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Mission Creep Already

After hinting that there would be no U.S. military involvement in Iraq's current metldown/civil war...well, there is. President Obama has said he is sending 300 military advisors to??? advise? to target ISIS militants for air attacks? to show the Iraqi military how to do something they are unwilling or incapable of doing?  And only 300? what about the air crews bringing them in? the translators? Well, you get it. And all of this while Mr. Maliki is still in power. And oh yes, maybe we'll take a few shots at Syria while we're bombing in Iraq.

NYTimes: "President Obama said Thursday that he would deploy up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help its struggling security forces fend off a wave of Sunni militants who have overrun large parts of the country, edging the United States back into a conflict that Mr. Obama once thought he had left behind.

"Warning that the militants pose a threat not just to Iraq but also to the United States, Mr. Obama said he was prepared to take “targeted and precise military action,” a campaign of airstrikes that a senior administration official said could be extended into neighboring Syria."

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Ms. Steinfels - any chance you are over-reacting?  It is a complex dance - both foreign policy and managing the McCains of this world.

You base your reaction on a press briefing - do you really think Obama told us everything?  Some retired military commentors noted that some of these advisors are probably the very folks who had trained the Iraqi military; had local, Baghdad or northern Iraqi tribal connections, etc.  Any chance that these advisors might give us a more comprehensive and balanced picture of what is going on (rather than just Shia/Maliki viewpoint(?

You make no mention of the fact that Iraqi is in the process of forming a new government - any chance that Obama's announcement is part of a negotiation, initial leverage, etc.?

You make no mention of Kerry's trip - what is really his purpose/goal - what will be the outcomes?

Have relative in US military. According the the rumour mill, rangers and seal teams deployed for assassination of senior ISIS leaders. I don't think that solves the problems because they are supported by large swaths of their respective communities. Nonetheless, this is the buzz among military folks. We gossip and you decide!!

BdH: Could be I'm overreacting...hang over from the "advisors" trick in Vietnam!

Only a press conference, yes. But slipped in with the 300 (or how ever many) advisors is the mention of air strikes not only in Iraq but Syria. There are reported to be 5000 Americans at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, presumably some of them have a handle on the intelligence/military/political situation. Perhaps some among the 300 will have special insight into the situation, perhaps not.

Obama's earlier statements that the Iraqis must decide for themselves about Maliki, about battling with ISIS, about reconciliation among Sunnis, Shites, and Kurds was right. We can't want reconciliation more than they do... And John Kerry!!! Well what can I say? His brilliant performance with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the Ukranian-Russian stand-off could mean better luck with yet another crisis. Count me skeptical. The John McCains and Lindsay Grahams of this world, or for that matter the Dick Cheneys and Robert Kagans: They like war; they think it solves problems.

Of course, Obama didn't tell us everything (or at least I hope not). Where are talks with Turkey, Iran, Jordan, the Sunni ex-Batthist military, (who seems to be playing a very big role in organizing the liver-eaters, ISIS), and the Kurds, who actually know how to fight. Presumably a lot is going on; it might be helpful to have some of that leak out to reassure us that more is on the agenda than fighting and bombing. Maybe news of 300 advisors and possible air attacks is mean to quiet the war hawks. But that is not how these things usually work out.

Ms. Steinfels - thanks; and anticipate that leaks will happen (intentional and otherwise)

The *advisor* comparison with Vietnam is only partly true - in fact, my MA in Amer. History thesis is on US government mismangement in Vietnam 1945-1965.   The story behind the *advisors* is complex, has many moving parts; changed with each administration; and each administration had different reasons for the use of advisors and there was never a consistent buildup until LBJ.  Your comparison works best if you narrowly ascribe this comparison to LBJ's years.

A more apt comparison is European colonialism whether circa WWI or WWII:

- funny how French empire/colonialism stamped both Vietnam and fact,at the end of WWII the US OSS forces had been fighting with our allies, Viet Minh, against Japanese forces for years and a transition per self-determination could have wisely led to a different direction an conclusion in Vietnam.  Unfortunately, both Truman and Eisenhower allowed the French Empire to re-emerge in IndoChina despite UN votes, etc.  Eventually, the French were defeated and withdrew leaving behind a divided Vietnam and a puppet Western aligned South Vietnamese government which the US then committed to (justified via domino theory).  Truman/Eisenhower advisors and military aid went to French forces; not Vietnamese.  (this is where your simple comparison breaks down)

