The election of Barack Obama was supposed to awaken us from these fantasies. There are ample signs that Obama himself believed that the withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraq would stabilize the situation. But Obama has never made positive foreign policy goals a priority for his administration, instead drawing on a stable of international relations experts inherited from the Clinton administration on the one hand, and on leftovers from the Bush administration on the other. Increasingly bogged down in domestic politics, Obama has been willing again and again to rely on these advisers. The result, as Libya and Ukraine and Syria and many another theater of conflict demonstrate, is that "Obama’s presidency has come full circle by reinventing the neocon dogmas it once professed to reject," as retired Indian diplomat Melkulangara Bhadrakumar argued in a piece published last week in the Strategic Culture Foundation Online Journal.
The president is being pushed into a new war by a combination of factors: outrage at ISIS's crimes, fear that he may be blamed for losing Iraq, belief in the efficacy of high-tech war from the air, pressure from allies to take action, criticism from many sides about American passivity, and rumblings within America's deep state, the national security establishment. This week we have seen that although Obama is nominally commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the Pentagon and the larger national security establishment have no intention of allowing him to limit American involvement in its new war (for it is a war) to airstrikes and the training of local forces.
Obama's war plan has been criticized on all sides. In today's New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff said it is characterized by "an uncertain mission with unclear objectives on an unknown timetable using ambiguous methods with unreliable allies." If there was ever a situation where mission creep is inevitable, this is it.
The wisest thing for the United States is to do as little as possible. Even Thomas Friedman thinks that doing nothing would be better than what the administration has set in motion. It is true that the caliphate of the Islamic State is piling crime upon crime and is responsible for "acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale," as the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a Sept. 1 report. But these are precisely the acts that doom it to destruction. Given the recent history of the United States in the region, American intervention only strengthens the Islamic State by enhancing its appeal, as a hurricane gathers energy when it passes over warmer water. Armed American interventions in the Middle East multiply, not diminish, Islamic terrorism. As Dominique de Villepin said on Sept. 9, it is "absurd and dangerous" to think that an American-led anti-ISIS coalition is the best strategy to address this urgent international problem. In fact, such an undertaking is guaranteed to make matters worse.