Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Prior to departing to Martha’s Vineyard for vacation, President Obama made a decision which ultimately may be seen as the toughest decision he faced in his Presidency. Having successfully removed all combat forces from Iraq–as he had pledged to the American people when he campaigned for office in 2008, the President now found himself re-introducing American combat forces into Iraq; albeit only the air force at this juncture.
Responding to a set circumstances which were among the most complicated imaginable—created for whatever reason and by a complex set of events—the President found himself needing to respond to the growing regional threat posed by ISIS to totally takeover Iraq; the faltering Iraqi Government; the perilous condition within which the Kurds were falling; and the possible genocidal elimination of the Yazidis.
This decision represents a huge shift for the President. Making a dramatic offensive military move knowing the potential long commitment it could impose on this country runs totally counter to every foreign policy directive that the Obama Administration has taken. Despite the explanations that were given, it remains puzzling as to what prompted this move.
On its face, it would appear that there are two fundamental bases for this decision; strategic and humanitarian. Why Obama decided to commit force at this time in this place might well not become evident until much dust has settled, although some of the political outgrowths ought to become readily apparent within a very short period of time. (This Administration which withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq following almost a decade in the country recognized that after the spilling of the blood of thousands of Americans, and the spending billions of America’s capital, it could not preside over Iraq’s withering away into the hands of ISIS.)
The humanitarian issues are self-evident. The threat to the Kurds and to the Yazidis appeared to be imminent and sufficiently compelling that the Administration felt a need to stop the genocidal program of the Islamic radicals immediately, if possible. What will become clearer over time—perhaps only after a considerable amount of time–was what exactly U.S. intelligence saw developing in the region which demanded such dramatic U.S. intervention. It also may be the result of an accumulation of failures of U.S. decision-makers to appreciate much earlier the true dangers evolving that the region faced from radical Islam, to say nothing of what the world may be facing in the future.