Obama & Cameron find little Enthusiasm at NATO for new Iraq War

By Juan Cole

The NATO summit in Wales was supposed to be all about getting out of Afghanistan. Instead, two new issues dominated it– the Ukraine and ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

British prime minister David Cameron joined Barack Obama in castigating NATO members for paying ransoms to ISIL and for not stepping up to deal with it. Cameron is said to be canvassing his backbenchers in parliament about whether they would accept a Royal Air Force role in bombing ISIL positions in Iraq. He has to do this because last year this time the British parliament shot down any British role in bombing Syria in response to the Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of poison gas. Parliament’s reluctance played a role in forestalling an Obama intervention in Syria.

Cameron and Obama expect Haydar al-Abadi to form a government of national unity in Iraq within the next few days. At that point, they expect al-Abadi formally to invite Western air power into the country to combat ISIL, which has taken 40% of the country.

Germany has already been prevailed upon to send some military equipment to the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga. Other NATO members may well offer military aid to the Iraqi army.

The big question is Syria. As I argued yesterday, there are important questions about whether a Syrian intervention would comport with international law. While this consideration is not important in the United States, the European Union states have incorporated much international law into EU legal codes, and leaders who infringe against it could find themselves in court.

My reading of the reporting from Wales is that most NATO states have little intention of intervening directly in Iraq and most of them have no intention to get involved in Syria. The US and Britain (and, far from Europe, Australia) are the most likely to commit to the Iraq front. The NATO country closest to ISIL territory, Turkey, seems reluctant to get involved in directly fighting ISIL (and critics of the religious Right party, AKP, which is in power, suggest that behind the scenes President Tayyip Erdogan is supporting the hard core Muslim rebels in Syria.

Despite all the vehement talk, the US likely will have few allies in the air in Iraq as President Obama seems to be stampeded (by the Washington hawks and fear of losing the midterms for looking weak) into a wide-ranging new Iraq war that seems likely to spill over into Syria.

The biggest problem the US faces, however, is the lack of effective allies on the ground in Iraq. The ragtag assemblage of radical Shiite militias, Iranian advisers, Kurdistan paramilitary and regular Iraqi army troops that broke the siege of Amerli then went on to attempt to take Tikrit from ISIL. They fairly quickly failed in this further campaign. Apparently it is important to them to fight for a grateful Shiite population, but they don’t do nearly as well when fighting ISIL in Sunni Arab areas. But the latter is the ultimate objective. Air power can’t do the job, you need effective troops on the ground. Where will Mr. Obama find them?

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Related video

Reuters: “Crises in Ukraine, Iraq hang over NATO summit”

20 Responses

  1. “Where will Mr. Obama find them?”
    Please pardon my persistent ignorance. The only credible force is led by and is majority Sunni with a better chance of success then blowing up wedding parties now and again.

  2. I’m curious why air power seems so limited in effect. I recall reading of how the British effectively used bi-planes against both the Turks (Ottoman Empire) and later Arabs in the same desert terrain as IS inhabits. We know that air power can be devastating against tanks and hard targets. Perhaps it is that the IS is so spread out that whatever ordinance is used from the air, while it could knock out an artillery piece or tank, can’t do much against dispersed individuals, even if they are out in the open desert. I raise this issue because it seems strange that the most advanced weaponry proves not very effective against the most ancient kind of armed force, individual (human) fighters. One thing always seems the case with U.S. involvement – we outspend the enemy on weaponry by orders of magnitude. Also interesting the the A10 Warthog is up for decommissioning, an ideal aircraft for taking on ground forces.

    • You need to read up on 4th generation warfare, and a whole lot of recent history. “Air power” is an oversold fraud on the big scale, maybe short of the detonation of nuclear weapons, and the Imperial military, all musclebound and bureaucratic, can’t even win its own rigged war games. “Demolishing ISILAQ” is likely not something that can be done by bombing or rocketing or even boots and M-4s. If peace and prosperity are to be had at all any more, there or here, it won’t be achieved by force of arms. But of course peace n prosperity for all tl
      , hat’s not the goal of the Game, now is it? And the Imperial military and its appendages and partners want nothing so much as a deal like the Egyptian military — with their porky fingers in all the businesses that are running, and able to crush dissent behind a screen of false legitimacy. The operative construct is the Global Interoperable Network-Centric Battlespace.

    • People learned not to stand in ranks in the open desert with enemy planes overhead. Not much else to say.

