Obama’s Mideast airstrike refrain: ‘And then what?’ – Los Angeles Times

Last fall, as President Obama weighed airstrikes against Syria, deliberations followed a clear pattern: The president solicited scores of options, planners returned with possibilities, and, according to people involved, Obama would reply with the same question: And then what?

Over the last several days, with Obama mulling involvement in another Middle East conflict, this time in Iraq, that dynamic has held.

The result is a policy that so far has put on hold calls from the Iraqi government for U.S. airstrikes against Sunni Islamic militants who have seized territory north and west of Baghdad. Instead, aides say Obama is waiting for evidence that the Iraqi government, which is dominated by Shiites, is willing to reach political reconciliation with Sunni groups.

One senior official said the president is considering drone strikes, akin to those against alleged terrorist targets in Yemen, rather than rolling airstrikes like the shock-and-awe campaigns of the gulf wars. The president told congressional leaders Wednesday that he does not believe he needs their authorization for the actions he would take in Iraq, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after the meeting.

Even a limited use of air power to attack leaders of the militant force, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, may not be imminent. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday that the U.S. would need a better understanding of the targets before he would recommend any attack.

“It’s not as easy as looking at an iPhone video of a convoy and then immediately striking it,” Dempsey said. “Until we can actually clarify this intelligence picture, the options will continue to be built and developed and refined, and the intelligence picture made more accurate,” he said.

But the delay isn’t just about intelligence gathering. Obama’s approach — the persistent “and then what?” question — reflects his deep skepticism about the ability of military intervention to fix entrenched problems, a suspicion that some note has grown, or at least solidified, during his tenure.

“He genuinely believes that he was elected to get America off its war footing, that his legacy is to get the U.S. away from its over-reliance on the military instrument,” said Julianne Smith, former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. “There’s just a fundamental strategic framework for him that tilts toward not intervening and looking to see what other instruments are available to deal with a crisis.”

Obama’s Mideast airstrike refrain: ‘And then what?’ – Los Angeles Times}

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