June 2014 Archives

June 26, 2014

Al Arabiya News: Iraq Asks U.N. For Urgent Help

Al Arabiya News reported in a dispatch dated June 27, 2014 that, “Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (in photo below), in a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, appealed for urgent support and recognition of the growing threat of the insurgency in his country.” See Iraqi Foreign Minister2Exclusive: Iraq’s FM appeals to U.N. in letter.”

According to Al Arabiya News, “The four-page letter was obtained exclusively by Al Arabiya News Channel’s New York Bureau Chief Talal al-Haj and shows Baghdad’s increasing concerns about the insurgency.”

“In it, Zebari stressed that Iraq faces dangerous threats by several international terrorist organizations and hence is seeking the support of the international community and world powers.”

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June 25, 2014

A Fresh Look at U.S. National Interests in the Middle East

The sudden rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) should force the United States (U.S.), Iran, Iraq, Israel and Syria - and probably most Middle Eastern nations - to begin a dramatic reassessment of where their national interests reside. Or to put it simply, is the enemy of my enemy, now my friend? Until now, the concern of many U.S. political pundits and leaders has focused on the same old shibboleths: President Barak Obama should arm the resistance trying to overthrow the cruel regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran and Hezbollah are the implacable enemies of the U.S. and Israel, more so than an al-Qaeda. But now reconsideration of such conventional wisdoms cries out for discussion.

The U.S. should determine what represents the greatest threat to its and other nations' interests in the Middle East. The dramatic advance of ISIS in northern and central Iraq throws the conventional wisdom about our interests out the window, requiring a rethinking of who are our allies and who are real enemies. It should be obvious now that the advance of radical Sunni forces in Iraq with the apparent ability to create their "Caliphate" in Iraq and in parts of Syria poses an imminent threat to the U.S., moderate Sunni governments and every Shiite government or force in the region. Moreover, the rise of ISIS also poses a challenge to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians, to rethink their interests, including the potential dangers that following their current policies could create. A look at the new configuration of interests for each country or force may cause some geopolitical talking heads to have severe headaches.

The U.S. now confronts a geopolitical challenge to consider reconfiguring who are its friends and who are its enemies. An answer to this question starts with an honest assessment about who wants to hurt us the most and who does not like us, but who have no interest or ability to attack the Homeland. Obviously, al-Qaeda represent the most serious and immediate threat. While some Shiite groups have a deep antagonism to the U.S., the re is no evidence they are prepared to attack the U.S. homeland. Sunni groups seem more likely to focus much energy on the far enemy - that is, the U.S. - while struggling to create what some may consider this fantasy theocracy, the Caliphate. While groups like ISIS will now confront the fantasy-shattering reality of attempting to govern the slices of Iraq and Syria that they control, the threat they present to the U.S. both in the short and long term emerges as deeply problematic. So how should the U.S. reconfigure its foreign policy positions in light of this new world order?

Looking at the situation from an unusual position for a leftist, maybe "realpolitik" suddenly assumes both the most realistic response and lesser of the proverbial one, two or three of lesser evils. The U.S and Israel, now find that they have a de facto set of interests with governments and forces that oppose the Sunni forces comprising al-Qaeda. The U.S.finds that its interests are now aligned closely with the government in Iran, the much derided government in Syria and the militias battling Sunni fighters in Syria. Of course, there are also the ne'er-do-well moderates in Syria, but they seem like bit players in this drama. So, can the U.S. escape this glaring reality requiring a rethinking of its national interest? In the short term, probably not, but if ISIS consolidates its power base in the areas its blitzkrieg has occupied, more of the thinking class may start to ask questions.

