We’re not going to let them create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq, he says
President Barack Obama said on Friday that he was open to supporting a sustained effort to drive Sunnis militants out of Iraq if its leaders form a more inclusive government, even as he vowed that the United States had no intention of “being the Iraqi air force.”
Obama spoke as he ordered American fighter pilots back into the skies over Iraq, a decision that he said he reached after concluding that the United States needed to protect the Kurdish regions in the north and “bolster” an Iraqi leadership that was panicked in the face of advances by the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The president said he was confident that the Iraqi leaders understand that “the cavalry is not coming to the rescue” with ground forces. But he insisted that the United States has a “strategic interest in pushing back” Isil. He suggested a potentially broader mission than the one he described in Thursday’s White House address: to protect American personnel and prevent mass killings of religious minorities.
“We’re not going to let them create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq,” the president said in an hour-long interview with Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times columnist, as US planes and drones began dropping bombs in Iraq. “But we can only do that if we know that we have got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void.”
Lawmakers offered tempered support for the president’s actions in Iraq, but he also drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats for a mission that some called too limited and others worried would draw the United States more deeply back into Iraq.
Obama offered his justifications for his latest use of military force in Iraq while lamenting the outcome of a similar decision he made to intervene militarily in Libya in 2011. He defended the desire to help oust the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, with US air power, but acknowledged that he had “underestimated” the chaos that would follow after US forces left.
“So that’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question ‘Should we intervene militarily?’” Obama said. “Do we have an answer the day after?”
In the case of the current fighting in Iraq, he suggested that the outcome would be different from the chaos in Libya because efforts to form a government that could help rebuild Iraqi society are moving forward, albeit haltingly.
“They’ve now elected a president. They’ve elected a speaker of the house,” Obama said. “The final step is to elect a prime minister and to allow that prime minister to form a government.” He added that Iraqis are “recognising that they have to make accommodations in order to hold the country together.”
A day before leaving for a two-week vacation with his family on Martha’s Vineyard, Obama discussed many of the most vexing problems that his administration is confronting on the world stage.
The president rejected criticism that the military advances by Isil could have been prevented if he had been willing months ago to provide heavy armaments to the Syrian rebels who were fighting against the extremists and the forces of President Bashar Al Assad in that country.
“It’s always been a fantasy,” he said, “this idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth.”
Some of the criticism of Obama’s Iraq announcement came from his own party. Democrats and the anti-war groups that make up a crucial part of their political base said they were concerned about “mission creep,” cautioning that their opposition to committing ground forces in Iraq was resolute.
— New York Times News Service