"Obama Looks at Adding Bases and Troops in Iraq," read the headline in the New York Times.
The irony in that headline fairly jumped off the page.
Is this the same Barack Obama that campaigned in 2008 on a promise to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home?
Is this the same president who fulfilled that promise in 2011, taking considerable heat as he did so?
Is this the same man who has resisted (mostly) calls from Senator John McCain and others that he dispatch 10,000 or more U.S. troops to Iraq to fight ISIS?
A day earlier, the Obama administration had announced the opening of a new training base in Anbar province to be staffed by 450 American advisers, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 3,550, the equivalent of a full Army brigade. (By comparison, the U.S. began its adventure in Vietnam with 1,600 "advisers" in 1965.)
Is this the same U.S. that has been training Iraqi Army troops in one fashion or another for more than a decade, only to see them flee in the face of ISIS assaults in Anbar and elsewhere?
Stepping back a bit, is this the same U.S. that supported Saddam Hussein against Iran in the 1980's, went to war against him in 1991, dethroned him in 2003 and disbanded the 400,000-man Iraqi army in the name of de-Baathization?
The president is certainly credible when he concedes in public that the U.S. does not have a fully-developed strategy for dealing with the challenge posed by ISIS. In lieu of a coherent plan, the U.S. is confronting ISIS with thousands of air strikes that everyone acknowledges can impede the advances of the Islamic State, but not defeat it.
Now add to that a string of advance training bases designed to accomplish what tens of thousands of U.S. forces and billions of dollars in equipment failed to achieve over a dozen years, namely, a competent, committed Iraqi Army that is prepared to stand and fight.
No one denies that ISIS poses a brutal threat to the people and regimes in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere throughout the region that would be the new Caliphate. But its reach and capacity and ambitions beyond that are open to question. Containment may be the answer rather than all-out warfare.
In any event, the history of the United States' adventures in the region over the last three decades should give any president pause.
How many ways can you spell quagmire?
Terence Smith is a journalist. His website is terencefsmith.com
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