If ISIS consolidates its power, then the U.S. will inevitably be drawn toward an alliance with ISIS' enemies. Among the now defunct "axis of evil" are likely Iran, Bashar al-Assad's Syria, Iran's ally Hezbollah and whatever is left of southern Iraq. The now effectively independent Kurdistan in Iraq also opposes ISIS, as does Jordan. Whether these forces can manage such a reorientation of interests, or to what degree they can, remains an open question because of ideological and political dogma on all sides about who are the U.S.' friends and enemies, and who are Israel's friends and enemies. The extent of this reorientation will depend in part on how well ISIS can consolidate its position in Iraq. Because many Sunnis who welcome them now may soon be fighting them if ISIS attempts to impose a rigid version of Islam, ISIS's threat may not be as strong as the current news cycle projects. But ISIS will most likely be a growing threat. We are now entering a topsy-turvy world.

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U.S.’ Mid-East Allies Should Forge Own Destinies

Sarwar A. Kashmeri, an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Norwich University, and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Association, offers a logical suggestion for dealing with the military crisis in Iraq, which has brought Bush Administration neo-conservatives out of the woodwork to defend the mess they made with the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq in 2003. Former U.S. Vice-President Richard Cheney and other war advocates, who appear to be re-writing the history of their unjust war in Iraq, blame U.S. President Barack Obama for president_official_portrait_hiresthe rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They want him to send more than the 300 military advisors dispatched to Iraq to stiffen the spine of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s military. Numerous media reports say some of Iraq’s military units laid down their arms, doffed their uniforms and fled when confronted by ISIS forces.

Mr. Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, and has vowed not to commit troops to the current sectarian conflict. Will he change his mind? It remains to be seen.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll, “suggests that most Americans back some of Mr. Obama’s approaches to the crisis in Iraq, including majority support for the possibility of drone strikes,” The Times reported on June 23, 2014. “But,” The Times noted, “the poll documents an increasing lack of faith in the president and his leadership, and shows deep concern that further intervention by the United States in Iraq could lead to another long and costly involvement there.”

Carrie Dann, a national political writer for NBCNews.com, reported June 24, 2014, that:

A divided nation finally agrees on something overwhelmingly: the war in Iraq was simply not worth fighting.

Seventy-one percent of Americans now say that the war in Iraq “wasn’t worth it,” a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll shows, with skepticism about the lengthy war effort up substantially even in the last 18 months.

Just 22 percent now believe the 2003 war effort was worthwhile. See “Not Worth It: Huge Majority Regret Iraq War, Exclusive Poll Shows.”

So, how can Mr. Obama achieved his objectives, which is to halt ISIS’ impressive advances in Iraq, shore up the Iraqi government and keep the country from fragmenting along sectarian lines?

Mr. Kashmeri's suggestion in an article in the June 24, 2014, edition of The Huffington Post headlined “Time for America's Middle East Allies to Forge Their Own Destinies” deserves consideration. He notes:

Baghdad is 900 miles from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; 500 miles from Amman, Jordan; 300 miles from Kuwait, and 1000 miles from Ankara, Turkey, countries that are allies of the United States, and armed to the teeth with American weapons. With over 700,000 soldiers, 6000 tanks, 2000 warplanes, and some 5000 conventional and rocket launched artillery pieces between them they vastly outnumber and outgun the forces of the so-called Independent State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that is determined to set up a medieval brutal Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

If these heavily armed American allies that are minutes away from the killing fields of Iraq choose not to step in and rectify the rapidly unfolding chaos in their midst, why should the United States, some 7000 miles from Iraq spill its blood and treasure in another futile quest to remake the Middle East for them? A futile quest that has over the last decade chewed up the minds and bodies of 56,000 brave American soldiers, including some 4,700 killed.

Mr. Kashmeri said, “Over a trillion dollars have been spent over the last 12 years in the disastrous 2003 American invasion of Iraq and its attempt to remake the Middle East. Estimates are that a similar amount will be required over the next two decades to care for the American soldiers who have thankfully survived the war in Iraq and returned to their anguished families.”

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June 21, 2014

Why is China Turnings Its Focus Westward?

