Why Obama Approved Airstrikes in Iraq

Extremists' rapid push north forced his hand, say analysts
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2014 7:49 AM CDT
Why Obama Approved Airstrikes in Iraq
President Obama arrives to speak about the situation in Iraq in the State Dining Room at the White House Thursday.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Obama gave the green light last night for the US military to launch airstrikes in Iraq, but why now? Some explanations:

  • Twofold mission: The US has already dropped food and supplies to Iraqis trapped on Mount Sinjar by extremist fighters from the Islamic State, or ISIS, and it may drop more. As for the airstrikes, targeted ones may be necessary near the mountain to "break the siege" there, says Obama, and allow more help to arrive and avert a "genocide." The bigger reason for the possible airstrikes, however, seems to be to halt the advance of the extremist fighters in the north.
  • 'Line in the sand': Though the US did not intervene as the Islamic State swept across much of Iraq in recent weeks, the city of Irbil in northern Iraq "appears to be a line in the sand," writes Dan Lamothe in the Washington Post. It's the Kurdish capital, and the US has diplomats and military advisers stationed there among the American allies. (The Islamic State also reportedly controls the country's largest dam, in the northern city of Mosul.)

  • How far? "The question arises: How far is Mr. Obama willing to go?" writes Peter Baker in the New York Times. Obama said "there is 'no American military solution' to the Iraqi insurgency, pointing again to the need for a new politically inclusive government in Baghdad. What he might do if that fails he did not say. And while aides stressed this is a narrow mission, they acknowledged scenarios in which it could expand."
  • Reversal: "The return to military engagement in Iraq is a reversal for Mr. Obama, whose early opposition to the war that toppled Saddam Hussein, and his promise to end it, fueled his long-shot campaign for the White House," write Carol E. Lee and Felicia Schwartz at the Wall Street Journal. "It also puts a spotlight on what has become a familiar feature of the Obama presidency, in which the leader of the most powerful military in the world has become defined by his reluctance to use it."
  • Unity after all? "Ironically, ISIS's campaign against the Kurds may end up helping unify the Iraqi state," writes Joshua Keating at Slate. The Kurds have long been at odds with Nouri al-Maliki's government, but now he's ordering his air force to help them. "Iraq’s various factions, as well as Baghdad’s odd-couple patrons, Iran and the United States, may be forced to work together to confront the most serious threat the country has faced since the worst days of the Iraq war."
  • Full text: Read the president's statement here.
(More President Obama stories.)

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