The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Problem With Obama’s Stealth Escalation in Iraq

Americans are back in combat in Iraq. Yesterday I highlighted a CNN report revealing the existence of a Marine artillery firebase in Iraq, establishing a greater American ground combat role in the fight against ISIS. Today, we learn that American troop levels are higher than we thought:

The U.S. military has around 5,000 service members in Iraq, officials said on Monday, far more than previously reported, as the Obama administration quietly expands ground operations against the Islamic State.

The number of American forces in Iraq has come under increased scrutiny following the death over the weekend of a Marine staff sergeant, the second combat casualty in renewed U.S. operations in Iraq. He was killed when militants launched rockets at a small U.S. base around the city of Makhmour. The existence of the Marine detachment had not been known prior to Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin’s death.

Officials at the Pentagon have declined to specify how Marines are serving at the outpost in northern Iraq, which they described as a satellite base positioned to protect American trainers at a nearby, larger base. Their presence in Iraq highlights the use of forces from Navy ships already in the Middle East.

The problem with Obama’s stealth escalation against ISIS isn’t the escalation — it’s the stealth. Obama famously downplays terror threats yet bombs terrorist targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia (and those are the strikes we know about). He pledges that we can defeat ISIS without American boots on the ground, then puts artillery firebases in Iraq and deploys special forces into Iraq and Syria. 

The expanded military action is necessary, but Obama is not leveling with the American people. His words lull us into complacency, convincing his acolytes that terrorism is a distraction from the world’s “real” problems. But his actions demonstrate that he’s worried. The peace president is leaving office with American military forces engaged in as many (if not more) countries as when he entered the Oval Office. 

I understand the need for operational security, and we certainly don’t need to receive word of every additional deployment. The element of surprise is vital in war. But Obama is leaving the nation unprepared to face the enduring threat. He feeds progressive narratives even as he bows to reality and pursues military strategies he once shunned. He uses the bully pulpit to undermine our will to fight even while wielding an increasingly deadly sword. 

But to change his public message is to admit a series of colossal errors. He thought he could leave Iraq without suffering serious consequences. He was wrong. He thought by turning the page on the Bush era, he could stabilize the Middle East. He was wrong. He thought he could defeat ISIS without a serious escalation and re-commitment to Iraq. He was wrong. He thought he could end the war in Afghanistan. He was wrong. 

I will give him partial credit, however. By his actions, at least, he’s demonstrated enough humility to modify his course. But a leader doesn’t just deploy troops, he rallies a nation. Obama leaves America far less prepared — morally and spiritually — to fight the necessary fight. His words are also his legacy, and his words have dulled American hearts and poisoned American minds. He used the bully pulpit to make us weak.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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