President Obama has announced he wants new Congressional authorization to commit U.S. troops to ground combat in Iraq but wants the role of such troops limited. Mr. Obama wants to scrap a 2002 congressional authorization for then-President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq but leave in place a more-encompassing 2001 post-9/11 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) that Obama has used to carry out drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. Far from retreating militarily in the Middle East, Mr. Obama’s troop limiting measure in his proposed replacement for the 2002 AUMF appears little more than window-dressing to assuage critics of further U.S. military involvement in the Middle East.
Obama’s request for his own AUMF is the first during his presidency. Some lawmakers fear that any such authorization could be misused by Obama’s successor, whether he or she be a Republican or Democrat. After all, Obama saw no reason to avoid using the two war authorizations granted to George W. Bush, so the legislators reason, why would Obama’s successor feel under any constraints not to use Obama’s own open-ended war authorization from Congress?
The U.S. president seeks to use necessary and appropriate military force against the Islamic State or «associated persons or forces.» What constitutes «associated persons or forces» is a «catch all phrase» that has some members of Congress concerned. However, the new proposed AUMF would not authorize any «enduring offensive ground combat operations.»
The AUMF does permit military rescue operations, targeted attacks on Islamic State leadership, the «enabling» of airstrikes from military ground spotters and targeters, and the provision of military advice and assistance to «partner forces.» It was such assistance to «partner forces» by the United States in the Libyan and Syrian civil wars that gave rise to the Islamic States who now claim to govern large portions of both countries.
Those members of Congress opposed to greater U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Syria are outnumbered by those, mainly Republicans, who want more U.S. «boots on the ground» to attack Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces in Iraq and Syria. ISIL reportedly occupies a third of the territory of each of those nations. Calls for greater U.S. involvement have grown since ISIL’s reported burning alive of a Jordanian pilot and the death of Kayla Mueller, a U.S. aid worker taken hostage by ISIL.
What Obama is not asking authorization for is something he has been doing for quite some time: introducing clandestine Central Intelligence Agency operatives and U.S.-financed guerrilla forces into the combat zones of Syria and Iraq. The Obama policy of covert assistance to so-called «moderates» in the Syrian opposition, as well as secretive assistance to Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq was masked by the king of U.S. clandestine activity, CIA director John O. Brennan.
Obama’s secret wars in Syria and Iraq are matched by his current covert military and intelligence support for Ukraine’s regular army and its irregular battalions. Obama constantly understates U.S. military involvement in battle zones like Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria and overstates his reticence over greater U.S. military involvement in the conflicts. The sad truth is that the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine are all of Mr. Obama’s making. These wars of choice were crafted by neo-conservative Bush holdover operatives like Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and former State Department top Near East diplomat and now UN Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
The United States is now prepared to extend its military stays in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has announced plans to maintain over 5500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the previously-announced withdrawal date of the end of 2015. Plans are afoot to maintain U.S. bases at Kandahar airport and other locations. Obama is expected to convey his wishes to a more-than-receptive Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, when he visits the White House in March.
Plans are also underway for the U.S. to establish a major airbase near Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. The base will be used to conduct anti-ISIL surveillance and bombing missions in Iraq and Syria as well as facilitate similar operations by allied countries. There is no information as to whether the base will continue in operation if ISIL is soundly defeated.
There is a clear neo-conservative playbook being enacted by the Pentagon from Ukraine, where incoming U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wants to send U.S. «defensive» weapons to Kiev in order that they may engage Russian-speaking and ethnic Russian federalists in the eastern part of the country, to Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has no desire to disengage from what amounts to the restoral of the old Cold War-era «Central Treaty Organization» or CENTO. CENTO, originally called the «Baghdad Pact,» was composed of Britain, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, with the United States forced to be an «associate member» due to the opposition to American involvement from the Israel Lobby. CENTO was aimed at the then-Soviet Union. CENTO, like the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), became defunct with the recognition of new global realities. Today, the new «CENTO» can be said to include Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. But like the original CENTO, Obama’s «coalition» against ISIL includes some of the very countries that have been helping to aid and abet Islamist terrorists and guerillas.
For example, in November 2014, it was reported that a Russian “federalist” sniper shot and killed in Ukraine the so-called British “White Widow,” aka Samantha Lewthwaite, while she was fighting against Russian-speaking forces in eastern Ukraine. The presence of the ground commander for the Islamist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in Ukraine served as the best evidence to date of Islamic State collusion with the Kiev government. Lewthwaite was serving as a sniper with the Aidar Battalion, which receives support from Kolomoisky, the billionaire Ukrainian-Israeli dual national governor of Dnipropetrovsk. Kolomoisky provides money and logistical support to several pro-Kiev paramilitary units. They include, in addition to the Aidar Battalion, “Blue Helmet” ex-Israeli Defense Force commandos, the Azov Battalion, the Donbass Battalion, and the 2,000-strong Dniepr-1 (or Dnipro-1) Battalion. A number of neo-Nazi Ukrainian nationalists from the west of the country serve with the battalions in the east.
The «Obama Doctrine» for the Eurasian arc that extends from Turkey and Ukraine in the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east appears fraught with contradictions and the mismanagement of neo-cons like Nuland, who also has responsibility for Eurasian affairs. The U.S. includes Turkey in its calculus for fighting ISIL, even though the Turkish government has supplied ISIL units fighting against the Bashar al Assad government in Damascus. Saudi Arabia, a nation with documented links to ISIL and Al Qaeda, is also a member of Obama’s polyglot coalition. The U.S. includes Afghanistan in its sphere of influence even though coalition member Qatar maintains close relations with the Afghan Taliban, which has declared war on the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Obama’s proposed AUMF also risks authorizing further U.S. involvement in what amounts to civil wars in Yemen and Somalia. Only uninformed Republican rhetoric refers to monolithic «threats» from Islam. What is occurring in Yemen is far from an Islamist uprising, it is about the restoration of rights for the minority Zaidi Shi’as in a country long-dominated by the Sunnis, as well as the restoration of the independence of South Yemen. Both are opposed by the neocons who want any excuse to see Yemen under a pro-U.S. regime that permits American military bases at such ports as Aden, Hodeida, and the strategic island of Socotra. The Somali wars have more to do with conflicts between a weak federal transitional government in Mogadishu and independent governments in Somaliland and Puntland than in any menace from Islamists, whether they are called Al Shabaab or the Islamic State.
Once again, an American administration is seeking to spread the U.S. military very far and wide without a well stream of popular support. It is a scheme doomed to failure.