More than a decade after former President George W. Bush launched the war in Iraq, the country is spiraling into turmoil, and nobody in D.C. seems to want to talk about it.
Over the past few days, militants from the al Qaeda splinter group ISIS have seized control of the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and are now en route to Baghdad — which has been left open to attack after troops fled the capital city.
The New York Times reports that Iraqi leaders have feared the brutal takeover for some time, and repeatedly asked the U.S. — which pulled out of the country in 2011 — to interfere:
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, last year floated the idea that armed American-operated Predator or Reaper drones might be used to respond to the expanding militant network in Iraq. American officials dismissed that suggestion at the time, saying that the request had not come from [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki].... In a May 16 phone call with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Maliki... suggested that the United States consider using American air power. A written request repeating that point was submitted soon afterward, officials said.
But Washington did not step in, and officials have commented more recently that it has no intention of doing so. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby said that “ultimately, this is for the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi government to deal with."
Not only has the U.S. refused to take significant steps to secure the region, after using that very justification to stay in the country for nearly a decade, but officials on the Hill don't even appear to see the subject as worthy of discussion. McClatchy reports that the budding crisis in Iraq, which has forced about 500,000 of Mosul's 2 million residents out of the city, hardly came up during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday:
[The committee] met to question the man President Barack Obama has nominated to be the next ambassador to Iraq. Yet not a single senator asked him directly about the Iraqi government’s apparent loss of control. They also didn't ask questions of the man who sat next to him, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
The Mosul siege was addressed, but only in a brief opening statement by U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones, who said:
Monday’s coordinated attack on Mosul in which militants overran parts of the city highlights just how dangerous this group is. We will continue to work with our international partners to meet the needs of those who have been displaced. And we will look for ways to support the government and the security forces.
Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who used to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said that "there is a fear of re-engaging in Iraq because we have turned the page... this is presidential policy colliding with facts on the ground, facts that could change the Middle East.”
ISIS's power in Iraq could also point to a more recent failing — the Obama administration's inability to act meaningfully to help stop the civil war in Syria, where members of the militant group have been fighting and gaining strength. And, of course, there's fear of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, once American troops are pulled out in the next two years.