Get Serious or Get Lost? GOP lack of focus on ISIS

ISIS I’ll take the Republicans, especially the ones in Congress, seriously when they speak of ISIS threats to national security when they take up the bill sent to Congress during the week of February 11, 2015 which authorizes U.S. action against the Islamic State.  The joint resolution had a bit of something for everyone:

“The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” deliberately vague language intended to win over those on the left wary of mission creep and those on the right who don’t want to restrict possible military action against ISIS.” [TheHill]

As of the moment it merely looks as if the GOP wants to turn foreign and defense policy into a semantic game for the purpose of giving Democrats headaches in an election many months away.  Witness the whinging from Senator Lindsay Graham:

“One by one, nearly a dozen GOP presidential hopefuls took the stage here last weekend for a Lincoln Dinner, each different in style and stature but all joining a rising Republican chorus that lays blame for the Islamic State terrorist group squarely at the feet of President Obama. “If you fought in Iraq, it worked. It’s not your fault it’s going to hell. It’s Obama’s fault,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said to cheers.” [WaPo] …

“This deterioration of our physical and ideological strength has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a speech this month. “We’ve seen [the Islamic State] sweep across multiple states, commit brutal atrocities and attempt to establish a caliphate.” [WaPo]

If the Republicans want more U.S. involvement in Iraq, then why not authorize the administration to apply more force in the region – as in bring the joint resolution to the floor for a debate and vote?

Perhaps the delay is because the Republicans don’t want to address key issues, and would rather launch verbal flames than real ones.  Consider the flap over the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government.

If the Obama Administration had been serious about winning in Iraq it would have negotiated a status of forces agreement,” wail the right wingers. Not. So. Fast. It takes two parties to negotiate such an agreement and the al Maliki government wasn’t playing the game:

“But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.” [Time 2011]

The Iraqi government under al-Maliki, once touted as the harbinger of democracy, proved to be a colossal failure.

The Iraqis wanted stable government, less corruption, economic reconstruction, and all the other things modern governments can provide. However, rather than moving forward from the gains made during the last months of U.S. occupation, the al-Maliki government swung away. The situation fell apart almost immediately.

Maliki’s government used “de-Baathification” laws, introduced to keep members of Saddam Hussein’s regime out of government, to target his opponents — but not his many allies, who also had been senior members of the Baath Party. The 2010 government formation process turned out to be yet another opportunity for politicians of all stripes to grant themselves senior positions which they could use to plunder the state. When tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in February 2011 to protest corruption, they were branded terroristsand were attacked and beaten by security forces and hired thugs. Dozens were killed and thousands arrested and tortured until the protests fizzled. Meanwhile, though terrorist groups were not operating as openly as before, hundreds of civilians continued to be killed every month, particularly in Baghdad, denying Iraqis in many parts of the country even a brief period of normalcy. [ForeignPolicy]

This is not exactly a recipe for popular government, or even a respected one. However, the situation with the Iraqi security forces was even dimmer.

“The security sector, which had an annual budget greater than the budgets for education, health, and the environment combined, was subject to minimal oversight. Soldiers were enrolled and paid monthly salaries without reporting for duty. Overpriced and faulty equipment was procured using the laxest standards. Training sessions were financed on paper but never took place in practice. Appointments were politicized. Officers close to the prime minister’s office who failed to investigate leads on terrorist attacks were almost never held accountable for their actions. Even the most grotesque failures, including the military’s passivity in the face of regular attacks against Christians in Nineveh over a period of years, went unpunished. Morale among the rank and file was low, and there was very little desire to take risks on behalf of political elites who were viewed as wildly corrupt.” [ForeignPolicy]

And we wonder why the Iraqi forces couldn’t hold Mosul, and  can’t hold Ramadi?   By 2006 the political atmosphere was getting obvious, only the willfully blind could avoid seeing the implications of the Sunni-Shia split, and al-Maliki’s role in that disintegration:

“By the time Maliki took office, the police and the Army were overwhelmingly Shiite, packed with former militiamen bent on cleansing Baghdad of Sunni Arabs. In the summer of 2006, each morning brought new reports of sectarian atrocities. Maliki did very little to stop them, according to Matthew Sherman, the civilian adviser to the U.S. Army. “We’d go into his office, we’d tell him about a massacre that had been carried out by his men,” Sherman told me. “And Maliki would just sit there and say, ‘I’m sure they were terrorists.’ We could never get him to act against the death squads.” (Maliki says that he never received any evidence that his soldiers or police had acted improperly.)” [NYorker 2014]

The eggs laid by the parliamentary elections of December 2005 were fully hatched by 2014.   By 2015 the eggs were completely scrambled, and not in a good omelet sort of way.

al-Maliki’s resignation in 2014 didn’t alleviate the situation. As of August 12, 2014 the Iranian government pulled its support for al-Maliki, offered him asylum, and backed his successor Hiadar al-Abadi. [Guardian] The disaffected Sunnis, the former criminal gangs, the death squads and the local militias were now a fact of life in Iraq’s daily existence.  Nor has U.S. policy been all that helpful.  The Iranians, who are positioned to assist the current Iraqi government in its fight with ISIS, are the subject of saber rattling by members of the U.S. Congress who want to do everything from bolster current embargo terms to engage in outright military action against Tehran.

In other, less elegant terms. if we weaken the Iranian government then we risk undermining the Iraqi government’s efforts to retain or retake territory seized by ISIS.

It is very difficult to have a consistent and rational foreign policy when the requirements are (1) opposition to the Iranian government, and to all forms of Iranian involvement in Iraqi military operations against ISIS; (2) opposition to ISIS which doesn’t incorporate Shia interests in Iraq; and (3) support for Sunni participation in Iraqi governance, when the Sunnis could be convinced that their interests would be better served by ISIS than by the governing Shia groups in Baghdad. Perhaps these contradictions help explain why the Republicans don’t want a full blown discussion of U.S. foreign policy vis a vis Iraq, and seem content to snipe from the sidelines?

If the GOP is serious about discussing our policy toward Iraq, then it’s time to bring the joint resolution to the floor, debate the ramifications seriously, recognize the historical and political implications of the policy, and to take a stand on those issues.  The rest is simply political noise making, the equivalent of slide whistles and noise-makers.

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