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Flatiron Hot! News | January 17, 2018

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In Critiques of Obama, John McCain Reveals Willful Ignorance on Iraq

In Critiques of Obama, John McCain Reveals Willful Ignorance on Iraq
Eric Shapiro

When Obama announced limited air strikes against ISIS, his goals were very specific. The first was to protect U.S. facilities and personnel at Erbill, the “capital” of a semi-autonomous Kurdish region.  The second goal was to prevent a “potential act of genocide” against the Yazidis, surrounded and starving to death on the Sinja mountains.

Not enough for John McCain. “We need to get beyond a policy of half measures. The President needs to devise a comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS. This should include the provision of military and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS. It should include U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces, and positions both in Iraq and Syria. It should include support to Sunni Iraqis who seek to resist ISIS. And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad.”

Yesterday, McCain got a significant chunk of what he wanted when Obama left open the possibility of additional strikes: “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to be a long-term project.” As it turns out, an open-ended commitment to additional air strikes is not enough for a man whose hunger for escalation seemingly knows no bounds. His response bears all the hallmarks of empty, substance-free GOP jingoism.

As usual, McCain points out the obvious, implying that a policy of targeted air strikes by the most powerful air force in the world is inadequate. He used words like “pinpricks,” “meaningless” and “worse than nothing” to describe the air strikes. However, former Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, who is actually observing from within Iraq, paints a much different picture of the strikes that eliminate key ISIS artillery outside of Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous zone: “Our intelligence… is that it has been a devastating blow. Commanders have seen dramatic changes on the front lines… We have already seen some withdrawals.” Meanwhile,U.S. aircraft have air dropped relief supplies to tens of thousands of thirsty and starving Yazidis, helping to alleviate an ongoing humanitarian disaster. How John McCain could dismiss such things as “meaningless” is likely beyond the comprehension of ordinary people.

John McCain disapproves of President Obama’s stated objectives: “The stated purpose — stated by the president — is to save American lives, not to stop ISIS, not to change the battlefield… Obviously, the President of the United States does not appreciate this is not just a threat to American troops on the ground or even Iraq or Kurdistan. This is a threat to America.” Setting aside that perhaps Obama’s top priority should be saving American lives, claiming that he doesn’t consider ISIS a threat to America is unfair. It is true that President Obama is reluctant to fight the Iraqi people’s war for them. This does not mean he’s not dedicated to “changing the battlefield.” In fact, President Obama stated unequivocally today “We’re not going to let [ISIS] create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq.” This, on the same days as he lays the foundation for future air strikes. How much clearer can President Obama be about his objectives? Apparently, its not clear enough for McCain: “It’s almost worse than nothing because I fear the President is threatening and then he won’t follow through.” Translation: “I disapprove of your foreign policy because I think you’re lying.” This from a “foreign policy expert” that the media repeatedly calls upon to represent the GOP hawk’s foreign policy agenda, such as it is. Yet, he opposes in part based on irrational distrust. How is substantive discourse possible under these conditions?

Like most GOP critiques of President Obama’s foreign policy, John McCain blames the President for the problems that his predecessor started: “We are paying the price for inaction and we are paying the price for withdrawal.” McCain makes no mention of the unjustified war that left Iraq in a state of chaos nor the anarchic aftermath defined by explosive sectarian tensions. He makes no mention of the administration that left the corrupt and divisive Maliki government in power, alienating Sunnis and setting the stage for the current conflict. He ignores the fact that the Iraqi government refused to allow a residual U.S. force to stay behind in Iraq without the threat of prosecution, necessitating a full exit. No, it is all President Obama’s fault for not following through on his electoral mandate to extricate U.S. troops from a hopeless quagmire that had swallowed up so much blood and treasure to no avail.

John McCain seems to forget that he lost the presidential election in 2008 because he supported continuing a war that the American people overwhelmingly opposed. If he’s not going to find common cause with President Obama, then perhaps he can find common cause with the American people. Or not.