Saturday, August 16, 2014

Nothing New Under The Sun. Or With McCain.

Give a Republican some credit. The ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, has remarked

I regret the situation in Iraq has devolved to where it is and the many decisions and circumstances that have led us to this point. While I support the administration's short-term actions to respond to the current crisis, I expect them to lay out in the coming days the objectives they hope to achieve and the related time frame.

President Obama ought to offer the nation a forthright explanation of our objectives.  Certainly, he hopes- and expects- the military involvement in Iraq he recently announced to be of limited duration or, as the Tennessee Repub put it, "related time frame."

But two other Republicans have reacted as one would expect.  House Speaker John Boehner, with neither a clue nor a guiding principle, remarked "The president’s authorization of airstrikes is appropriate, but like many Americans, I am dismayed by the ongoing absence of a strategy for countering the grave threat ISIS poses to the region.”

John McCain, always with more principle than common sense, has commented to The Daily Beast of the smart bombs dropped on ISIS convoys approaching the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan

This is a pinprick... it’s almost worse than nothing because I fear the president is threatening and then he won’t follow through....It’s the weakest possible response and we cannot allow them to take Erbil. What [the administration has] done so far is almost meaningless.

McCain, who advocates more airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and arming the Kurdistan resistance, added "We are paying the price for inaction and we are paying the price for withdrawal.  [Doing more] would contradict some of the fundamentals of [Obama’s] national security policy. But it’s just tragic.”

It is indeed tragic that the Arizona Senator is still beating that dead horse, still evidently unaware that we are not paying the price for withdrawal but for the initial invasion of Iraq- and despite conventional wisdom, for the surge that McCain loves more than life itself.

The primary challenge to the Beltway wisdom that the Surge was a success has been from a few foreign policy experts who argue the Anbar Awakening was more instrumental in reducing the level of violence in Iraq.  However, last month Adam Barr explained

It cannot be denied that the surge and Anbar Awakening were successful in decreasing the levels of violence in Iraq, both against Iraqi citizens and coalition forces. However, I will show that the surge and the U.S. sponsoring of the SOI in the Anbar Awakening held only short-term benefits for Iraq that paved the way for U.S. withdrawal. These short-term benefits of violence reduction came at the cost of long-term stability in Iraq after the U.S. forces withdrew, due to the bottom-up approach that the surge and Awakening took, which was “adopted for near-term advantage by a frustrated administration” (Simon, 2008: 58). The bottom-up strategies of the surge and Awakening fostered the retribalisation of Iraq, undermining the authority of the central government and the cohesion of the country; encouraged the growth of warlordism – especially amongst the Sunni tribes; and failed to address the driving forces behind much of the sectarian violence, instead providing a short-term ‘band aid’ approach to the problem. Moreover, the U.S. failed to use its leverage against the Maliki government to pursue a top-down approach to stabilising the country in the long-term, which should have focused on repatriating the Sunnis back into the political process at an earlier date and brokered a more sustainable power sharing agreement. By addressing these issues, it is apparent that when it withdraws from Iraq, the

“United States will be leaving a country more divided than the one it invaded – thanks to a strategy that has systematically nourished domestic rivalries in order to maintain an illusory short-term stability” (Simon, 2008: 70).

And so it goes. Notwithstanding the apparent departure of al-Maliki (photo below from AFP/Getty via Foreign Policy blog The Cable), the situation in Iraq likely will remain unstable through the next presidential election. There will be no avoiding the issue for either side and it is no more likely the GOP presidential candidate or congressional candidates will blandly refer to "circumstances" than the Republican Party will assume blame for lighting the fire itself in Iraq.

Bob Corker's statement is an outlier. Complexity is as foreign concept to its side as the nation of Iraq itself. John McCain is paving the way for Republican candidates in at lest the next two election cycles to pound on the themes of premature withdrawal, "inaction," or "weakness," It's how they play the game, and the canard of Republican strength and Democratic weakness dies hard.

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