No risk free choices for Obama on Iraq

US president is under pressure to act against ISIL in Iraq as the armed group continues to make military gains.

    The US president has only two choices: Do what he's been doing or launch a full scale invasion of Iraq [AP]
    The US president has only two choices: Do what he's been doing or launch a full scale invasion of Iraq [AP]

    Washington, DC - You would think being the president of the United States would mean you have a ton of choices. You have your own plane and an entire team of people who take care of your travel.

    You've got a big house with a bunch of cooks who serve at your pleasure. When it comes to his job, we've seen with President Obama, he can enact all sorts of nationwide changes on his own just by issuing an executive order.

    I bring this up, because according to White House officials when it comes to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the president has only two choices: Do what he's been doing or launch a full scale invasion of Iraq.

    That has been their standard line when anyone questions their strategy. They say those that don't think the status quo is working are advocating for another war.

    Their defensiveness could be because the entire Obama doctrine is on the line. He says the US goal is not to get directly involved in foreign conflicts, but that they can be effective by training local forces.

    In the case of Iraq, he says the Iraqi military, with the help of US training and coalition air strikes can defeat ISIL eventually.

    The strategy was questioned when Mosul fell. The Obama administration responded that it wasn't a problem with the plan, it was the current Iraqi government that had divided the country.

    President Obama argues for staying the course on ISIL [The Associated Press]

    Stark choice

    There was a new government in Baghdad when Ramadi fell. The Obama administration explained the problem is that the troops that fled weren't trained by the US.

    Well they had been trained by the US once, but not twice more accurately. With all of that, there are some in Washington who are questioning the strategy, and that is why the White House is laying out a stark choice, this or war.

    I don't know many Americans that want to or are willing to let the country go back to war in Iraq. So if they have only two options, it is pretty clear which one they'll pick.

    Still, that begs the question. Are there really only two options? In talking to military experts the answer is clearly no, of course not. The president could send in forward military air controllers.

    Basically those are US personnel that go into a city, point a laser and show the pilots what to bomb. It's a critical asset to have especially if you are going to launch an offensive in a city.

    That is also a dangerous mission and it would mean huge risks. The president and his people have to be thinking about the horror the country would experience if one their own was seen in one of those grotesque ISIL videos.

    More action

    The country would be outraged beyond words, and presidents can lose options if a public outcry reaches a fever pitch and demands more action.

    The president could try to cobble together a regional force to enhance the Iraqi troops. Of course, he would have to get Iraq's approval for that. That option would probably include at least some American troops fighting in combat.

    That would likely mean more American casualties. The president does have options, but they are riskier for his country and the military he commands.

    The US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter just defended the strategy again saying the problem is not with the US plan, it is that the Iraqis didn't have the will to fight. They want to put more focus on training and equipping the military.

    The fact that he so publicly slapped his partners, the very people he needs if the strategy is going to work should show the level of frustration within the administration.

    I can't help but wonder if at some point in this debate someone is going to bring up what became known as the "Colin Powell Pottery Barn rule".

    He famously told President George W Bush, like the furniture store, "If you break it, you buy it." 
    The question being asked now really boils down to this: does that policy have an expiration date? And how much should it cost the US?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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