Iraq Turmoil

There's A Way, But Maybe Not a Will, in Iraq


Iraqi army troops chant slogans against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they recruit volunteers to join the fight against a major offensive by the jihadist group in northern Iraq, outside a recruiting centre in the capital Baghdad on June 13, 2014. Iraqi forces clashed with militants advancing on the city of Baquba, just 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Baghdad, as an offensive spearheaded by jihadists drew closer to the capital. AFP PHOTO / ALI AL-SAADIALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images ALI AL-SAADI / AFP - Getty Images

Iraq is back

Iraq has returned as a major policy and political story, and the debate -- once again -- has broken into two competing arguments. One side is claiming that the United States should NEVER have left the country (or left this early), and the new instability there is directly a result of our exit. The other side contends that the U.S. should NEVER have been there in the first place, and if a 10-year involvement in that country couldn’t fix things, another five to 10 years won’t, either. And given this new instability in the country -- with extremist militants from ISIS taking over large parts -- the Obama White House faces two different questions. One, doesn’t the United States have an obligation to fix things? As Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn Rule” goes, “If you broke it, you own it.” But then there’s the second question: Can intervening truly fix things? How many more U.S. soldiers, dollars, and years in the country will resolve the Sunni-vs.-Shiite conflict in that region? Here is the reality staring at American foreign-policy community: You either have a strongman rule that region (and we’ve seen that movie before), or you let it go tribal with the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds all having their own territories. It’s funny, many mocked Joe Biden for saying during the 2008 presidential campaign that Iraq needed to divided into three separate areas. Well, that idea today seems smarter than it ever has before. Of course, now things are potentially so out of control and with the border between Iraq and Syria essentially erased, this is turning into an even larger regional conflict.

There is a way to do something in Iraq, but is there the will?

Of course, there’s an added political component for President Obama and his team: They’ve always viewed Iraq as their legacy. Obama, the argument goes, was elected to get the country out of Iraq, he fulfilled that promise, and won re-election by touting that delivered promise. But the events now out of Iraq complicate that narrative -- big time. Speaking at the White House yesterday, Obama said he wasn’t ruling out any option. “I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.” And there is increasing pressure for Obama to do SOMETHING. But as we saw with the Syrian chemical weapons debate, it’s possible that Congress gives the administration an escape hatch. After all, if Obama asks Congress to give him the authorization to use U.S. military force to bring stability to Iraq, do members vote yes? Remember, this is a war-weary country: 59% said the Iraq war wasn’t worth it, per a Jan. 2013 NBC/WSJ poll taken just before that war’s 10-year anniversary. There is a way to do something, but is there the will?

And then there was one (for now at least)

Last night, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) dropped out of the race to replace Eric Cantor as majority leader. “Today, it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party. At this critical time, we must remain unified as a Republican Conference,” Sessions said in a statement, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. That, for now, leaves House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as the sole candidate left in the race and your next majority leader, although Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) is THINKING about a bid. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Green makes a very smart point: So many Tea Party House Republicans -- or those friendly to the cause -- have an opportunity to run for the post, and none of them are taking the chance to lead. His headline: “Tea Party Republicans Run Away From the Chance to Lead.” The amount of blind-quote griping about the leadership is never matched by action. And that is one legacy of these Tea Party and populist conservatives who serve in the House.

Hillary’s mediocre rollout (so far)

So we’re now into Day 4 of Hillary Clinton’s official book rollout, and here’s an early conclusion: It’s been a mediocre rollout, at best. Yes, she hasn’t tripped over herself the way Jeb Bush did with his immigration book from last year. But consider: Her “dead broke” comment received lots of blowback. Yes, the Clintons had racked up considerable debt and lawyers’ fees after their time in the White House, but they weren’t struggling the ways that millions of Americans are financially struggling. That gaffe exposed one of her biggest vulnerabilities: How does someone who hasn’t walked alone in 22 years (thanks to Secret Service protection) relate to the average American? Then, yesterday, Clinton got into a testy exchange with NPR’s Terry Gross over a question about the Clintons’ being Johnny-Come-Latelys to supporting gay marriage. “I think you are trying to say that, you know, I used to be opposed, and now I’m in favor, and I did it for political reasons,” she said in the NPR interview. “And that’s just flat wrong.” When Gross noted that activists were vocal about the issue when Clinton’s husband, then-president Bill Clinton, signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, Clinton shot back. “To be fair Terry, not that many,” she replied. Basically, that exchange and some of her other answers have only reinforced the notion that she’s a well-practiced politician. And being too calculating and too political is what got her into trouble in 2007 and 2008 and it could burn her again. The good news for Team Hillary: these interviews and the book tour is an opportunity to get her campaign sea legs in 2014 rather than making these mistakes in 2015.

Bergdahl arrives in the United States

Late last night, Bowe Bergdahl returned to the United States, arriving at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. “While there, he will continue the next phase of his reintegration process. There is no timeline for this process,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “Our focus remains on his health and well-being. Secretary Hagel is confident that the Army will continue to ensure that Sgt. Bergdahl receives the care, time and space he needs to complete his recovery and reintegration.”

On the reservation

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama today head to North Dakota to visit the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in Cannon Ball, N.D. The White House on the visit, per NBC’s Kristen Welker: “In this, his first trip to Indian Country as President of the United States, the president will underscore his commitment to upholding our strong and crucial nation-to-nation relationship, describe his administration's efforts to strengthen Native American communities through education reforms and investing in economic development, and highlight the progress that has already been made - working together - to expand opportunity in Indian country.”

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