  3. Hah hah! After American aggressive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ongoing American aggressive acts of war via drones and special forces around the globe and the world is expected to welcome American “assistance” against whomever they please in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria. That the American press “misses” the irony is a triumph of propaganda.

    That being said, the foreign policy goal of any American administration is to maintain or increase hegemony over valuable regions. Syria, like Vietnam before it, is not a valuable region, but it lies in an important region. And intervening establishes the precedent that the US gets a say in any change of government in that valuable region. On the other hand, intervening on any large scale in Syria seems pointless since Iraq IS valuable and also provides the US an opportunity to establish the same precedent. Hence, it would be better for the US to limit Syrian intervention to running guns and drone strikes against whomever they please.

    As I said, Iraq IS valuable, and American intervention on a large scale is necessary to prevent any force in Iraq to gain the upper hand. Until, that is, a ruthless faction pledges itself to American puppetdom. Towards that goal, do their best to prevent the Iraqi government to get airplanes, arm the Peshmerga etc.

    As for international support, the US should look towards the GWB admin, and form a coalition of the willing to give them the fig leaf of legitimacy. American client regimes like Honduras, Columbia and Paraguay, insecure Eastern European countries like Ukraine, Poland and Estonia, and white English speaking nations should do the trick. Japan and the Phillipines should round it out.

    • “white English speaking nations”…LOL, we need those guys/girls in England and Australia. Danes, Swedes and Icelanders are white folks but they don’t speak our lingo.

      Even though they have supported all of our wars, white people in Poland aren’t as important as Aussies because of that language restriction.

      Still, remember what George Bush once said…”DON’T FORGET POLAND.”

  4. Obama & Cameron find little Enthusiasm at NATO for new Iraq War

    But that won’t stop them from doubling down. There remains a lot of this world for the American hegemon and its English puppet (whatever happened to the British bulldog?) to conquer.

  5. Dr. Cole: You say “ISIL … has taken 40% of the country.” Is that 40% of the land area, 40% of the population, 40% of the oil, or what? I seems to me to make a difference.

    –Dennis Lawrence

  6. you need effective troops on the ground. Where will Mr. Obama find them?

    In 1948 George Kennan infamously observed that because the USA intended to continue controlling 50% of the world’s wealth despite having only 6% of the world’s population, it must “dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”

    The Vietnam-era military draft produced a domestic political crisis, so where indeed can the 1% find foot soldiers to implement its elite projects?

    I think this explains why they used religious extremists to destabilize Afghanistan and Syria, and Pravy Sektor/Svoboda fascists as shock troops for the coup in Kiev.

    • …so where indeed can the 1% find foot soldiers to implement its elite projects?

      More important, where can they find competent leadership to lead those foot soldiers mostly drawn from the lower economic strata?

      • ISISIQIL does not seem to be having any trouble attracting recruits, and if the story I broken-linked below has any merit, the “Caliphate” is attracting all kinds, people seeking “victory” along with their “identity:”

        “Horgan is one of the few psychologists in the U.S. who study the minds of terrorists. In the more than 20 years he has been researching the topic, he said he had never seen a message by a member of a terrorist organization as compelling as Poulin’s.

        In the video message, which ISIS later used in a propaganda video, Poulin explained why he had joined the Sunni militant group. “Before I come here to Syria, I had money, I had a family, I had good friends. It wasn’t like I was some anarchist or somebody who just wants to destroy the world and kill everybody. I was a regular person,” Poulin, who later began calling himself Abu Muslim, said in the message. “We need the engineers, we need doctors, we need professionals. Every person can contribute something to the Islamic State.”

        “Very often we see radicals decide they want to become a terrorist turn away at the last minute, but [Poulin’s] message hit the nail on the head, which is to say there is a road for everyone. It makes radicalization and recruitment much easier,” Horgan said. “It is an equal opportunity organization. It has everything from the sadistic psychopath to the humanitarian to the idealistic driven.”

        As far as foreign fighters are concerned, Horgan said, they are driven to join ISIS by the need to “belong to something special.”

        “They want to find something meaningful for their life,” he said. “Some are thrill seeking, some are seeking redemption.”

        link to ibtimes.com

        How’s the Global Babblespace Battle Managers going to beat that combination for recruitment and field force dedication, with the tools they have at hand?

