Since the president decided not to talk about possible downsides, here are a few — not at all a definitive list — of the things that could go badly awry as U.S. military forces return to Iraq.
1: The Iraqi government doesn’t get its act together
Obama’s entire Iraq policy rests on the notion that the country will form a government that is truly inclusive. According to this line of thinking, if Sunnis, purged under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, are given a meaningful, proportionate role in the government, their support for radical groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will diminish. “I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days,” Obama said Wednesday night. “With a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.” Without the new government, there would be no new U.S. intervention.
But what if the Iraqi government turns out to be not as inclusive as the president hopes, at the same time that the U.S. military is deeply involved in the fight against the Islamic State? “One of [the dangers] is that the Iraqi government fails to come together in any meaningful way,” Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House official, said in an email exchange….
2: The ground war is a dud
Nobody believes the U.S. can defeat the Islamic State with air power alone. A real victory over the Islamic State, the thinking goes, will be won with a ground war, supported by a overwhelmingly American air campaign. Without U.S. combat troops, the war will be fought by non-American boots on the ground — mostly Kurds and the notoriously unreliable Iraqi army, as well as, in Syria, some of the opposition forces the president once mocked as ineffective. Together, their performance will determine the outcome of the fight.