Why Obama Won’t Take on al-Qaeda in Iraq Anymore

A campaign plan overtaken by a desire to disentangle from the Middle East

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As al-Qaeda stages a frightening resurgence in western Iraq, raising anew questions about the fate of that country and the risks it might pose to the United States, it’s worth flashing back a few years.

On Sept. 12, 2007, Barack Obama gave one of the most important speeches of his first presidential campaign. Then still an underdog challenger to Hillary Clinton, Obama — speaking, perhaps impishly, in the town of Clinton, Iowa — laid out his plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. The plan was good politics, but Obama also carefully cast his position as responsible — not a hasty, politically-motivated retreat that could jeopardize American security. To that end, he assured that the U.S. would retain the capability to continue striking against terrorists within Iraq even after our combat forces were gone.

“We will need to retain some forces in Iraq and the region,” Obama said. “We’ll continue to strike at al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Obama made the point repeatedly: “In ending the war, we must act with more wisdom than we started it,” he said a month earlier. “That is why my plan would maintain sufficient forces in the region to target al-Qaeda within Iraq.”

And in a February 2008 primary debate, moderator Tim Russert pressed Obama on whether there were any circumstances that would lead him to re-escalate in Iraq: “Do you reserve a right as American president to go back into Iraq, once you have withdrawn?” Russert asked.

(MORE: Al-Qaeda Takes Over Iraqi City That Cost 100 American Lives)

“If al-Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad,” Obama responded.

Six years later, even with al-Qaeda showing alarming strength in Iraq — and across the border in Syria — nobody thinks Obama will “go back into Iraq” anytime soon. As Secretary of State John Kerry put it Sunday: “This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis.”

“We are, in the worst-case scenario, months away from even starting to think about direct U.S. action,” says Douglas Ollivant, a senior fellow with the New America Foundation and former national security council director for Iraq in the Bush and Obama White Houses.

One reason has to do with the way Obama’s withdrawal played out. Despite his repeated references to a residual force that would stay behind after U.S. combat troops were gone, Obama was unable to negotiate an acceptable agreement with the Iraqi government to allow for that (a crucial sticking point involved the legal protections for U.S. troops who remained in the country).

Conservatives like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have sharply criticized Obama for failing to win such an agreement — although Obama’s ambassador to Baghdad at the time, James Jeffrey, a former Bush White House deputy national security adviser, has said that the Obama team made a good-faith effort to win an agreement and could not overcome Iraqi intransigence. Still, Obama did refer to the ability of forces elsewhere in the region to take on al-Qaeda.

But another reason is politics: With America out of Iraq, disillusioned with Afghanistan, and clearly opposed to intervening in Syria, the opposition to a direct re-engagement in Iraq could be intense. Even McCain and Graham don’t propose it. And the administration now says it supports repealing the war authority Congress granted George W. Bush in the fall of 2002, which in theory might be used to justify renewed military action there.

“It would take nothing short of a catastrophic attack on the United States at home to get U.S. forces back into Iraq,” says Daniel Benjamin, formerly the Obama State Department’s top counter-terrorism official and now at Dartmouth’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. “The American public has zero appetite for engagement in Iraq.”

(PHOTOS:A Decade of War in Iraq: The Images That Moved Them Most)

Finally, there’s the nature of the threat, which may be less alarming than it appears at the moment. While no one is glad to see the group scoring victories, U.S. officials still don’t believe that al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq and Syria are plotting attacks against America. Analysts and American officials are also hopeful that al-Qaeda may have overextended itself, and that the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will be able to beat back the Sunni radicals who have captured Fallujah and Ramadi.

“My guess is this is not going to end well for al-Qaeda,” says Ollivant. “I think there’s a possibility this was a mistake and these guys are going to get killed there. If they stay in the shadows and stay hidden, Maliki can’t find them. Now, if you want to find al-Qaeda you just have to read the New York Times.”

For now, the White House’s game plan involves better arming Maliki to repel al-Qaeda forces from his country.  A senior administration official complains to TIME that opposition in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — led by Democratic Chairman Robert Menendez — to giving Maliki advanced weapons like Apache attack helicopters has left Iraq’s security forces unable to meet the terrorist challenge. Menendez has expressed concern that Maliki might use such arms to repress non-al-Qaeda Sunni rivals within his country.

