Obama’s self-absorbed humanitarianism over Iraq

Obama the supreme egotist looks grudging and shifty over his self-absorbed decision to move on Iraq. It's the story of his presidency

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Obama and Iraq
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Taylor Dibbert
On 13 August 2014 07:28

President Obama recently made a decision. Consequently, the U.S. is launching limited airstrikes in Iraq and has also undertaken a humanitarian operation in the northern part of the country.

Obama’s press conference last Thursday was difficult to watch. He couldn’t conceal the disgruntled look on his face; it appeared that he was having trouble looking directly into the camera. Obama emphasized that this was a humanitarian operation and that U.S. ground forces would not be going back to Iraq.

Notably, he didn’t mention anything about defeating the Islamic State (IS).

It’s true that Obama’s anti-war stance had a lot to do with his winning the Democratic nomination in 2008, but I’m hoping he’s thinking more about the well-being of the American republic (and the world) instead of campaign promises. Regrettably, I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.

During his press conference on Saturday Obama said, “There is not going to be an American military solution to this problem.” And of course, he refused to come out and say that defeating the Islamic State is a goal – looks like he’d rather leave that to his successor.

Limited airstrikes and humanitarian intervention were obviously needed. The problem is that more will need to be done. Nobody’s talking about how limited airstrikes in Iraq will take out the Islamic State or even come close to doing so.

Since that’s the case, we’ve still got a really big problem on our hands. Obama seems to think that it’s time for the Iraqis (or anybody besides the U.S.) to step up and deal with this problem. Unfortunately, that’s not feasible and that notion flies in the face of at least seventy years of diplomatic and military history.

When asked about whether he had any regrets about leaving a residual force in Iraq, Obama maintained his disingenuous line about how we have arrived at where we are today. He clearly stated that it wasn’t his decision. He goes with this line in spite of the fact that his administration did not take negotiations surrounding a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) seriously.

It’s good that the U.S. is intervening to protect Americans and prevent genocide, but there are now a lot of inconsistencies in Obama’s foreign policy. It’d be helpful if he made some clarifications.

Why not act in Syria? Why did the intervention in Libya not end up working so well and what can we learn from it? (Wasn’t Libya supposed to prove to the world that ‘leading from behind’ would be just fine?)

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was invoked to support the Libyan attacks, but then why wasn’t the same rationale used in 2009 – during the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war? This latest move by Obama looks like the president feels compelled to “do something” and help save his reputation without providing a coherent plan.

Obama’s self-absorbed brand of humanitarianism is neither a strategy nor a solution.

Recently, there’s been plenty of talk about how more military action in Iraq would go against Obama’s campaign promises. There’s no question about it; Obama wants to stay out of Iraq (and the rest of the Middle East) and hopes things work out for the best.

Unfortunately, there’s been a lot less talk about how the president should be far more focused on his presidency compared to what he said on the campaign trail in 2008 or 2012. Sure, he’s at risk of upsetting his base and many Americans on both sides of the aisle don’t want to see more American engagement abroad. But what about declaring that the Islamic State must be defeated?

Shouldn’t that be a goal? Obama should put his polling data aside and clearly make that case to the American public: Sitting on the sidelines or just getting to the periphery of the problem isn’t sufficient and more must be done. Of course, Washington cannot control everything, but the Islamic State has metastasized under Obama’s watch. And doubling down on his strategy of American disengagement and retreat would be ill-advised at this conjuncture.

Obama looked frustrated on Saturday. At times when he was taking questions from the media, he came across as mildly irritated and even defensive. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s going on vacation for two weeks. Perhaps that will give him adequate time to reflect on all the major events in global affairs that appear to be passing him by.

The world – with all its problems – will still be there when he gets back.

Taylor Dibbert is an international consultant based in Washington, D.C. and the author of the book Fiesta of Sunset: The Peace Corps, Guatemala and a Search for Truth. Follow him on Twitter @taylordibbert

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