        • But you’ve also just described many of the Christians, racists, and psychopaths who join the US military and its associated mercenary corporations. You think right-wingers can’t convince themselves that killing for Wall Street makes their lives special or meaningful? Hell, the armies of explicitly racist regimes – South Africa, Rhodesia, Nazi Germany, and the Confederate States of America had a fantastic record of holding out against numerically superior enemies. I would argue that white supremacy has been the most lethally effective ideology, the most dangerous drug, in human history, from Cortez’ tiny band to today’s extremist minority parading their guns in Texas restaurants and rallying far larger numbers to vote in people almost as bad. I guess the global elimination tournament will come down to its champion ca. 622-1492 versus its champion ca. 1492-1992, one fanaticism on another. Or China gets a bye to the final.

  7. I feel sorry for Obama. He’s cornered into a fight with an adversary that knows exactly what what our forces can and cannot do, On the other hand we have admitted that ISIS surprised us, and we know little about them. Supercomputers vs the abacus, Unlimited air power against roadside bombs, the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA against a bunch guys sitting around a fire. Obama, being pretty smart, taking this all in, and looking at recent history where there were similar conditions, must know that he is entering the swamp of no return.

  8. Not much enthusiasm is of course a euphemistic way of saying none at all, and I would imagine a fair amount of opposition. There is only so much leaders, even those with the monarchical authority of the British PM, can do in direct defiance of their electorates. This doesn’t mean that anyone favours the IS and its brutal conquests, but that the US way of dealing with such problems seems only to make them worse. There was a dictator in Iraq who was overthrown because he was supposed to have WMDs but didn’t, and now there is chaos and insecurity from Libya to Pakistan. If a company had a CEO whose policies provided parallel results he would lose support and be dumped by the shareholders.

  9. Iraq? What about that silly Ukraine thing that’s going down? There’s still what,14,000 Cold War nuclear weapons on both “sides,” still und

  10. der the command of idiot Neo-Cold Warriors bound to the ponderous Juggernaut of MADness, and with all those delivery systems mostly intact. And now that professor in the White House, who presumably knows something of history, is mouthing the same script of “Attack on one (including the newly minted client government in Kiev) is attack on all, and will be met with all our force.”

    So the corporate-military mash up that is NATO will be the new Alliance, paralleling the runup, in 1914, to Sarajevo. What will be the Archduke Ferdinand moment, I wonder?

    Stupid effing humans!

  11. It’s a dilemma, alright. Maybe we should steal a play out of the GWB/Neocon “How to End a Preemptive War” handbook, by taunting ISIL fighters to “Bring It On”, then hanging out the old “Mission Accomplished” banner. I’m sure those guys are just a bunch of “dead enders” anyway.

  12. I asked a question here a while ago, a couple of times actually, why ISIS? well here:

    In the video message, which ISIS later used in a propaganda video, Poulin explained why he had joined the Sunni militant group. “Before I come here to Syria, I had money, I had a family, I had good friends. It wasn’t like I was some anarchist or somebody who just wants to destroy the world and kill everybody. I was a regular person,” Poulin, who later began calling himself Abu Muslim, said in the message. “We need the engineers, we need doctors, we need professionals. Every person can contribute something to the Islamic State.”

    “Very often we see radicals decide they want to become a terrorist turn away at the last minute, but [Poulin’s] message hit the nail on the head, which is to say there is a road for everyone. It makes radicalization and recruitment much easier,” Horgan said. “It is an equal opportunity organization. It has everything from the sadistic psychopath to the humanitarian to the idealistic driven.”http://www.ibtimes.com/why-do-people-join-isis-psychology-terrorist-1680444?ft=3aj78&utm_content=jtmcphee98@gmail.com&utm_medium=Sep_06_2014_0401_196629&utm_source=TailoredMail&utm_term=What+Makes+People+Join+ISIS%3f&utm_campaign=Sep_06_2014_0401

  13. “Ladies and Gentlemen, WE GOT HIM!” Paul Bremer.

    The 21st century Archduke Ferdinand moment happened the day we invaded Iraq. ISIS and Ukraine are the aftermath of the neocon strategy.

    WWI blew up five weeks after Ferdinand was assassinated. Today’s conflicts are unfolding much more slowly because different countries and peoples are gradually being drawn into them. Plus, fourth generation warfare doesn’t produce a clear cut winner. Putin is fighting a sophisticated version of 4th generation warfare. Taking Kiev in two weeks would surely be a losing move because that would bring in the west.

    Isn’t Joe Biden’s son still in Kiev helping the Ukrainian fracking business get off the ground? I saw a pic of him wearing a hardhat in Kiev not too long ago. But that might have been somewhere in Colorado.

    Putin is a big fish in a small pond.

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