Obama Pitches His Iraq Intervention with “Suck on This” Friedman

Steve Coll has a depressing article describing why Obama — after having ignored red lines in the past — drew one in Erbil.

Erbil’s rulers never quite saw the point of a final compromise with Baghdad’s Shiite politicians—as each year passed, the Kurds got richer on their own terms, they attracted more credible and deep-pocketed oil companies as partners, and they looked more and more like they led a de-facto state. The Obama Administration has done nothing to reverse that trend.

And so, in Erbil, in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened Iraq’s seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist quixotically in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront ISIS.

Obama’s defense of Erbil is effectively the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal—as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example—are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company, as Al Swearengen would well understand. Life, Swearengen once pointed out, is often made up of “one vile task after another.” So is American policy in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Obama has inexplicably decided to go pitch his intervention in an exclusive with the man Atrios dubbed the Wanker of the Decade — not for inventing the Friedman Unit — but for his honesty that the first time we went, it was to say “Suck On This” in spectacular fashion.

In it, Obama as much as admits he fucked up Libya and had no business pretending there were secular Syrians to arm. But (as Coll notes in his piece) Obama pretends the Kurds aren’t angling for maximum advantage here, just as all other players are.

“When you have a unique circumstance in which genocide is threatened, and a country is willing to have us in there, you have a strong international consensus that these people need to be protected and we have a capacity to do so, then we have an obligation to do so,” said the president. But given the island of decency the Kurds have built, we also have to ask, he added, not just “how do we push back on ISIL, but also how do we preserve the space for the best impulses inside of Iraq, that very much is on my mind, that has been on my mind throughout.

Obama’s lesson here is that you can’t strive for maximalist advantage. But then to sell Iraq War 3.0, he obfuscates about doing just that, with the man who justified Iraq War 2.0 by saying “Suck On This.”

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    The articles I have read describe a military that (1) truly is advancing and taking large swaths of territory and population, (2) is doing horrific genocidal things as it moves along, and (3) is likely to actually form a retrograde, barbaric, Islamic state. It seems to be a qualitatively different situation than your typical civil war etc. Am I wrong? If not, then perhaps this time we should do something.

    And, if this were happening elsewhere than Iraq, would the non-interventionists feel the same?

    • emptywheel says:

      I’d caution against calling anything they do barbaric until, say, 20 years from now. I say that because a great deal of what is coming out is propaganda. But also because a lot of this arose out of our own barbarity in Iraq.

    • ess emm says:

      [ISIS] likely to actually form a retrograde, barbaric, Islamic state

      Perhaps somebody could explain to me how this Islamic state would be different from Saudi Arabia.

  2. bevin says:

    “The articles I have read describe…”
    Do those articles tell you who armed this army and where it was organised? It is very difficult to explain it except in the context of massive US/Saudi contributions to the “rebellion” in Syria.

    • bloopie2 says:

      Good point. No, the articles do not explain that. But, as O is wont to say, I’m looking forward, not backward. What to do now, if anything, regardless of how they were armed.

      And I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what would people do if this were happening somewhere other than Iraq.

  3. TarheelDem says:

    Mosul is a city of 1.4 million. A military movement the size that ISIS is reported to be did not take that city by force. The forces there cut a deal with ISIS whereby they continued to administer the city, ISIS captured the US-made weapons that could amp it up to a conventional army, and most of the ISIS forces could rumble on in blitzkrieg fashion.

    It is the politics between those politicians in Mosul and the central government in Baghdad that determines whether ISIS remains a bunch of pirates or becomes the nucleus of a Sunni state the straddles the Iraq-Syria border and styles itself THE Islamic State.

    Obama can jawbone about that politics but he meddles in it at our peril.

    Supporting the Kurds is a no-brainer. The US has troops there already for the purpose of figuring out how to stop ISIS forces. The US is reported to have a CIA station there. The US has US employees of oil companies there. There is concern about Kirkuk. The Kurdish Regional Government’s autonomy has been a long-term (quarter century) project of the United States. Picking off technicals in the desert and taking out mortar units near villages and towns is what NATO did in Libya mainly in addition to degrading Gadhafi’s inventories of tanks, artillery pieces, and APCs. And there will be US-made tanks, artillery pieces, and APCs to degrade if the ISIS forces risk showing what they captured in Mosul.

    i’ve noticed that the President’s press people pick interviewers by the audience they wish to reach. The analysis here has to do with who Friedman’s audience still is and why they might be important politically (either for the war support or for partisan politics) to the President. And that audience includes those with links propagated through Friedman’s Tweet followers, Facebook page…and so on. What’s the demographic and ideological profile of that bunch?

    • Les says:

      “Mosul is a city of 1.4 million. A military movement the size that ISIS is reported to be did not take that city by force. The forces there cut a deal with ISIS whereby they continued to administer the city, ISIS captured the US-made weapons that could amp it up to a conventional army, and most of the ISIS forces could rumble on in blitzkrieg fashion.”

