White House Weighs Options in Iraq

Image: Iraqi security forces fire artillery during clashes with Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Jurf al-Sakhar
Iraqi security forces fire artillery during clashes with Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Jurf al-Sakhar June 14, 2014. Picture taken June 14, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)ALAA AL-MARJANI / Reuters

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Obama’s high hurdle for intervention in Iraq

The latest news out of Iraq continues to be grim. Sunni militants announced that they had massacred numerous captured Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces; NBC News has not confirmed the authenticity of the photos they released, but that the AP is reporting that an Iraqi military spokesperson says he believes the photos are real. Meanwhile, the AP reports that the same Sunni militants "captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north." And per NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, multiple independent sources on the ground in Mosul confirm that ISIS has captured the most senior ranking Iraqi military official in Tal Afar along with 40 other military and police personnel. But the message President Obama delivered on Friday made it crystal clear that there’s a very high hurdle for the U.S. intervening in Iraq (via airstrikes or other action), perhaps even higher than folks realize: Iraq’s government has to get its act together first. “The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” he said. “We’re not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we’re not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country.” Already, there’s an assumption that it’s not a matter of “if” Obama acts, but “when.” Well, guess what: That C.W. cemented itself during the Syria crisis, and what happened? Point is, Obama wants to know how he gets out of this, once he gets in -- and that question has NOT been answered.

The Acela Corridor-vs.-Middle America split on intervention

If you watch a lot of cable news and read the op-ed pages like we do, you realize how wired the New York-DC world -- the Acela Corridor, as we like to call it -- is for using some kind of force in Iraq. “When in doubt, airstrike them out,” could very well be its motto. Of course, one of the reasons why there’s such a pro-intervention bias from the foreign-policy intelligentsia is that being a foreign-policy expert would be pretty boring if you weren’t trying to rescue one country after another. But given the consequences of the last Iraq war, it is jarring to see so many of the same voices that argued for war in 2003 now wanting to intervene in Iraq in 2014. Then again, it’s also striking to see politicians who voted for the Iraq war and then later regretted it (see John Kerry, Chuck Hagel) serving in the key national-security jobs they now occupy. Yet polling does show an Acela Corridor-vs.-Middle America split when it comes to intervention. As our NBC/WSJ polls over the past year and a half have shown, nearly 60% of Americans believe the Iraq war wasn’t worth it, and by a 47%-19% margin, Americans say want a LESS active role in world affairs instead of a MORE active one. Strikingly, we saw a contentious GOP primary for a House seat in Georgia this weekend where the issue of intervening in Iraq came up, and the newcomer (a more conservative Republican), came down on the side of caution, vs. the other candidate (an ex-Rep. named Bob Barr) who came down on the side of intervening. Is that the difference between a Republican who has spent time in Washington vs. one who had not?

Romney’s weekend back in the political spotlight

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Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is back in the news. He helped round up a star-studded conference in Park City, UT. He also appeared on “Meet the Press.” And his supporters are talking up a THIRD presidential bid by the former Massachusetts governor. "I think if you asked this group, 'who could beat Hillary Clinton,' they'd say, Mitt Romney could beat Hillary Clinton," said former Romney campaign finance chair Spencer Zwick, per NBC’s Kasie Hunt. "Now, again, he's not running—but is there someone like that that we could get behind?" On “Meet,” Romney pretty much shut the door on a 2016 bid. “I'm not running and talk of the draft is kind of silly,” he said. But everything up until that sure sounded like someone who -- if not running for the president -- wants to remain on the political stage. He whacked President Obama on foreign policy. His failure to achieve [an agreement with Iraq to keep U.S. troops there] is one of the things that has led to the crisis we're seeing today.” He also jabbed Hillary Clinton, something we rarely saw in 2011-2012. (In fact, Romney usually talked up the Clintons as a way to dig the current president.) “I think you have to consider what's happened around the world during the years that she was secretary of State. And you have to say it's been a monumental bust.” If not a presidential candidate, Romney sounded like an uber-RNC chairman.

Cochran is (and acts like) the underdog for next week’s runoff

From the polls we’ve seen to the body language from the campaigns, it’s pretty clear that Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is the underdog in next week’s runoff against challenger Chris McDaniel. For starters, Cochran last week called McDaniel an “extremist” who would hurt Mississippi. And now Talking Points Memo reports on a Cochran web video (it doesn’t appear it’s airing on TV for now) that throws the kitchen sink at his challenger.


This isn’t a good story for the Obama administration, especially one that promised to be transparent. “Republican lawmakers called for a new probe of the Internal Revenue Service on Friday after it told congressional investigators that it had lost more than two years of emails from the central figure in a yearlong inquiry into improper IRS reviews of Tea Party tax documents,” Frank Thorp and Alex Johnson report. “The IRS told investigators in a letter Friday that it was unable to produce many of Lerner's emails from January 2009 to April 2011 because her computer ‘crashed’ in mid-2011. It said it was able to recover thousands of other messages from the computers of other IRS workers who'd been copied on those emails.” In today’s technological world, it’s very hard to fathom how emails just disappear. As our colleague Joe Scarborough asked on “Morning Joe,” would the IRS buy that same explanation -- “Hey, we lost some emails!” -- from someone it was auditing? Good luck, IRS, with any audits this year!

You never know who will show up at the Costo over the weekend

The dispatch from NBC’s Alex Moe over the weekend: “Among pallets of paper towels and bottled water, Hillary Clinton spent more than three hours Saturday morning autographing copies of her new memoir, ‘Hard Choices,’ at a Costco in Northern Virginia. And, as it turns out, you really never know who will show up. ‘I don’t believe this,’ Clinton said as she embraced Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor across the table. Justice Sotomayor said she happened to be ‘just shopping’ at the bulk discount depot when she spied the former secretary of state sitting down. She told Clinton she plans to read her book… Two of Clinton’s nieces and nephews, plus Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., also made cameos at the event, which drew more than 1,000 people, including some former staffers.”

Poll results: Half say midterm outcome won’t improve economy, Clinton most admired president

Finally, our brand-new NBC/WSJ/Annenberg survey -- which comes in addition to our almost monthly NBC/WSJ polls -- had two findings over the weekend. The first: “Exactly half of Americans say that Democrats or Republicans in control of Congress won't make much of a difference in improving the economy. That's compared with 25 percent who believe the economy will improve if Republicans control Congress, and another 23 percent who believe it will improve if Democrats are in charge.” The second: “Bill Clinton is the most admired president over the last 25 years. Per the poll, 42% of respondents picked Clinton -- whose wife could very well run for the White House in 2016 -- as the president they admired the most. He was followed by current President Barack Obama at 18%, George W. Bush at 17% and his father, George H.W. Bush, at 16%.

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