What is the moral, intellectual, and policy terrain on which Barack Obama will decide whether we turn over Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant? Is it the national interest of the United States? The potential consequences of Iraq’s collapse? The stability (or lack thereof) of our allies in the region? Existential threats to Israel? Fundamental human rights concerns over the bloody fate guaranteed apostates, unbelievers, and women? The answer is as shallow, disappointing, and vile as you can possibly imagine. Barack Obama’s only concern is his political legacy, which is why he’ll do just enough in Iraq to fail.
Our policy toward ISIL has become about the Obama brand, as every decision by this White House always has. You can predict Obama’s behavior by asking how it effects his image. Policy is just a means to an end for the profound, gnawing narcissism that fuels him. Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for the Obama legacy.
President Obama’s every thought is turned to the long march ahead, where generations of liberal pundits will craft and polish his reputation as the Greatest President Since Washington. He knows the media’s 50-year investment in the Kennedy myth is waning, and he’s wants them to play the same role for him, without the messy ending. If you thought the slobbering, tween-girl media squeefest that has characterized his media coverage for the last six years was insufferable, just wait. He understands celebrity, and because of that, he’s playing to his cheerleaders, not to the doubters.
Obama knows that the media who will mold and shape his legacy are absolutely, unalterably opposed to any further engagement in Iraq. They were vital allies in the Democratic Party’s tireless efforts to undercut George W. Bush, and this President will risk letting Baghdad drown in a river of blood before he does anything to displease them. Confronting his miserable poll ratings, the Commander-in-Chief is fully aware that any military moves having any chance of damaging ISIL would send his base and his legacy-builders into paroxysms of anger and hate. Why risk a messy, complex, bloody entanglement in Iraq? At this point – stop me if you’ve heard this – what difference does it make? How does it help the great work ahead of ensuring the perpetuation of the personality cult of the Maximum Leader? His political legacy is all that matters now, and if the solution to stopping ISIL was to put even one American soldier into combat in Iraq, he’ll likely refuse to do so.
A central predicate of his 2008 campaign was that he would end Bush’s war in Iraq, win the “good” war in Afghanistan, and restore America’s standing in the world. He was different. Liberals imagined Obama possessed some kind of magical moral stature because of his neatly-creased pants and his keen intellect, and they knew that once Bushitler was out of the way, Obama’s cool, technocratic leadership would lead the world to peace and prosperity. It was, of course, a con. As the late Fouad Ajami wrote of Obama,
“His politics of charisma was reminiscent of the Third World. A leader steps forth, better yet someone with no discernible trail, someone hard to pin down to a specific political program, and the crowd could read into him what it wished, what it needed.”
Consider Obama’s famed “A New Beginning” speech in Cairo in the Spring of 2009:
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
It was a speech which was intended to lay the groundwork for his foreign-policy legacy. Like a third-world dictator with a chest full of medals on his uniform, Obama wanted the “World Visionary” ribbon along with a Nobel Prize decoration on his tunic. There was never a policy behind it. It should have been a warning.
Cast an eye across the world, and his words are a cruel lie. There are no “common principles of justice and progress” with jihadists, and there never will be. The Man Who Killed Bin Laden will lose Iraq and Afghanistan, and will give exactly zero damns. He knows America is exhausted from 13 years of war. (He’s also been given no small amount of aid and comfort by a growing isolationist wing inside the GOP, but that’s a discussion for another day.) He recognizes that his inertia and disengagement in every international crisis in the past six years has created more problems than he has solved, and that he got away with it. His foreign affairs polling numbers are starting to collide with reality, but Barack Obama quite patently doesn’t care how Iraq ends.
Obama has agreed to send a handful of special operators to reinforce the embassy and Iraqi leadership, and there may be some token intel support, but ISIL is deep inside his OODA loop, and Obama is too indifferent to even imagine the hard work of pushing them back. The bumbling trainwreck that is John Kerry will lumber around Baghdad, lecturing and hectoring our soon-to-be dead former allies. “Joseph of Arabia” Biden’s political Tourette syndrome will cause him to blurt out whatever absurdity is on the tip of his tongue. Expect little else.
I’m not here to give you the sweeping catalog of errors in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past six years, to relitigate the decision to invade Iraq in the first place, or to defend the truly abysmal Maliki government. I’m not here to propose a strategy to defeat ISIL, though a constant rain of Hellfires on Toyota Hilux trucks chock-full of AK-toting dudes in black tracksuits seems like a fine start for the festivities. I am here to remind you that ISIL isn’t just a local problem. It isn’t simply a Sunni-Shia religious war; it’s a preview of failed states to come and of the long descent into a world where American leadership is distant, bitter memory. They will replace problematic, troubled, sometimes terrible governments with well-funded, nihilistic terror states governed by men entirely comfortable with mass graves, beheadings, and suicide bombings.
This is the future of the region and it’s a future where the ragged edge of a knife opens the throats of apostates, Christians, Jews, and women with the temerity to go unveiled, their deaths gleefully broadcast on social media. We’ve seen this before, from Germany to Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia to Darfur and a dozen stops between. Somewhere in Hell, Hitler and Pol Pot are laughing hysterically. Never again, indeed.
An unchecked ISIL guarantees a future where we will wake again on some clear September morning, and be filled with shock and agony as thousands of Americans lay dead in some new 9/11, all because in the Summer of 2014 Barack Obama stared adoringly into the mirror of his own legacy while averting his eyes from a dark horizon and a blood-red sky.