Obama's Irrelevant Air Strikes

After months of temporizing analysis, President Barack Obama re-engaged militarily in the fading colonial construct known as "Iraq." That he has done so in limited fashion is to be commended, though the air strikes he has ordered so far are mere pinpricks. History will probably record that the invasion of Iraq sounded the death knell of America's most grandiloquent, boneheaded imperial fantasies.

In his Thursday night address to the nation, approved by some progressive writers here on HuffPost, Obama also thankfully seemed to drop the dogged nation-building conceits that market earlier talk of a potential military intervention via air strikes. Of course, this adjustment comes only after months of predictable administration failures to get the Shia-centric regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which Obama inherited from the Bush/Cheney administration, to from a truly inclusive national unity government to respond to the nation-slicing feats of ISIS.

But ...

It all looks to me like too little, too late. Not to prevent the destruction of what we have called Iraq, something created in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 between Imperial Britain and France. That was happening anyway, even though the Obama administration has been loathe to admit it. No, where Obama is way behind the curve now is in preventing even more destructive power from falling into the hands of the world's richest terrorist organization.

Put another way, John McCain is right in calling Obama's moves -- focused on humanitarian aid to stranded religious minorities and limited air strikes on ISIS forces moving on the Kurdish capital Erbil, where there are many Americans -- "insignificant." Now, of course, McCain, who I like despite some exasperating characteristics, seems capable of dialing up an air strike on a flock of seagulls crapping on his yard. Nevertheless, here he is absolutely right.

The Obama administration has been raising alarums about ISIS's stunning successes for months. However, it is only after the ISIS seizure of the biggest dam in Iraq that it concocted this very limited intervention. But where's the surprise in the fall of Mosul Dam, placing Iraq's biggest water resource, and a potentially devastating weapon if the flood gates are opened, in this latest feat of ISIS?

As I wrote nearly six weeks ago, ISIS clearly was pursuing an unfolding strategy of advancing along the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to secure critical water supplies in this drought-stricken desert land. Yet only now, with the barn door open and the latest prize pony fallen to opposition hands, is the Obama administration bestirring itself beyond pointless diplomatics in Baghdad with a chimerical Iraqi government.

Air strikes are not good at reversing bad facts on the ground. Air strikes are good at preventing bad facts on the ground. That's especially true in open ground.

ISIS is not a band of guerrillas in either a jungle or urban setting. ISIS is a Sunni jihadist motorized infantry, frequently crossing open desert terrain.

The drones and Navy F-18s just used to take out a few mortars lobbing shells at Eerbil could have prevented the fall of Mosul Dam.

This administration has at times pursued a too indiscriminate drone strike program which has killed many civilians and made the U.S. appear to be a global ogre.

Yet when it had the opportunity to take on for-real jihadist combatants in order to prevent the capture of a devastatingly strategic resource, it failed to act.

Now, after the fact, citing a much more attenuated threat to the Kurdish capital Erbil and the thousands of Americans there, the administration is acting. But if ISIS is the threat that Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Vice President Joe Biden, and the rest of the crew say it is -- and which events suggest that it is -- taking out a few mortars lobbing shells in the direction of Erbil hardly seems an adequate response.

With Mosul Dam lost, at least the administration is grasping the importance of a future independent Kurdistan as the surviving pro-American part of "Iraq."

What should Obama, having lost a lot of time before this latest, er, surprise, do next?

He certainly can't try to stitch "Iraq" back together, even with the most intensive and widespread air strikes. He might be able to to roll back some of ISIS's gains, though that substantially raises the bad prospect of civilian casualties.

Obama's best chance is probably to try to prevent the fall of more assets granting more power to this al Qaeda offshoot swiftly overshadowing the original.

In other words, he might be able to achieve the least bad scenario.

Uplifting, I know.