Minghao Zhao, an adjunct fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, reports that, “The growing bloodshed in Iraq and Syria is being watched as keenly in China as anywhere else in the world. Indeed, the greater Middle East is becoming an ever greater focus of Chinese foreign policy,”  The executive editor of China International Strategy Review writes in a June 20, 2014, opinion post in The Japan Times. He noted:

At the just-concluded sixth ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, held in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping called upon his Arab counterparts to upgrade their strategic relationships with China, by deepening bilateral cooperation in areas ranging from finance and energy to space technology.

Minghao Zhao said, “This reflects China’s broader goal — established partly in response to America’s “pivot” toward Asia — of rebalancing its strategic focus westward, with an emphasis on the Arab world.”

For more of Minghao Zhao perspective on why China is turning its focus westward, please see “China turning its attention to the Middle East.”

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Expediting U.S Access to Middle East Oil and Gas

“Following the bulk of western reporting on the Iraq crisis, you’d think the self-styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS) popped out of nowhere, took the West completely by surprise, and is now rampaging across the Middle East like some random weather event.” contends Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, investigative journalist, international security scholar and executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London, in a June 19, 2014, opinion piece in Al Arabiya News.

The author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization said, “The reality is far more complex, and less palatable. ISIS’ meteoric rise is a predictable consequence of a longstanding U.S.-led geo-strategy in the Middle East that has seen tyrants and terrorists as mere tools to expedite access to regional oil and gas resources.”

Mr. Ahmed perspective is thought-provoking. He notes that: “What is playing out now seems startlingly close to scenarios described in 2008 by a U.S. Army-funded RAND Corp report on how to win ‘the long war.’ Recognizing that “for the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources,”

I highly recommend “The rise of ISIS in Iraq is a neocon’s dream.”

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June 17, 2014

Obama’s Instincts About Syria and Iraq

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asserts in a June 16, 2014, column that, U.S. “President (Barack) Obama’s instincts about Iraq and Syria have been sound from the beginning: Greater U.S. engagement probably cannot make things better but certainly can make them worse, both for the people of the region and for our national interests.”

According to Mr. Robinson,“What’s happening in the Middle East is the erasure of artificial borders drawn by French and British diplomats almost a century ago. Engagement seems to mean that today’s great powers, led by the United States, should enforce those old borders or impose new ones. Why should anyone think this is a recipe for stability?”

For more, please see “Obama got it right on Iraq.”

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June 15, 2014

Are City-States in Iraq, Libya and Syria’s Future?

Omar Shariff, deputy opinion editor at the Dubai-based English language Gulf News, notes in a June 14, 2014, post that: “The Middle East and countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently reeling under the impact of violent sectarianism and rising extremism. This situation has reached a stage wherein the very existence of some nation states as united entities is under question.” See “‘Sectarian fault lines are bleeding the region dry.’”

Mr. Shariff quotes Abdel Bari Atwan, “Gulf News columnist and editor-in-chief of digital newspaper Rai al Youm (Today’s Opinion)” as saying:“We are witnessing a war to consolidate sectarian divisions. Co-existence has become impossible.”

“There are going to be three states in Libya, three in Iraq and maybe three to four in Syria,” contends Mr. Atwan, who spoke to Gulf News from London. “We are reaching a stage where we will have city-states.”

I found Mr. Shariff’s analysis informative and worth reading.

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Curbing Internet Access in Iraq Won’t Stop ISIS

“The Iraqi government moved Friday (June 13, 2014) to block access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in a bid to disrupt the social media tools deployed by insurgents (from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ) as they have swept through the country in a bold drive toward Baghdad,” according to Washington Post tech writer Craig Timberg. See “Iraq tries to censor social media to disrupt ISIS communication, but its success is limited.”

Mr. Timberg said “…the initiative ran into a hard reality of warfare in the 21st century:Losing physical ground means losing control of cyberspace as well.”

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Nouri al-Maliki Threatens to Ban Al Arabiya

Al Arabiya News reported June 14, 2014, that “The Iraqi government threatened on Saturday (June 14,2014) to close the Baghdad office of Al Arabiya News Channel and ban correspondents of both Al Arabiya and sister news channel, Al Hadath, from reporting in the country.”

