Obama Sending Military 'Advisers' to Iraq; Insists Troops Will Not Follow, but Missiles Might

Bring on the 101st Airborne Consulting Division


Updated with some comments from Democratic senators.

This afternoon President Barack Obama took to the airwaves to declare his plans on how America will approach the growing power of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) within Iraq. He will be sending military "advisers," but doesn't count these people as troops. Bring on the 101st Airborne Consulting Division! From USA Today:

President Obama said Thursday he is planning to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help retrain Iraqi security forces as they battle an insurgent invasion.

"Armed forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq," Obama said in a White House announcement.

After a meeting with national security advisers, Obama also announced a series of steps designed to improve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the insurgent army that has taken several Iraqi cities and is threatening the capital in Baghdad.

Some of these moves would require approval from Iraq's government.

Obama also announced that he will dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to the region for diplomatic efforts that include demands for a more inclusive government in Iraq.

While some allies have called for removal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama told reporters that "it's not our job to choose Iraq's leaders."

He also mentioned the possibility of targeted strikes, without being specific. The Iraqi government has asked the United States for airstrikes against the insurgents.

The complete transcript of Obama's comments can be read here.

What people are saying

At Vox, Zack Beauchamp thinks the president's tone is turning more toward the direction of getting directly involved, even if America doesn't send ground troops in:

Obama also compared the situation in Iraq to Yemen, where the US has conducted a fairly extensive counterterrorism campaign against al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents. The Yemeni government, according to Obama, has been a good partner for this kind of operation. The implication seems to be that a reformed Iraqi government would be more likely to receive American air support. In other words, fix your politics and we'll do more to help.

All in all, the speech sounded a more hawkish tone than his last set of remarks on the topic. "The fate of Iraq hangs in the balance," he said near the end of the speech. Obama may be starting to think America can help tip it.

Direct responses to the president's comments are still filtering out. Here at Reason, Jesse Walker responded to interventionists calling for deeper military action by recommending the exact opposite:

The war in Iraq was a disaster. [Robert] Kagan calls Bush I's operation in Somalia "the most purely humanitarian, and therefore most purely selfless, intervention in American history," but the actual result of America's ongoing meddling in the Horn of Africa has been to exacerbate the area's problems; the one period when things there seemed to be improving came in the interval when the U.S. decided to leave it alone. And do you want to know a word that doesn't appear anywhere in Kagan's article? Libya. In that country, NATO did what people like Kagan wish the alliance had done in Syria: It helped depose a dictator who was harshly repressing his enemies. And Libya today, like Syria today, is a zone of brutal chaos.

Kagan's preserver-defenders were not able to drop a free and peaceful order into Tripoli from the sky, because the work that needs to be done to create a free and peaceful Libya has to be done by the Libyans themselves. The same goes for Iraq: Instead of bailing out a prime minister who dug his own grave by refusing to compromise with the Sunni opposition, Washington could let the Iraqis find their own balance. That may mean some bloodshed along the way, but you know what? That's going to happen if American combat troops land there too.

Real order is built from the ground up, and outside intervention can derail it more easily than it can help it along. If recognizing those limits means retiring, then this superpower not only can step down; it should.

At BuzzFeed, Kate Nocera spoke with some Democratic senators and found some cautious support for the president's announcement:

"We have to think about what our national security interest is separate and apart from Iraq stabilizing itself as a country," said New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations committee. "For me, that means ISIS is a national security threat to the United States and I appreciate that the president wants actionable intelligence before he considers specific strikes against them. I support strikes once they can determine what are our high value targets which would produce very low or no civilian causalities."

Senators held a closed-door briefing on the situation in Iraq Thursday afternoon shortly after the president spoke. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy called the briefing "incredibly sobering" and said says he and other skeptics may support a short-term military effort in Iraq.

Virginia's Tim Kaine was one of the first members out with a statement on the president's plan to send the additional military advisors a "prudent move."