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Sarwar Kashmeri Headshot

Mr. Obama's War

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With the bombing campaign launched by the Obama administration against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, America's unending war in the Middle East has come roaring back after a two-year intermission, under new ownership. Welcome to the Obama war.

"As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq," the president said as the first American jets roared off their aircraft carrier to strike targets in Iraq. U.S. troops would not fight in Iraq again, Americans were told by a grim-faced president. But two days later he had already changed his mind. As The New York Times reported, President Obama let it be known that the airstrikes and humanitarian-assistance drops could go on for months. He was, said The New York Times, preparing Americans for an extended military presence in the skies there -- a military operation with no certain end in sight.

Also blown away by the U.S. bombing in Iraq was an important plank of Mr. Obama's foreign policy. In his 2012 State of the Union speech, recognizing that the Bush administration's dream to create a democracy in Iraq at the point of the American sword had proved delusional, President Obama was applauded when he announced that nation-building abroad would no longer be a U.S. priority, that he intended to focus on nation-building at home. But that was then.

On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, the president made a 180-degree turn from his State of the Union pledge to declare that the length of American involvement would depend on how quickly Iraqi leaders could form a national unity government. The New York Times noted that Obama officials had been quietly working to replace Mr. Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, because they believe that he is incapable of uniting the country to face the ISIS militant threat. Nation-building is back in fashion!

If these flip-flops come within three days of the launch of the Obama war in the Middle East, I can hardly wait to see how this ill-conceived decision to restart the war in Iraq will play out in a month, when unplanned contingencies begin popping out of the Iraqi sands.

For instance, what happens when ISIS strategists, who have already been shown to be cold-blooded murderers, begin to surround their armor and artillery with civilian prisoners, thereby neutralizing America's precision-guided bombs? How will the U.S. conduct its campaign to battle ISIS if it does not want to kill scores of civilians?

And what if this ruthless and inhuman tactic of using human shields is coupled with the willful or accidental destruction of the Mosul dam, which was captured by ISIS last week? The dam controls the water and electricity used by millions of Iraqis and rests on a shaky foundation. The New York Daily News notes that if it were wrecked, "[t]he dam's destruction would unleash a 65-foot wave that could inundate Mosul, 31 miles away, and even cause flooding in Baghdad, 200 miles downstream. As many as 500,000 people could die, according to the Army Corps of Engineers Analysis."

In combination these two events would accelerate the breakup of the Iraqi state as we now know it and make American presence there of little consequence. However, it would provide a jolt of energy to those Muslims who believe in the narrative espoused by the Islamist fundamentalists -- that the real aim of the United States and Israel is to control the Middle East by force of arms. For these people the new American war in Iraq and the continuing Israeli war in Gaza will be seen as opposite sides of the same coin.

It is the reason that President George H. W. Bush so carefully put together an alliance that included America's European allies and Arab countries before he executed the first Gulf War. The results were dramatic: Arabs, Americans, and Europeans fought together to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Mr. Obama is said to think highly of the first Bush's inclusive, partner-driven foreign policy. It is a shame he chose not to follow it before launching the Obama war.

Of course, there is always a chance that acting in concert with America's Arab allies is the real U.S. strategy behind the Iraq-War restart, and Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the UAE will soon join the Obama war. Let us hope so. Otherwise America's future in the Middle East looks bleak indeed.