“Time and again, the SFRC has blocked the delivery of this support [Apaches],” says the official. “It’s hard to imagine why some members think now is a good time to deny the Iraqi Government the weapons it needs to effectively take the fight to al-Qaeda.”

If Maliki’s forces — likely with help from Sunni tribesmen who have opposed al-Qaeda in the past — can’t gain the advantage, however, Obama will face some extremely difficult decisions. While U.S. boots on the ground are almost impossible to imagine, it’s conceivable that Iraq could join places like Yemen and Pakistan as a theater for American counter-terror drone strikes.

“I can imagine that if we see the emergence of anti-western plotting or plotting against U.S. interests in the region that there would be a willingness to discuss some kind of joint effort involving drones,” says Benjamin.

But, he adds, “You don’t need to be sitting in the West Wing to know that the administration views disentangling from Iraq to be a major achievement and is going to be extremely loath to get us back involved. I think we’re a long way from there.”

MORE: Why Iraq’s Most Violent Province Is a War Zone Again

206 comments
shapiro.len
shapiro.len

al-queda may not be in the shadows but Iran is. Its Iran who has benefited most from the stupidly ignorant gw bush aggression in iraq. Iraq is not a country and never will be. It is a creation of european imperialism from the 19th century,throwing together rival tribes and religious hatreds so they could get the oil and the strategic locations.  then dumb and dumber America thinks it can destroy saddam hussein, its own frankenstein, and declare Mission Accomplished.

Well,its Mission Impossible and it always will be. Sunnis and Shias make the US Tea Party and the left wing liberals in NYC look like blood brothers. These people want to exterminate each other, exactly like the Nazis wanted to "solve" the Jewish "problem".


Religious fanaticism and modern weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan are a bottomless pit for American self-destruction.We have already ruined ourselves in many ways that cannot be undone. We have made choices that cannot be reversed. But,we can still step back,for good,from taking the whole of 300 million americans over the cliff forever. we must,finally, say, there is NO IRAQ, and these tribal and religious enemies of 700 years,are stuck with each other forever. and then,move on. LET IRAN JUMP INTO THE BOTTOMLESS PIT OF "iRAQ." they did it before.

_6161127996811
_6161127996811

Nonsense

Reagan armed the mujahedeen.They had not split up yet and formed Al Qaida.Bush 41 did not.Bush 43 did not.Clinton did not.Stop making things up

AlWinquist
AlWinquist

Im a vietnam combat vet and see the same outcome just a different time/place. When we do most of the fighting / dying & pull the pin there's never anyone around to carry the load. So the big question once again is"what did we get out of this ?",fighting & dying with no winning game plan does'nt make sense.Look at the afgan operation we pull the pin & the same end game plays out again!!

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

IN CAPS FOR THE ELDERLY.....DEFEND THE WEAK......KNIGHT TEMPLARS


ALL DEAD FOR NOTHING.........ALL THE WASTED MEN.....MONEY ....MATERIALS.....IN IRAQ........THE UNITED STATES AND ITS GENERALS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO WAGE WAR ANYMORE.........


I PITY ALL THOSE DEAD AMERICAN SOLDIERS AND THEIR ALLIES......NOT COUNTING.....THE ONES WHO ARE LIVING AND ARE MAIMED........STALIN....WOULD HAVE HAD SOME PEOPLE SHOT FOR ALL THESE WASTES !!!!


I JUST READ THE BOOK BY GENERAL DAVID PETREUS......HE SAID THAT GENERAL CASEY.....AMERICAN GENERAL IN COMMAND OF IRAQ.......WAS SAYING....."DO WE HAVE A BOOK ON HOW TO FIGHT THIS KIND OF WAR?".........WHAT AN IDIOT.......


WOULD ALEXANDER , CAESAR, McARTHUR, PATTON, HANNIBAL, SUN WU TZU ETC HAVE ASKED THAT IDIOTIC QUESTION?.......STALIN WOULD HAVE HAD A SOVIET MARSHALL SHOT FOR SUCH STUPIDITY!!!


GOD HELP AMERICA......WE HAVE A PRESIDENT WHO IS SECRETLY REJOICING AL QUEDA TOOK BACK FALLUJAH.....BECAUSE HE IS IN HIS HEARTS OF HEARTS A MOSLEM.....AND WANTS THE DOWNFALL OF AMERICA.....


