Let’s be fair here. Obama didn’t even have a plan for Iraq when he was in Iraq… he certainly doesn’t have one now. His plan then was to rename the war, fake withdraw and ignore it otherwise, until finally withdrawing on the Bush timeline.
That’s the extent of his involvement in Iraq, not counting an attempt at getting the Iraqi Prime Minister, who as a Shiite is aligned with the Iran-Syria axis, to stop Iranian shipment of weapons to Syria.
Al Qaeda in Iraq got bigger and bolder under Obama. It got much bigger and bolder after he withdrew. It may end up taking over Syria.
Obama never had an answer to the problem or even engaged with it. Instead he lied to the American people and said that everything was fine, Al Qaeda was on the path to defeat, Iraq had worked out and there was nothing for anyone to worry about.
Max Boot at Commentary has some proposals that wouldn’t involve putting anyone in harm’s way.
As the Edward Snowden revelations have made plain, the U.S. has unrivaled intelligence capabilities, especially in the sphere of electronic snooping, which could be shared with the Iraqis. So, too, we have drones and Special Operations Forces that once helped to unravel al-Qaeda in Iraq’s networks. If sent back into Iraq, they could probably do it again.
Obama should offer Maliki the use of these forces and capabilities, but only on certain conditions: namely that Maliki start accommodating and stop persecuting the Sunnis. Specifically, he should re-start the Sons of Iraq program, which between 2007 and 2008 enrolled some 100,000 Sunni men to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. This pro-government militia was critical to the success of “the surge” in Iraq, and it could help to catalyze a new, smaller surge—one that would not involve any conventional American ground troops but that would send more Special Operations and intelligence personnel to work with their Iraqi counterparts.
Re-establishing relationships which once existed between the U.S. and Iraqi military could pay further dividends by giving the U.S. side greater “situational awareness” of events in Iraq. This would allow American personnel to help their Iraqi partners in the security forces to resist Maliki’s attempts to misuse them for political purposes.
It would also give the U.S. greater insight into Iranian machinations in Iraq: Iran has been gaining power ever since the departure of U.S. troops. Not having the U.S. support to fall back on, Maliki has turned to the Iranians for advice and support in fighting back against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Iranians are Shiite hardliners whose involvement only further radicalizes the Sunnis and makes the situation more toxic.
Boot is as usual being optimistic. Maliki didn’t fall back on Iranian support. This is a region where ethnicity, religion and race is destiny. Maliki was always going to turn to Iran. It was only a question of timing. That doesn’t mean Maliki trusts Iran. No one in the region, no matter how close, trusts the other.
Maliki would keep on playing the US and Iran against each other, but we could still slow down ISIS. It might even be worth doing, but it’s not Obama’s feature set.
Obama is not a counter-terrorism guy. If he were, we would be droning Al Qaeda in Syria already, instead of indirectly arming them. Obama is a Hearts and Minds guy.
He never knew what to do with Iraq. If he were pushed to do something, it would be a conciliation program along the lines that Boot suggested, but without any teeth or any reason for Maliki to implement it.