Tweet from U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (Iraq and Iran):
Fully support President of #Iraq Fuad Masum as guarantor of the Constitution and a PM nominee who can build a national consensus.
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) August 10, 2014
Vox: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threw the country’s political system into crisis on Sunday, when he announced that he would be staying on as Prime Minister after a deadline to form a new government expired without an agreement at 12 am Baghdad time. Maliki announced a plan to sue Iraq’s President, Fuad Masum, for violating the country’s constitution, and it’s now totally unclear when, if ever, Iraq will return to normal democratic procedures.
All of this underscores why, on his Saturday press conference about the US intervention on Iraq, President Obama emphasized the need for Iraqi political reform to solve the ISIS crisis. “Ultimately, there’s not going to be an American military solution to this problem,” President Obama told reporters. “There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution.” This is the key line to understand if you want to grasp the administration’s approach to Iraq — and why the goals of the US military campaign are more narrow than you might think.
The American objectives for Obama’s airstrikes in Iraq are very clear, and very limited. American airpower will protect Iraqi Kurdistan from the advance of militants from Islamic State (ISIS), and will attempt to break the ISIS siege that’s starving up to 40,000 members of the Yazidi minority on an isolated mountain.
So why is the US stopping there? ISIS controls a huge swath of land about the size of Belgium in Iraq and Syria. The group poses a serious threat to the Iraqi government and possibly even the stability of the entire region. If the United States can beat ISIS back in Kurdistan, why not elsewhere?
That line about an Iraqi solution is the administration’s answer. In fact, the Obama administration has been consistent on this question since June, when ISIS first took control of big chunks of Iraq. They see ISIS as, at its heart, a political problem — one that can’t be solved solely with force. But the march on Kurdistan and the siege on Sinjar are narrow military problems, and thus merit military solutions. This distinction between military and political problems is at the heart of the Obama administration’s thinking on Iraq. [Continue reading…]