silver bullet etcetra.


There is no shred of single evidence, that Assad used chemical weapons on the contrary to war mongers and main stream media wants you to believe.


Probably you have not heard, Turkey authority apprehended FSA with two kolos of Sarin gas.  It was reported by some news channels.


Moreover, why would any one use chemical weapon 4 to 5Km from their base.  Kurdish leader Islam has also stated the gas has been used by Islamists and not by Syrians.  I would go on but it would be like casting pearls before ........

Tim63
Tim63

@YehudaElyada @aa50404 You are a real war monger. What moral high ground does America have to judge others when she herself had used chemical warfare in recent memory. Does Agent Orange ring any bells to you?

poorinmich
poorinmich

@jmac @yodadog - I think you should wake up and be current on your events analysis. To the best of my knowledge, Obama has been the President for the last 6 years and he is still the President. Bush has been gone for 6 years but from your discussion points it seems that he is still the decision maker. 


Wake up.

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

@jmac @yodadog Don't use real world suffering as a weapon in your petty political one-upmanship. President Bush was misguided regarding the Arab response to the opportunity for establish a democracy in Iraq - but this was so only because his couldn't accept the cynical view, that the Arabs are not ready for democracy. Still, everything that happened in the Middle-East since, from Libya to Yemen, is a consequence of the demonstration how impotent are the Arab dictators when confronted with a Western army. In the end GWB might end-up the visionary, except that we'll have to wait a hundred years before the seed he planted will bloom.

manlyman
manlyman

@jmac @yodadog The policies and tactics of the Bush administration "took bin laden out". If it were soley up to Obama he would still be alive and well.

yodadog
yodadog

@jmac @yodadog They are both amateurs in the way they have each conducted themselves, jmac. The consequences of our attacking Syria because he "drew a line in the sand" are the most potentially severe I've seen in 62 years, as I posted above. He needs to walk away, leaving us with less credibility than ever, because made made an ill thought out, and very dangerous statement. This could easily turn the ME into a fireball-it's not a place or a time for us to be chest thumping once again. We've got nothing to gain and everything to lose.