[Published 27 October 2016]
President Obama’s decision to agree to Iraqi and Peshmerga forces attacking Mosul to degrade and destroy the Islamic State just three weeks before the US elections sounds alarm bells for the prospects of Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump on 8 November.
Secretary of Defence Ash Carter confirmed Obama’s decision on 17 October.
The timing of the attack is very concerning.
Obama’s decision accords with his policy enunciated as far back as 10 September 2014:
“But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region.”Obama had then further elaborated:
”...we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground…
... As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.”
The same day as Carter issued his statement - General Stephen Townsend, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve - reportedly acknowledged the presence of
“forward air controllers” amongst the US “advisory” contributions to the battle.
Those American “advisory” contributions now appear to have included an explosive ordnance disposal technician - Jason Finan - working with a Navy SEAL team near Mosul who was killed by an Islamic State bomb on October 20.
Both Carter and Townsend were meeting together in Irbil on 23 October when Townsend stated:
“Our investigation is still underway, but as I understand the event right now, they had moved to a position on the battlefield behind the Iraqi front lines with a headquarters element….
...These guys said you know what, we probably need to move back a terrain and gain a little bit more stand-off. And they were in the process of that when they struck an IED.”
Such direct involvement of American troops on the ground - leading to the death of an American soldier - seems a distinct departure from Obama’s 2014 policy.
Entrusting Iraqi and Peshmerga troops to defeat the Islamic State - declared a threat to world peace and security by the United Nations Security Council - was always a high risk Obama policy.
Now that attack has started - Hillary Clinton has been effectively lumbered with Obama’s policy if she becomes America’s next President.
Any suggestion of abandoning Obama’s policy now would send a bad signal to American voters.
Clinton’s situation has been further complicated by Carter indicating at the same press conference:
”... we want to see isolation operations begin, oriented at Raqqa as soon as possible. We’re working with our partners there to do that. And so there will be some simultaneity to these two operations. We’ve long anticipated that.”
This contradicts what Clinton said in the third Presidential debate:
“The goal here is to take back Mosul. It’s going to be a hard fight. I’ve got no illusions about that. And then continue to press into Syria to begin to take back and move on Raqqa, which is the ISIS headquarters.”
The IBD/TIPP poll finds widespread dissatisfaction with America’s direction - 62% of the public saying it’s headed in the wrong direction.
Obama’s decision could not have come at a worse time for Clinton.
Joseph Chamberlain said in 1886:
“‘In politics, there is no use in looking beyond the next fortnight.'”
Pictures of body bags returning dead American soldiers, never-ending TV reports of murdered and injured civilians and people fleeing Mosul could certainly cause a huge voter backlash.