The NY Times offers a poignant recounting of the collapse of Obama's "strategy" in Iraq:
Relief Over U.S. Exit From Iraq Fades as Reality Overtakes Hope
This is among the bits that vexed me:
Just as important if not more so, however, was the impact of the civil war in next-door Syria. Few if any expected on that day in 2011 just how far the Syria conflict would escalate, leading to the creation of virulent new Islamist jihadist groups like the Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS or sometimes ISIL, that would ultimately spill over the border and threaten Baghdad.
“The notion that Syria would completely fall apart and become this major staging ground for Nusra and ISIS, which wasn’t even ISIS at the time, I don’t think people anticipated and I don’t think could have been anticipated,” said Colin Kahl, who was the Pentagon official in charge of Iraq until the withdrawal.
Setting aside the specific emergence of ISIS, is it really true that no one could have foreseen that instability in Syria could bleed over into Iraq? My goodness, here is a Times account of the Eerily Non-Prescient Joe Biden's farewell trip to Iraq and environs in December 2011 (my emphasis):
Mr. Biden’s comments seemed calculated to reassure allies like Turkey in a region that is worried about a new wave of instability — not just because of Iran’s more aggressive behavior but also because of the violence in Syria.
In his meeting with the Turkish president, the senior administration official said, Mr. Biden acknowledged that there were fears in the Middle East about what would happen if the uprising in Syria managed to topple President Bashar al-Assad. But he argued that Mr. Assad himself was the greatest cause of instability and sectarian strife. “The problem right now is Assad,” Mr. Biden said in the interview. “Could something emerge that is more disruptive regionally? I don’t think so, but it could.”
"I don't think so, but it could" is quite different from "That can't happen".
They make nice bookends - Bush entered Iraq on the basis of faulty intelligence and Obama exited on the basis of faulty intelligence.
As a result, the Obama administration faces a difficult conundrum—one that presents the president with only two very poor policy approaches. Obama can either pursue an incremental, conditional approach that will satisfy his desire to put maximum pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and minimize America's return to Iraq—but will likely fail to address the severity of the crisis. Or Obama can set aside his understandable caution and provide more robust military assistance before he can be confident of getting the political changes that are needed to turn any Iraqi government military gains into strategic successes.
Obama was wise to send 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq, and he is correct to think that, without political changes, the Iraqi state will struggle to overcome its current security challenges given that it will be unable to win the support of either the Sunnis or the Kurds. But the political outcome that will bring all Iraqis back into a power-sharing government has become much more complicated just in the last week.
And every moment that the president waits, the more complicated it becomes as new realities consolidate on the ground.
Left unmentioned - where will we find an army with the fighting spirit to liberate (or should that be "liberate"?) Sunni Iraq from its Sunni jihadist occupiers? I think Shiite militias or the Shiite "led" Iraqi army can fight on their home turf but have no chance fighting Sunnis in Sunni territory. And the US had its hands full there back in first invasion and later allied with local Sunni chieftans to battle Al Qaeda in Iraq; what are the odds of Obama making that kind of troop commitment?
PRESUMABLY THAT WAS NEVER A RED LINE; Kerry admits that with the clock ticking, US action may precede Iraqi politcal reform.