As city after city in northern Iraq falls to deadly Islamist extremist militias pressing onward to Baghdad, questions are now being raised about the wisdom of the United States’ swift exit from the Middle East nation just a couple of years ago at the direction of President Obama. But leave it to MSNBC to preemptively shut down any criticism of the White House.
On the June 12 edition of NewsNation, host Tamron Hall had several foreign policy experts on to analyze the chaos in Iraq specifically and the Middle East more generally. Towards the end of the conversation, Hall felt the need to defend attacks against Obama from the right [MP3 audio here; video below]:
But, realistically Bobby [Ghosh of Time magazine], Iraq cannot forever be the U.S.' problem. We know what happened. The loss of lives and treasure. We know the great divide that the war created within politics here, but when you see an elder statesman like Senator John McCain yet again saying a country, another country now needs the intervention of the United States and blaming this on the current administration, knowing that this President all along disagreed with the war and was largely the reason he was elected here. This then drives it back into the domestic politics of it’s Obama's fault.
Of course, the idea that something–anything–could ever be President Obama’s fault seems to escape her. Time magazine’s Bobby Ghosh was equally defensive of the president, deriding Sen. McCain’s criticism of Obama as simply “playing politics.”
At the end of the day, according to Ghosh, there is nothing America can really do because:
The Iraqis were saying a couple of years ago, the democratically-elected Iraqi government was saying everything is okay. The Americans can leave. We’re in charge here. We have confidence in our military and we know how to take care of our problems.
It is important to note–as Evan Kohlmann, NBC terrorism expert pointed out – that the collapse of Iraq did not solely happen because of U.S. policy under Obama or President Bush. The Syrian civil war – and the failure of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to gain military traction in that war – actually contributed to their success in Iraq.
Having said that, the knee-jerk defense of the president is not unpredictable from the mainstream media. Ms. Hall suggesting that Republican opposition to Obama regarding Iraq will “drive back into domestic politics” is revealing: it shows her fear that there will be even more backlash against the President’s foreign policy, with that wave cresting right before a crucial midterm election.
The relevant portion of the transcript is below:
June 12, 2014
11:08 a.m. Eastern
TAMRON HALL, host: We are listening to Senator John McCain on the Senate floor. I have with me Evan Kohlmann, Jim Miklaszewski, and Bobby Ghosh as we listen to what he described as his anger as a result of unfinished business in Iraq. Mik, let’s first–actually let me go to Bobby Ghosh here to respond to different things that were said by Senator McCain including that this is the legacy of President Obama and the actions taken. Nouri Al-Maliki turned down, as you pointed out, Obama's desire to leave troops behind in Iraq.
BOBBY GHOSH, Time Magazine: Yes. Look, there are questions to be asked about the quality of training that these Iraqi soldiers got from the U.S. Military and it affects the legacies of both Bush and Obama, but let's not forget that Obama wanted to leave just as he's doing in Afghanistan, some soldiers, up to 30,000 at some point there was discussion of that many soldiers in Iraq and Nouri Al-Maliki and the Iraqi parliament turned him down. I wonder how Nouri Al-Maliki feels about that this morning. It was not so much that the United States voluntarily withdrew all of its soldiers. We wanted to keep some there. We were told thanks, but no thanks.
HALL: But again, this is also about the partnership. Who is in charge of that country. The prime minister of that country has been accused of excluding Sunnis from power. So what we are seeing here, even if those troops were properly trained by U.S. troops, and that could be debated, I'm sure. Even if that was the case, when you are looking at a leader eliminating or excluding an entire population of people, what possibly could come from that of good, Evan?
EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC terrorism expert: Yeah, look, there's no doubt that Al-Maliki has alienated Sunnis in Iraq, but let's not confuse two things. Al-Maliki created the conditions for this. But what happened here is a direct result of what’s going on in Syria. And you have to think about this as a balloon with air in it. You squeeze one side of the balloon and the air goes to the other side. What's going on with this group? The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, their backs are up against the wall in Syria right now. They're fighting with Al Qaeda and they're getting killed by Al Qaeda and other jihadi groups there. They're fighting and disagreeing and quarreling with everybody. So what happened? They came home. The leaders of this group are all Iraqis.
