President Obama's decision to send up to 300 advisers to help the Iraqi army reverse its recent setbacks is not as big a deal as it sounds. Opponents of the war, of which I'm one, shouldn't take it as the first step back into the quagmire.
Obama has made it clear he's not willing to be bogged down indefinitely in Iraq, and this commitment doesn't represent a change of heart. Apparently he feels obliged to do something, and this is about the least he can do.
I have a certain sympathy for the argument that our invasion-- and botched occupation -- smashed Iraq and that we therefore have a duty to put it back together. Unfortunately, it took 168,000 troops at the height of the surge to come even halfway close to that goal. Even the most incorrigible hawks haven't demanded that.
Sending a few hundred advisers is not likely to work. As the president indicated yesterday, Iraq needs a government capable of winning the support of all its ethnic and religious groups. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proven he can't or won't do it. Given the violent sectarian strife of the past decade, it would take a great statesman to bring the country together, and none is on the horizon.
Maybe the U.S. assistance will put steel in the spines of Iraqi soldiers, many of whom fled at first contact with the militant forces, and turn the tide on the battlefield. If so, good. If not, at least we haven't put large numbers of American GIs in peril. And we will have proved once more that whatever Iraq needs to flourish, it's more than we can offer.
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