The news outlet said, “The warning from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki comes as a growing number of political figures in the country have been urging the Iraqi leader to resign and form a transitional government.”

Please see “Maliki threatens to ban Al Arabiya News in Iraq” for Al Arabiya’s response to al-Maliki’s threat.

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What’s Behind Middle East Conflicts?

On June 12, 2014, Think Progress contributors Hayes Brown and Adam Peck made the following observation about the state of affairs in the Middle East:

What started as a crackdown against democratic protests three years ago, has become a region-wide conflict that now has Iraq descending back into chaos. The countries of the region — along with the United States and various non-state actors — all have a hand in creating this moment, as money, fighters, weapons, and a desire to control the Middle East have come together to produce an extremely volatile and terrifying situation.”

Please see “Why The Middle East Is Now A Giant Warzone, In One Terrifying Chart” to read more of their analysis.

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Barack Obama’s U.S.-Africa Summit

U.S. President Barack Obama has invited “All but a few of the heads of state of the 54 nations of Africa” to join him on August 6, 2014, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital, for a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

According to Stephen Hayes at U.S. News and World Report, “The purpose of the program is ostensibly to bring Africa and the United States closer together economically and politically. While it is a program also designed to strengthen the legacy of the Obama presidency, it is not without significant risks and challenges, for this summit will be like none the African leaders have ever experienced,” he writes in “Obama's High-Risk Africa Summit.

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Are Young Kurds Fighting Alongside ISIL in Syria?

“A new phenomenon with old roots has cast a shameful silence over parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, particularly in the southeastern province of Halabja and its eponymous capital, where many of the young Kurds fighting (alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northern Syria) are from,” writes Sofia Barbarani in a June 14, 2014, dispatch published in Al Jazeera. See “Young Kurds fight alongside ISIL in Syria.”

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Iraq War Veteran: We Did What Was Asked of Us

Alex Horton, who writes about military and veterans affairs and “served for 15 months as an infantryman in Iraq with the Third Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry Division,” contends in a June 15, 2014, post in the Guardian headlined “Iraq veterans: learn to stop worrying about Isis and love life at home already:

Iraq veterans should not beat themselves up by attaching their ideas of sacrifice – of worth to a nation – to that broken government we left behind (in Iraq). We did what was asked of us. We held up our end of the bargain. Maliki did not, and many Iraqi troops similarly betrayed their own people when they chose not stand between extremists and their own countrymen. It has always been their fight, but that is especially true now.

Mr. Horton said, “The American public and its Congress allowed the war to happen, and it was the US military's job to help Maliki create the security necessary to establish a functional government. The march of Isis to Baghdad shows how spectacularly they have failed.”

Mr. Horton’s article generated considerable commentary

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A Refreshing Truth About U.S’ Iraqi Intelligence

James Rosen, a correspondent in McClatchy’s Washington Bureau who covers the Pentagon, noted in a June 13, 2014, dispatch:

“From the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the Benghazi assault in 2012, the Pentagon seemed haunted by the ghosts of past wars gone wrong.” He said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, “normally unflappable and upbeat, made little effort to hide Pentagon commanders’ shock at the march of Islamist militants and the retreat of Iraqi security forces from Mosul, Tikrit and their environs north of Baghdad.” See “On the front lines in Pentagon press room as war returns to Iraq.”

“I’m not going to be cute about it,” Kirby told reporters, according to Mr. Rosen. “I mean, we’re certainly disappointed by the performance of some Iraqi force units with respect to the challenges that they have faced in the last few days.”

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June 14, 2014

The Pressure to Do Something in Iraq

Aaron David Miller, vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former diplomat who left the State Department in 2003, writes in a June 14, 2014, opinion post at CNN.com:

The Obama administration likely will succumb to growing pressure to "do something" kinetic and dramatic in Iraq, and when it does, it will most likely be air and missile strikes against ISIS targets. This could relieve the political pressure on the President: His critics continue to blame him for abdicating U.S. leadership in Syria and in Iraq --which now faces the advancing extremist militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

But answering the political mail in Washington is not the same thing as dealing with, let alone resolving, the complex issues on the ground that have led to this crisis. To do that would require a comprehensive reengagement strategy, even without boots on the ground. And President Barack Obama should not be drawn into a veritable Iraq war III.

