Why Obama's Iraq War will turn out no better

By Mitchell Blatt and Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 3, 2014
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The reason behind this contradiction is that Americans are tired of the Middle East after the whole Iraq fiasco and other ongoing crises. When Obama proposed bombing Assad regime targets last year, war-weary Americans (61 percent) opposed it, and Obama backed down. Yet, even if Americans say they don't want to go to war again, they also feel a need to be strong.

Obama has been roasted for a series of events that seem to portray him as being weak and rudderless. One Obama advisor described America's strategy in Libya as "leading from behind." In Syria, even though the public opposed attacks, Obama still looked weak to Americans for not following through on his "red line" against chemical weapon use. Next came the crisis in Ukraine, in which Russia annexed Crimea while Obama equivocated over whether Russia's actions in the east constituted an "invasion."

Whatever pros and cons lie behind each individual decision on a strategic level, the big picture that the American people see and which is expressed in polls is one in which the U.S. president has been weak in the face of a threatening world. According to a CBS/New York Times poll, only 34 percent of Americans approved of Obama's handling of foreign policy as of mid-September, and 57 percent thought he hadn't been tough enough on ISIS.

Then on Aug. 29, after the U.S. had begun its initial air campaign in Iraq, Obama stated, "We don't have a strategy yet," for dealing with ISIS. The phrase was used to again portray him as lacking leadership and readiness. After days of bad press, Obama finally gave a speech outlining his plan for attacking ISIS on Sept.10.

Obama, who campaigned on an anti-war platform and the "don't do stupid stuff" mantra, isn't typically one to jump rashly into a conflict. But now, with approval ratings dipping to near all-time lows and his party facing a tough midterm election in November, he has been forced into action by the epic brutality of a now infamous ISIS video broadcast.

The beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff demanded political action. Over 90 percent of Americans now think ISIS is a serious threat to America. It would have been inconceivable for Obama and his party not to have faced tremendous political consequences had they not acted aggressively. Even Obama seems to have acknowledged this; in an article published Sept. 14 in the New York Times, he was quoted as saying that if he were "an adviser to ISIS," he would certainly not have killed the hostages and broadcast it.

But despite his actions, Obama isn't going to be able to change his political fate. The Republican Party, which, except for 2007, has always enjoyed a lead over the Democratic Party on the question of which party is tougher on terrorism, has now hit a record of 55 percent support on that issue. Since Obama said he's going to "destroy" ISIS, there are only two options: either he will get the U.S. stuck in another long war, or he will leave Iraq and Syria before ISIS is destroyed. Either way, he will hurt his legacy.

Mitchell Blatt is the producer of ChinaTravelWriter.com and an editor at a map magazine in Nanjing.

Sumantra Maitra is a research scholar on Russian Foreign Policy and Neo-Realism. His papers are published online at www.works.bepress.com/sumantra_maitra.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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