WHO IS THE MESSIAH WHO WILL SAVE US FROM THE INSANITY AMONGST US?


VALENTINE, WORLD HISTORIAN, MILITARY HISTORIAN, POLITICAL HISTORIAN......COMEDIAN....LOL

raji.alrazi
raji.alrazi

al-Qaeda, The Saudis,Kuwait,Qatar, U.A.E, the losers in Libya, Turkey are one side( they also hate each other in this group, specially the Saudis and the Qataris) and Maliki, Iran, Bashar Assad and Hezbullah the other side. SFRC is right about not arming Maliki because that means pretty much arming Hezbullah, Iran and Bashar.

My advice to the U.S. is to stay out of these because both sides are crazy, this fight between Sunnis and Shia's going on for over 1400 years! Long before the U.S. even existed.

jason024
jason024

Although Obama’s ambassador to Baghdad at the time, James Jeffrey, a former Bush White House deputy national security adviser, has said that the Obama team made a good-faith effort to win an agreement and could not overcome Iraqi intransigence


----

Somehow this becomes Obama's fault after the Iraqis didn't want us all that much. Go Figure


So now 150k troops can stop the influx of AQ members crossing from the border w/ Syria when we couldn't control it before WITHOUT a civil war in Syria? Go Figure


CliffordSpencer
CliffordSpencer

Remember when Republicans called Obama a military dunce because he revealed a timetable?

Ever hear of Operation Fortitude South?

  Normandy is not the narrowest point in the English Channel.

  The CHUNNEL was built to the Pas de Calais.

  General Patton, with the complete cooperation of Ike, duped Hitler into thinking that the actual invasion would be there, right after the "feint" at Normandy!

  Were generals Patton and Ike military dunces?

saintgeorge5
saintgeorge5

Do Americans understand, what their law makers are doing.

US and AIPAC, promoted Al Quaeda, in guise of Free Syrian,these barbaric hordes soon

overran, supposed moderate Islamists.

As US were thrown out of Iraq, according to Donald Trump.


This hypocritical, double standard, promoting Sunni terrorists in Syria and

washing their hands off with the puppet Al Maliki, even not supply arms and choppers

needed by Iraq.  What a mess you have got us in?


Bogey907
Bogey907

But but they'll welcome us as liberators! The whole operation would cost far less than $200 billion!


And those darn WMDs are still there somewhere!

ImJustAGuy
ImJustAGuy

Obama had allied with Al Qaeda in Libya and Syria, and Obama made a whole lot of noise surrounding Iraq, *and* more importantly, Obama doesn't understand these matters.


Obama won't go near anything to do with Iraq with a 10 foot, no, 50 foot pole.

PatrickPine
PatrickPine

Whether we are in Iraq or Afghanistan for another month, another year, another decade - there is no reasonable assurance that individuals affliliated with terrorists (Al Queda, Taliban, other) will be gone nor that they will cease their activities.  We can temporarily weaken some of these groups.  There is a distinct possibility that our direct military engagement in these countries has only, over the long term, actually strengthened terrorist groups. 

On the other hand, as a country we have made some commitments to use our resources to help protect the legitimate interests of groups who are the innocent victims of some groups - such as women in Afghanistan who are the victims of the Taliban.  Yet we have never gone into numerous countries led by dictators or where the culture often violently discriminates against people due to gender, race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, location, etc.

Many of these tragic conflicts have roots going back hundreds or thousands of years - it is our hubris to think that sending in a large military presence for a period of years will eliminate some of these age old hatreds.

j45ashton
j45ashton

Just for the record...the number of casualties in Iraq under Bush...about 4614, under Obama...about 190.

Number of casualties in Afghanistan under Bush...about 1130, under Obama about 2120.  Totals: about 71% of the casualties occurred under Bush, about 29% under Obama.  Never trust stats referenced by conservatives.  They care nothing about facts.  They just make up numbers that they like.  In short...they are the liars.  

http://icasualties.org/Iraq/ByYear.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coalition_military_casualties_in_afghanistan_by_month.svg

Bo69
Bo69

That's because they're our friends King Obama say's so.This guy need to be imprisoned and all our troops need to be pulled out of the middle east and we need to start minding our own business.If they in WASHINGTON want war send their kids and grand kids.