- Sykes-Picot was a WWI arbitrary, secret agreement that artifically drew up international borders in the Middle East split between French and British areas of influence; if not mandates.  No effort was made to include the tribal, national, or religious sects, peoples, etc.  A series of failed Arab leaders traipsed through these kingdoms - all in the name of the French and British Empires.  Isn't it time that we narrowly limit our advisors' roles, end the European empire travesties, and begin to lay out actual ways to work with each self-determined groups - use the Kurds as the template.  (make it clear that self-determination can not be based upon Sharia law or terrorism, etc.  Too many US political voices cite *terrorism* just like 50 years ago they cited the Domino Theory.  Thus, *terrorism* justifies *advisors* - so, a civil war that can only be resolved politically is addressed using military means only - doomed to fail again and again.  And we align the US with only one side (there really isn't much difference between Bao Dai in Vietnam and al-Maliki in Iraq) 

It is a historical footnote that the Kurds never achieved self-determination after WWI or WWII - now there is a solid start.  Wouldn't doubt that some advisors are already in place with the peshmerga.

And what happens when 36 "advisors are blown up  and the Manchester Guardian has photos of grannies, moms, and babies killed by  a US  airstrike

Juan Cole as usuall has some interesting things to say about our view (and more particularly, our media's and our pundits' view) of what is happening in Iraq:


Nothing happens. They are not white Europeans or Americans. I am not being cynical or even sarcastic. That is just the reality. We already know that drones have killed countless civilians and have permanently soured a lot of people in Afghanistan against Americans. Has that changed the US's tactics even one bit? No. Has there been outpouring of concerns? No.   

Just catching up (six grade graduation yesterday  [remember the days when we just got a final report card and got sent home for the summer!?).

BdH: "advisors?" "advisers?" I am sure you're correct that they filled different roles in different periods. My mind goes back to the early 60s and Kennedy sending them with the caution that they were only advisory. Did that allow Kennedy and Johnson to up the ante? Send your thesis, I'd like to read it.

Nicholas C: Yes, Cole is excellent and confirming matters that I thought I remembered but have not seen mentioned: Oil: Basra in the south is the major source for Iraqi exports. Whatever the capture of Baiji means, it doesn't mean the end of Iraqi exports. Loss of Mosul and other towns: reported to be overrun by ISIS but Cole reports what is said elsewhere; the populations of these cities rose up against the army (Maliki's); they may well rise against ISIS if life proves even worse than under Maliki.

U.S. MSM by and large doesn't seem to have the skeptical fix necessary for reporting from the land of many tales, some true, many not. The PBS Newshour is a scandal in this respect (independent newsreporting indeed!).

The Kurds: Yes, was it Woodrow Wilson who promised them a country? The Iraqi Kurds are the only dependable and skilled fighting force in the region (except of course for the IDF with whom they are said to have very good relations). They also appear to be capable of self-governance though I suspect it would be a stretch to call Iraqi Kurdistan a constitutional democracy..

Treaty of Sevres - never ratified or acted on.  Gave the Kurds their own nation.

Ms. Steinfels - thesis.....well, it was 1977, done on a typewriter.  A few hardbound would be at DePaul University.  Much of the thesis points are obviously based upon the research and documentation available at that time - so, prior to McNamara's admission that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was a lie; etc.   Did use some documentation at the LBJ Library in Austin, TX but lots of documentation was, at that time, still sealed and off limits.

Sorry, don't have a pdf of the thesis.

Kennedy - unfortunatley, his death leaves a historical conundrum - would he have ceased US support and pulled out advisors by his second term?  Historians project possible decisions from one extreme to another on this question.  What we do know is that with the assassination of the Diem's, Kennedy was shaken and angry about the direction of US support.

1977? typewriter? MAthesis? How old were you? 7?

Vox: Looks slightly better informed than the Newshour...

Put a *2* in front of the *7*

Wow! you're almost as old as I am. No wonder you're so wise.

Well, passed my boards the following summer and got my degree.  My daughter merely states that I am old with bad habits.  How many folks these days have to do both boards and thesis for a masters?

Guess I will never catch up to you age wise; so there goes any wisdom.

George D -

Thanks for a dose of reaity on dones.  Great tool for doing something without having to do somthing that is ikely to cause you trouble at home.   Cheap grace.


Mark L.

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