How America’s top military leader dragged Obama back into Iraq

Mark Perry writes: Apart from an occasional Thursday afternoon meeting between Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the White House, Gen. Martin Dempsey — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — rarely has opportunities to get face time with the president. So when he does, he presses his advantage. One of the few times this happened was during the early evening hours of Aug. 6, when Dempsey joined Obama in his limousine at the State Department, where the president had been attending a session of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The ride to the White House allowed Dempsey his first one-on-one with Obama in several weeks. As the two sat across from each other in the presidential limousine, Dempsey turned to his commander-in-chief.

“We have a crisis in Iraq, Mr. President,” Dempsey said, according to a senior Pentagon official who spoke with the chairman about his discussion with Obama that same day. “ISIS is a real threat,” he added, using an alternative acronym for the military group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. The senior Pentagon official with whom I spoke, and who paraphrased the Obama-Dempsey exchange, added that “Dempsey really leaned into him” on the crisis, saying it demanded “immediate attention.”

By that point, ISIL had overrun Mosul, a city of one million people in northern Iraq, seized stockpiles of heavy weapons from the hapless Iraqi military and was attacking thousands of ethnic Yazidis who had fled the conflict. According to the senior Pentagon official, the president listened carefully as Dempsey outlined the militants’ rapid military gains in western Iraq and warned that ISIL fighters were threatening Baghdad. “It’s that bad?” Obama asked, according to this person’s account. Dempsey was blunt. “Yes, sir,” he said, “it is.” (The White House, asked to characterize the president’s reaction, declined to comment.) [Continue reading…]

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