A new chapter was just added to the Obama Doctrine. Its working title is “Dipping Your Toe into the Icy Waters of War.”
The reference is to an announcement from the White House last night captured in, among other sources, this tweet by ABC News correspondent Steven Portnoy:
BREAKING: Obama sends letter to Congress, advising “up to approximately 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel are deploying to Iraq.”
— Steven Portnoy (@stevenportnoy) June 16, 2014
Up to? Approximately? Vagueness aside, that means “boots on the ground,” in the popular vernacular, and it comes three days after the president said he was willing to explore all available options except for putting boots on the ground.
This time, he is not to be faulted for flip-flopping since the decision represents a rare moment of lucidity in a foreign policy that Obama appears to be making up as he goes along. The detail he is deploying is small, but he has explained that, too: Their purpose will be to protect U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad — not to join in the fierce fighting raging outside the Iraqi capital.
At the same time, however, in his letter to Congress outlining his plan, the president noted that the troops would be “equipped for combat.” Does that mean they are prepared to join the fray in the event ISIS storms Baghdad?
The administration is still contemplating the prospect of unilateral airstrikes, though as Eli Lake pointed out, this decision is also fraught with difficulties:
The CIA and the Pentagon are not certain who exactly makes up the forces that have taken so much of Iraq. Moreover, … intelligence and defense officials says that they believe that some of the people fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) are former U.S. allies who could be turned against the hard-core fanatics — if they can be identified.
So far, the war at home — the one, that is, that is being prosecuted daily in the blogosphere — has focused on whether Obama shares (or owns) responsibility for the current entanglements in Iraq. That conflict may also be on the verge of escalating now that the U.S. officially has a dog in the hunt.