SteveStunning
SteveStunning

All of the men and women who served, and some who died and were wounded in Iraq were thrown under the bus by Barack Hussein Obama for the political fortunes of the Democrat party. Every Democrat voter should be ashamed of themselves. You are a disgrace to this Country, and under this Socialist Muslim fraud from Kenya and his administration you have helped to turn success and hard fought Victory into failure and loss.
You disgust every true American!

mtwain11
mtwain11

The real question is this: Is the Middle East better after Obama took office? Are America's interests better off? Look at Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lybia and Syria. We have lost over 1,500 Americans under Obama so far while we lost 575 under Bush. Our offensive against terrorists has diminished while our surveillance of Americans has increased. Oil and gas prices have surged since he took office. This latest series of events in Iraq is just part of the Obama landscape. 

JuanRomero
JuanRomero

maybe he wont go to war with them because he is funding them and al-aqaeda does our dirty jobs the US cant be seen doing like destabalising forein countries for financial and political gain.do your homework.

ichotshot295
ichotshot295

Obama's been looking to discredit George W. Bush since he took office. Bush had the Iraq war won by 2008 but Obama's been giving them aid and comfort ever since.

manapp99
manapp99

@valentine.godoflove Say there youngster. Could you speak a little more distinctly?  I couldn't hear a thing you said over all the yelling. 

manapp99
manapp99

@jason024 If the good faith effort fails you use the fact that the US is the most powerful friend you can have. Also the most powerful enemy. 

allbuss
allbuss

@CliffordSpencer

Difference being we actually invaded, killed Nazi's, and won the war.They didn't pretend to want to do an invasion to win the war, then pull their troops out and abandon the cause.

ImJustAGuy
ImJustAGuy

@CliffordSpencer - The Germans concluded on their own that Normandie was the feint.  The Allies were fully engaged in the disinformation that the invasion would be at the Pas de Calais.  It was obvious to everyone that an invasion was on.  Any German plane flying over with a camera knew something was up.


....and THIS is what you use to attempt to make the case that Barack Obama is NOT a miserable Commander in Chief?

CliffordSpencer
CliffordSpencer

@saintgeorge5 ,

  Was it patriotic for Oliver North to sell arms to Ahminejad's mentor, Ayatollah Khomeni?

  What did Republicans know about Benghazi BEFOREHAND?

   To paraphrase Sen. Baker, what did Sen.McCain know and when did he know it?

ImJustAGuy
ImJustAGuy

@Bogey907 - We've been saying for a long time that A) factually Saddam DID use WMD's on the Kurds, and B) Saddam shipped WMD's to Syria.


And what was the news dominated with about 4-6 months ago?  Syrian WMDs?  Now, I'm fully aware of reports that Syria had WMDs on their own, but that does NOT preclude Saddam shipping WMDs to Syria.

CliffordSpencer
CliffordSpencer

@SteveStunning,

True American?

  Rep. Tammy Duckworth is a true American!

  She is an ACTUAL vet!

  She has missing limbs to PROVE that she was honorably disabled!

  Unlike Rush Limbaugh, she is FOR Obamacare!

  Bush, not Obama, played golf with his comrade, Vladimir Putin!

  America is a sovereign country!

  It KNOWS where its presidential candidates were born!

  It doesn't need YOU to tell us!

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@SteveStunningActually all the men and women were thrown under the bus by GWB, who sent them into a pointless war with inadequate equipment and poor planning. Two of my friends died because the idiot Rumsfeld didn't want to spend money on body armor or properly armored Humvees.

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

@SteveStunning

Oddly, you don't seem to aim any criticism at President Maliki whose short sightedness resulted in the removal of all our troops.  A security force still in place could be working with the Iraqi government to defeat this Al Queada uprising.

They wanted us out of Iraq and we're out.  They have to take this on themselves.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@mtwain11Are we better off after the idiotic invasion of Iraq which destabilized the entire area?

DavidStrayer
DavidStrayer

@ichotshot295 

Bush won the Iraq war?  Gosh, he had all those troops left in Iraq, an Iraqi government that couldn't exist without our guys there to prop it up and no plan to get them out.  


