This afternoon US Navy F/A-18s launched from the USS George H W Bush struck ISIS targets in northern Iraq. This will go down in history as a strong contender for the "Too Little Too Late" award. Were thousands of people not being killed it would be a farce.
The problem facing the United States in Iraq is both political and military.
The root of the political problem is that the Maliki government is hopelessly corrupt, viciously sectarian, and in thrall to Iran. After intervening in 2010 to have Maliki installed as prime minister, the administration is now making noises about replacing him. This is a LSD induced trip masquerading as political strategy. Since the United States elected to end a US troop presence in Iraq we have no leverage to influence the political process. Maliki has no reason to care what we think, we really aren't helping him in his time of need, and his life expectancy isn't great if he leaves office. The political problem becomes one of an unmovable object and a spineless wuss and therefore intractable.
The military problem has a different dimension. The Kurds can take care of themselves with the right equipment. A union of Kurd infantry, properly armed and equipped, with American airpower could make life shorter and more interesting for ISIS fighters and take the pressure off Iraqi forces.
Even if your view is that Maliki spent a lot of time and effort creating this mess and he should be allowed to enjoy it to the fullest, we have a relationship with the Kurds going back to the Gulf War and we should consider it in our best interests to give them whatever assistance we can.
The second part of the military equation is the fate of religious and ethnic minorities now being targeted by ISIS for extermination. In those areas where American air power can intervene, to provide supplies to refugees, to evacuate refugess, or to kill ISIS fighters, we should. And we should do it on such a massive scale that it makes obvious to even the densest jihadi that the cost of is prohibitive.
While there is no doubt that the US has the military power to transform the face of the war in northern Iraq, protecting Kurdistan and Christian and Yezidi enclaves without the use of ground forces, what is lacking is the will.
We lack the will for a simple reason. Barack Obama is a weak, vacillating little man. He was elected in 2008 on a platform of withdrawing from Iraq... a war won for him by George Bush. He sabotaged the negotiations to keep American troops in Iraq in order to satisfy the hate-America faction that makes up a majority of the Democrat base. The administration has since successfully retailed the lie that we pulled out because the Iraqi parliament would not approve a Status of Forces Agreement. While it is true the parliament would not approve a SOFA, what they don[t mention is that Maliki offered to sign an executive decree that would have given our troops the same protections and it was declined.
Now Obama is signaling ISIS to not worry about the bombing because it won't amount to much:
Earnest, who underlined that Obama campaigned in 2008 on ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq, said at least seven times on Friday that the president would not dig the country into a “prolonged” conflict.
and while he was at it Josh Earnest told Maliki that he's on his own:
“It’s only the Iraqis who can confront this problem,” he said. “The United States stands ready and has already demonstrated a willingness to support them as they do so, but ultimately this is a problem for Iraq to solve.”
The political problems of Iraq must be solved by Iraqis but the political problems are not only not addressed but get worse as ISIS slaughters Iraqis, forces hundreds of thousands to flee, and destroys already fragile social institutions.
This is the price you pay when your allies no longer trust you and your enemies hold you in contempt. You are reduced to launching pinprick strikes while playing Hamlet in the Oval Office. It will take decades for the stench of this fiasco to no longer attach to American foreign policy.