HALL: And the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria were actually a militant group that American forces fought previously.
KOHLMANN: This is Al Qaeda in Iraq. It was Al Qaeda in Iraq. It took a new name, it split from Al Qaeda and then it expanded into Syria, but what's happened is over the last year it has gradually gotten into a very catastrophic fight with Al Qaeda, with Ahrar ash-Sham and other insurgent groups and now they're going back home because most of the leaders of this group are, in fact, Iraqis and they're going back to where they came from.
HALL: And this resulted in the taking over of Mosul, Tikrit.
KOHLMANN: Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra. And look, it’s scary to see this. But let's remember that this is all occurring because of the fact that they are losing in Syria, that they are suffering defeats and losses in Syria. That's what's causing this. So there's no doubt that Al-Maliki deserves blame. There's no doubt in my mind that I think the U.S. should be involved in air strikes targeting these camps. That’s maybe a mistake we made, but let's not mistake what the cause is here. The cause is what's going on in Syria.
GHOSH: Yeah, I agree with that. That's completely true. But we can't take much joy in the fact that they're losing in Syria when now in Iraq they're gaining control of entire cities. They're gaining control of enormous amounts of military hardware, American-made military hardware. They are getting access to banks from where they're able to take out $500 million worth of cash as we heard yesterday. So yeah, they may have been pushed out of Syria and they have come back to Iraq, but now they're much more powerful in Iraq than they used to be. This gives them a fresh lease of life, this gives them a new prestige in the world of jihad and this gives them more ammo to take back to the fight in Syria.
HALL: I want to bring in Mik in on that point and the Iraqi soldiers abandoning their American equipment and you heard Bobby Ghosh make the point this makes them more powerful and more well armed to go back into Syria. Again, what are we anticipating eveperhaps today?
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC Pentagon correspondent: When you talk to military officials about the fact that those forces were totally overrun very quickly and they abandoned their uniforms and their weapons and all their equipment and as one person told me, look, you can train them to shoot a gun. You can can train them tactics, but you can't instill allegiance in any of them, and according to officials here, there appears to have been a total abandonment of their–of their post and their weapons because they are sympathetic with the cause. So it's a very complicated situation, and back to the fact that Maliki is now asking for air strikes by the U.S., manned aircraft and drones, there's not much enthusiasm for exploring that avenue because they say to do it effectively you would have to put American boots on the ground to capture the intelligence, to figure out who it is exactly they're attacking and there's no stomach here in the Pentagon.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Certainly at the White House for putting American troops on the ground. So temporarily, they'll send more ammo, more advice, but no troops, at least for now.
HALL: With the worry, though, that the same ammo can fall into the wrong hands again.
KOHLMANN: Right now we're seeing on Al Qaeda messaging forms, people from the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant putting out calls saying we've got aircraft now. We've taken over helicopters and aircraft. We don't have pilots. If you're a pilot and you support us come to us now and help us. That's scary.
TAMRON HALL: But, realistically Bobby, Iraq cannot forever be the U.S.' problem. We know what happened. The loss of lives and treasure. We know the great divide that war created within politics here, but when you see an elder statesman like Senator John McCain yet again saying a country, another country now needs the intervention of the United States and blaming this on the current administration, knowing that this President all along disagreed with the war and was largely the reason he was elected here. This then drives it back into the domestic politics of it’s Obama's fault.
GHOSH: Well, McCain is playing politics. McCain is blaming McDonough for saying everything in Iraq was fine. It wasn't just McDonough who said. It wasn't just this President–it wasn’t this President–who declared mission accomplished. The Iraqis were saying a couple of years ago the democratically elected Iraqi government was saying everything is okay. The Americans can leave. We’re in charge here. We have confidence in our military and we know how to take care of our problems. Well, once people tell you they don't need you, you can't impose yourself on them and that's the position the–