If you want to read the entire article, please see: “Obama, don't get sucked into Iraq III.

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Will U.S. Send troops Back Into Combat in Iraq?

On June 13, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama appeared on the South Lawn of the White House, at noon Eastern Daylight Time, and gave what he called “a quick update about the situation in Iraq.”

He was referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) surprising military gains at the expense of Iraqi military and the sectarian government of Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, who has deliberately marginalized Iraq’s Sunni population, a situation Mr. Obama touched on in his June 13, 2014 news conference. ISIL’s gains caught U.S. intelligence by surprise, according to various sources.

During the 11-minute address, Mr. Obama revealed that, on June 12, 2014, he convened a meeting with the National Security Council to discuss the situation in Iraq. The NSC briefed Mr. Obama on overnight developments prior to his June 13, 2014, press conference.

NSC members are: Barack Obama, President of the United States, Chairman Joseph R. “Joe”  Biden, Vice President of the United States; John Kerry, Secretary of State; Charles “Chuck” Hagel, United States Secretary of Defense; and Susan Rice, National Security Advisor.

“I received an update from my team,” Mr. Obama revealed .  president_official_portrait_hires“Over the last several days, we’ve seen significant gains made by ISIL, a terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and in Syria.  In the face of a terrorist offensive, Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend a number of cities, which has allowed the terrorists to overrun a part of Iraq’s territory.  And this poses a danger to Iraq and its people.  And given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.

Mr. Obama noted that, “… this threat is not brand new.  Over the last year, we’ve been steadily ramping up our security assistance to the Iraqi government with increased training, equipping and intelligence.  Now, Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of extremist groups and bolster the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.” Mr. Obama assured the nation: 

We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces, and I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead.

I do want to be clear though, this is not solely or even primarily a military challenge.  Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices to give Iraqis an opportunity to claim their own future.  Unfortunately, Iraq’s leaders have been unable to overcome too often the mistrust and sectarian differences that have long been simmering there, and that’s created vulnerabilities within the Iraqi government as well as their security forces.

Mr. Obama said “any action” the U.S. “may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq’s leaders to set aside sectarian differences, to promote stability, and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq’s communities, and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force.  We can’t do it for them.  And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won’t succeed.”

The president also said ISIL’s military and propaganda gains  “should be a wake-up call” for the Iraqi government.  “Iraq’s leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in order to bring the country together,” he declared.  “In that effort, they will have the support of the United States and our friends and our allies.”

Mr. Obama said Iraq’s neighbors – Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Syria and Saudi Arabia - also have some responsibilities to support this process.  Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq, and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos,” he said.  “So the United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately it’s up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems.”

“Indeed,” he said, “ across the region we have redoubled our efforts to help build more capable counterterrorism forces so that groups like ISIL can’t establish a safe haven.  And we’ll continue that effort through our support of the moderate opposition in Syria, our support for Iraq and its security forces, and our partnership with other countries across the region.” According to Mr. Obama:

We’re also going to pursue intensive diplomacy throughout this period both inside of Iraq and across the region, because there’s never going to be stability in Iraq or the broader region unless there are political outcomes that allow people to resolve their differences peacefully without resorting to war or relying on the United States military.

The U.S. will be monitoring the situation in Iraq very carefully over the next several days,” according to Mr. Obama.  “Our top priority will remain being vigilant against any threats to our personnel serving overseas.  We will consult closely with Congress as we make determinations about appropriate action, and we’ll continue to keep the American people fully informed as we make decisions about the way forward.