      ISIS has been mainly taking territory that’s predominantly Sunni after the ethnic cleansing of the Paetreaus Surge. You hear very little about any pitched battles between the rebels and the government forces. It tells you that they have overwhelming numbers against the Shia.

      Most of the rebel groups appear to be comprised of the former Iraq military. It would not be a surprise if they were welcomed by the local populations in most of the areas taken so far.

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/06/19/323691052/saddams-ex-officer-weve-played-key-role-in-helping-militants

      • orionATL says:

        would these be the same officers and soldiers formerly serving under saddam whom the u.s. dept of defense and the bush whitehouse so wisely chose to freeze out of the “new iraq” we were building?

        “nation building is so very hard to do, la, la …”

  4. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    What I take from this we have to prevent genocide — when the afflicted population has oil to sell us.

    • Les says:

      “America’s incompetent elites have successfully transformed a campaign by a bunch of half-crazy jihadists from Saudi Arabia into a full-fledged clash of civilizations.”

      I expect that they’re being led by intelligence officers and special forces members from these foreign governments, including the US, UK, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Remember the largest US special forces base in the world is in nearby Qatar. There have been a number of instances where special forces from the US, UK, Germany, and Israel have been captured in false flag missions.

  5. wallace says:

    quote”America’s incompetent elites have successfully transformed a campaign by a bunch of half-crazy jihadists from Saudi Arabia into a full-fledged clash of civilizations.”unquote

    Incompetent? ummm, I’d say Phase 11 of their plan is going exactly as planned. I mean, brilliantly. Beat the shit of Iraq with a $Trillion in weapons, and then leave them in Iraq . Set up ISIS. Let them take the weapons. Then destroy them. Then resupply the Iraqi’s…geeeze. An arms manufacturer’s perpetual 24/7 wet dream. Meanwhile, the taxpayers pay for it. What more could you ask for. I can hear the clinking of $1k bottles of champagne at the top of the Burj Khalifa as I type.

    • RUKidding says:

      “An arms manufacturer’s perpetual 24/7 wet dream. Meanwhile, the taxpayers pay for it. What more could you ask for. I can hear the clinking of $1k bottles of champagne at the top of the Burj Khalifa as I type.”

      Well said. Pretty much my take on it. When National Propaganda Radio started *droning* (bad pun intended) on about Iraq & Barry O’Bomber, I just turned it off. This has all been part of the plan, and it’s going very well, thankyewverymuch.

  6. Ann says:

    Funding both sides of a conflict is potentially twice as profitable as funding only one side.

    Who better to catapult the propaganda than the a highly-respected journalist/Shopping Mall Robber Baron pundit. With its simplicity and appeal to the average guy, Freidman’s witty quote has resonated for a decade. Three words!

    EU can buy its energy from Kurdistan and American Multinational Oil Companies – Known brands – as popular as Mickey Mouse!

    Russia (in the person of Putin, of course) can Suck On That.

  7. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    Although it has not received the spotlight of the MSM, there has been another example of the ongoing clash of civilizations underway in Africa. A vicious civil war between the Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and Christian anti-balaka vigilantes in the Central African Republic has resulted in the deaths of many thousands and the displacement of over a million people in that country. The government has just announced the appointment of a Muslim prime minister in a bid to stop the violence. Throughout sub-Sahara Africa the emerging clash of civilizations is on full display. South Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Chad, and Nigeria are all witnessing the chaos resulting from what essentially is a proxy war between the West and resurgent Islam. The French have taken the lead in several of these civil wars, but American special operation forces are increasingly involved as well.

    • bloopie2 says:

      And why is this all happening now? Easy availability of arms? The Internet? Globalization? I’d really like to know.

      • RUKidding says:

        Unsure why “this is all happening now,” but realize, too, that the Internet makes this Info/Intel much more readily available than previously. Combine that with bigger, “better,” more prolific arms for sale everywhere by lots of arms manufacturers and et voila: the perfect storm.

        Frankly, a lot of this kind of sh*t has gone on forever & ever. In Team USA, it certainly has on one front or another. It’s just that our weapons have gotten bigger & more destructive.

        The stuff in Africa is nothing new at all, but there’s an urgency now that the Chinese have moved in somewhat significant numbers of their population to settle in Africa and get a huge “toe hold” on that continent.

        Our 1% Overlords ain’t happy about that, at all, and it’s not something that’s well known in the USA bc the propaganda Wurlitzer doesn’t “inform” US citizens at all.

  8. Bruce Miller says:

    I was really struck by the last paragraph of that Friedman interview report. There, Obama certainly seems to be saying that the lesson he learned from the Libyan intervention that he’s now applying to the new Iraq war is that outside participation wasn’t big enough or long enough and not nearly enough nation-building was done. I hope he decides to cut his losses there sooner rather than later.

  9. guest77 says:

    The articles I have read describe a military that (1) truly is advancing and taking large swaths of territory and population, (2) is doing horrific genocidal things as it moves along, and (3) is likely to actually form a retrograde, barbaric, Islamic state. It seems to be a qualitatively different situation than your typical civil war etc.

    “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is actually a pretty good story.

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