President Obama Dodges GOP Trap on Iraq

The instant that Sunni militants overran two major Iraq cities the predictable happened. Arizona Senator John McCain and the pack of GOP congressional leaders, GOP bloggers, talk show hosts, and assorted pundits screamed at the top of their lungs that "we told you so." The "so" is that Obama's Iraq troop withdrawal, appeasement of the current Iraq regime, and supposed weak kneed foreign policy initiatives are the reason for the collapse in the country. They double down on the attack with the equally shrill screech that Obama's failure to hit back hard with an instant renewed American troop military ramp up is more proof that his presidency is a continuing foreign policy nightmare.

This is a virtual repeat of the script McCain and other GOP Obama bashers trotted out last September when his supposed tepid response to the Syrian conflict again supposedly put American interests in the Middle East at grave danger. If Obama had then bowed to the initial GOP demands to take military action before getting congressional approval, GOP leaders would have jumped all over him and blamed him for not getting that approval -- and they wouldn't have stopped there. They would have also blamed him for any real or perceived failure to remove the Bashar Assad regime, or failure to sufficiently degrade his military to enable the rebels to defeat it, or for igniting a blowback that would further strengthen the hand of al-Qaeda linked radical Islamist factions fighting to topple Assad.

A careful listen and read of the GOP's latest bluster shows it's just another political hatchet job on Obama. If it was anymore the war hawks would actually have to give a concrete answer to these thorny questions. How many American troops should be dispatched? What will they actually do once there? Namely who will they fight? How can they whip the Iraqi military into a force that won't cut and run in the face of the insurgents? Who will pay the cost for maintaining thousands of American troops in the country? Will they force Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to sign a Status of Forces Agreement that will protect US soldiers in the country? He didn't sign that agreement when Obama withdrew American troops from Iraq. How will they insure that the al-Maliki regime will immediately institute political reforms, namely true power sharing with the Sunni political factions before and after the troops leave again? The white elephant in the Iraqi closet is: Is the U.S. prepared to cozy up to the Iranian regime which has demonized the U.S. for decades and the U.S. has returned the compliment to effect some settlement?

Obama quickly recognized the GOP trap and made it clear that there will be no massive redeployment of American troops, and will rely on diplomacy to press the al-Maliki regime for political reforms. This didn't silence Obama's GOP critics. They quickly trotted out the line that Obama wasted time by not consulting Congress in the first place, and that this further contributed to the muddle in Iraq. Obama fortunately knows enough of the history of the Bush administration's bungles in Iraq to draw the correct lessons on how to handle the crisis.

He made the accurate assessment of the Iraq war as a presidential candidate in 2007 when he lambasted it as the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even more pointedly, he called it "a dumb war." Obama insisted there should be specific goals, specific timetables, and a specific exit plan for getting out of that war. If not the very quagmire now that Iraq has become was virtually assured. The only thing that can be added to this is that the seeds of the quagmire were already firmly planted with the guns blazing intervention of Bush without insuring that a future Iraqi government would not be corrupt, insular, narrow, and thumb its nose at democratic governance and accountability.

This failure is the reason that Iraq was foredoomed to be a perennial testament to the Bush's abominable global record when it relied on brute force to fight wars without a real understanding of the forces and factions involved, their historic divisions, and animosities, and their particular vested interests in the country. This abject failure in Iraq was compounded by installing a corrupt, autocrat in power whose rule insured even more sectarian fighting.

The sobering reality is that the Iraq war was a monumental financially draining cost ineffective war, and worse, a colossal waste of American and Iraqi lives. The return from which was always at best problematic. This was certainly a prime factor in Obama's call for the end of the war. McCain can grandstand and prattle that Obama's national security team should be canned. But it doesn't change the fact that the GOP's politically cynical demand that Obama make a headlong rush into the country's civil war would be foolhardy at best and utterly disastrous at worst. That's exactly the trap that the GOP would love for him to fall into.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio.