President Barack Obama more than doubled U.S. participation in the new war on Iraq on Nov. 7 by ordering an additional 1,500 “advisers and trainers” be sent there. Washington’s pretext for this expansion is the need to train the Iraqi national army and the Peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan to fight against Islamic State fighters.
On Aug. 8, the Pentagon had begun carrying out bombing runs over Iraq; in September it added Syria as a target. Already, 1,400 U.S. soldiers and officers are in action there, along with whatever private mercenaries the U.S. left behind after officially ending the eight-year-long occupation in 2011.
Anyone old enough to remember the U.S. war against Vietnam, or interested enough to study its history, will immediately grasp the danger inherent in Obama’s latest step. In December of 1961, 3,200 U.S. military personnel were in South Vietnam as advisers to a puppet dictatorship. By 1969, 550,000 U.S. troops were engaged there.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Nov. 9, Obama still claimed that U.S. troops wouldn’t be in combat. They’d just be training and advising at camps around Iraq. He said that he will be going to Congress to get approval for $5.6 billion to carry out the military intervention. That amount makes it clear that this is an extensive operation. That’s nine times what the Pentagon says it has spent on the bombing campaign so far.
Obama also described the Islamic State as a threat not only to Iraq and the region but to the United States. Even if the Obama administration currently wishes to avoid “boots on the ground,” this stance leaves his policy open to criticism and revision from more openly militarist elements in the U.S. ruling class.
The Pentagon brass have already expressed doubts about the usefulness of bombing alone. Gen. Ray Odierno, U.S. Army chief of staff, told the Nov. 9 New York Times: “The airstrikes are buying us time. They aren’t going to solve the problem by themselves. It’s going to take people on the ground, ground forces. Over time, if that’s not working, then we’re going to have to reassess, and we’ll have to decide whether we think it’s worth putting other forces in there, to include U.S. forces.”
Sara Flounders, co-director of the International Action Center, told Workers World that “the U.S. policy of exacerbating sectarian differences in Iraq during the eight-year occupation is responsible for the Islamic State’s onslaught in that country. We condemn any U.S. intervention as a threat to all Iraqis and all Syrians and to all U.S. working people and we will fight to again arouse opposition to a new round of expanding the U.S. war.”