QUESTIONS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS

Q    Mr. President, given the recent U.S. history there, are you reluctant to get involved again in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think that we should look at the situation carefully.  We have an interest in making sure that a group like ISIL, which is a vicious organization and has been able to take advantage of the chaos in Syria, that they don't get a broader foothold.  I think there are dangers of fierce sectarian fighting if, for example, these terrorist organizations try to overrun sacred Shia sites, which could trigger Shia-Sunni conflicts that could be very hard to stamp out.  So we have enormous interests there.

And obviously, our troops and the American people and the American taxpayers made huge investments and sacrifices in order to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart a better course, a better destiny.  But ultimately, they're going to have to seize it.  As I said before, we are not going to be able to do it for them.  And given the very difficult history that we’ve seen in Iraq, I think that any objective observer would recognize that in the absence of accommodation among the various factions inside of Iraq, various military actions by the United States, by any outside nation, are not going to solve those problems over the long term and not going to deliver the kind of stability that we need.

Anybody else?

Q    Mr. President, is the Syrian civil war spilling over the Iraq border?  And what can we do to stop it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think that's been happening for some time.  ISIL has been able to gain a foothold in Syria.  That's part of the reason why we’ve been so concerned about it.  That's part of the reason why we’ve been supporting the Syrian opposition there.  But it’s a challenging problem.

In Iraq, the Iraqi government, which was initially resistant to some of our offers of help, has come around now to recognize that cooperation with us on some of these issues can be useful.  Obviously, that's not the case in Syria where President Assad has no interest in seeing us involved there, and where some of the governments that are supporting Assad have been able to block, for example, U.N. efforts even at humanitarian aid.  But this is a regional problem and it is going to be a long-term problem.

And what we’re going to have to do is combine selective actions by our military to make sure that we’re going after terrorists who could harm our personnel overseas or eventually hit the homeland.  We’re going to have to combine that with what is a very challenging international effort to try to rebuild countries and communities that have been shattered by sectarian war.  And that's not an easy task.

Q.    Mr. President, which foreign countries have you been in touch with?  And what are they willing to do as part of this international effort?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’re in contact with them now.  So we’ll have a better sense by the end of the weekend, after those consultations.  And we will be getting a better sense from them of how they might support an effort to bring about the kind of political unity inside of Iraq that bolsters security forces.

Look, the United States has poured a lot of money into these Iraqi security forces, and we devoted a lot of training to Iraqi security forces.  The fact that they are not willing to stand and fight, and defend their posts against admittedly hardened terrorists but not terrorists who are overwhelming in numbers indicates that there’s a problem with morale, there’s a problem in terms of commitment.  And ultimately, that’s rooted in the political problems that have plagued the country for a very long time.

Last question.  Last one.

Q    Thank you.  Can you talk a little bit about U.S. concern of disruption of oil supplies?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, so far at least we have not seen major disruptions in oil supplies.  Obviously if, in fact, ISIL was able to obtain control over major output, significant refineries, that could be a source of concern.  As you might expect, world oil markets react to any kind of instability in the Middle East.  One of our goals should be to make sure that in cooperation with other countries in the region not only are we creating some sort of backstop in terms of what’s happening inside of Iraq, but if there do end up being disruptions inside of Iraq, that some of the other producers in the Gulf are able to pick up the slack.  So that will be part of the consultations that will be taking place during the course of this week.

Just to give people a sense of timing here, although events on the ground in Iraq have been happening very quickly, our ability to plan, whether it’s military action or work with the Iraqi government on some of these political issues, is going to take several days.  So people should not anticipate that this is something that is going to happen overnight.  We want to make sure that we have good eyes on the situation there.  We want to make sure that we’ve gathered all the intelligence that’s necessary so that if, in fact, I do direct and order any actions there, that they’re targeted, they’re precise and they’re going to have an effect.

And as I indicated before -- and I want to make sure that everybody understands this message -- the United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together.  We’re not going to allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation in which while we’re there we’re keeping a lid on things, and after enormous sacrifices by us, as soon as we’re not there, suddenly people end up acting in ways that are not conducive to the long-term stability and prosperity of the country.

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