How is that winning a war?  What he did was to start a CRIMINAL war on the basis of fabricated evidence of non-existent WMDs and kill 4500 American service people.  He also spent over $1T, destabilized the whole Middle East, empowered Iran by removing Saddam, bungled Afghanistan totally, and then zoomed out of office without having settled anything.  


I realize that Republicans don't like facts, data or the truth, but that's the way it is.  And that's the way it's been since we invaded Iraq.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ichotshot295 

Why would he need help to discredit a man who invaded Iraq based on lies, while covering up the Saudi involvement in 9/11?

saintgeorge5
saintgeorge5

@CliffordSpencer@saintgeorge5 

Whole Olly North saga and the subsequent hearing was a total white wash.

It was morally repugnant.  

We should talk about morals first and everything will set in its place.

ImJustAGuy
ImJustAGuy

@CliffordSpencer@saintgeorge5 - Tactic #41, change the topic in order to divert away from the liberal Democrat in question.


(sigh)


mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ImJustAGuy@Bogey907 

Of course Saddam had WMDs. Reagan gave them to him to use on Iran during the Iran/Iraq war. However he got rid of those WMDs after 9/11 knowing that Bush would use them as an excuse to invade. The UN inspectors on the ground said they were no longer in the country. Why the rush to ignore them and invade?

manapp99
manapp99

@mantisdragon91 @ichotshot295 Exactly right. If Bill Clinton had not passed on the faulty intel about WMD then Bush probably would not have invaded. Bill lied about more than sex it appears. 

saintgeorge5
saintgeorge5

@ImJustAGuy@saintgeorge5 

What are we talking about? 

Who is spreading the blame and for what?

Why should we blame any person who is trying to end the war and not sacrifice our brave men and women in combat. Afghanistan was and is graveyard of Empires.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ImJustAGuy  

The US provided less conventional military equipment than British or German companies but it did allow the export of biological agents, including anthrax; vital ingredients for chemical weapons; and cluster bombs sold by a CIA front organisation in Chile, the report says. 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/dec/31/iraq.politics

 oward Teicher, an Iraq specialist in the Reagan White House, testified in a 1995 affidavit that the then CIA director, William Casey, used a Chilean firm, Cardoen, to send cluster bombs to use against Iran's "human wave" attacks.

A 1994 congressional inquiry also found that dozens of biological agents, including various strains of anthrax, had been shipped to Iraq by US companies, under licence from the commerce department.

Furthermore, in 1988, the Dow Chemical company sold $1.5m-worth (£930,000) of pesticides to Iraq despite suspicions they would be used for chemical warfare.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ImJustAGuySure about that?



Reports by the US Senate's committee on banking, housing and urban affairs -- which oversees American exports policy -- reveal that the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene. 

 http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0908-08.htm

ImJustAGuy
ImJustAGuy

@mantisdragon91@ImJustAGuy@Bogey907 - Here's a clue for you:


Iran was flying Grumman F14's, acquired when the Shah was in power.  Iraq had ALL Soviet arms.  So, if you want to try doing something different and try thinking intelligently about the matter.....it is reasonable to conclude from what sphere of influence Saddam acquired his WMDs.  It wasn't Reagan!  ;-)

ImJustAGuy
ImJustAGuy

@mantisdragon91@ImJustAGuy@Bogey907 - Well make up your minds.  You leftists scoff "where's the WMDs", then you leftists say Reagan gave them to Saddam.  MAKE UP YOUR MINDS!!!!!


But factually, it's clear the US had no problems with Saddam waging war with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, there's NO facts the US supplied Saddam with WMDs.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@manapp99@mantisdragon91@smithmorphyAlso from the article


Some information already has leaked from the classified section, which is based on both CIA and FBI documents, and it points back to Saudi Arabia, a presumed ally.

The Saudis deny any role in 9/11, but the CIA in one memo reportedly found “incontrovertible evidence” that Saudi government officials — not just wealthy Saudi hardliners, but high-level diplomats and intelligence officers employed by the kingdom — helped the hijackers both financially and logistically. The intelligence files cited in the report directly implicate the Saudi embassy in Washington and consulate in Los Angeles in the attacks, making 9/11 not just an act of terrorism, but an act of war.