Six years ago, Barack Obama ran for president promising to end what he described as “a dumb war” in Iraq. And in 2012, he campaigned for re-election by declaring that he’d achieved that goal. But this past week, Obama decided to send 300 troops back into the country — one deeply riven by sectarian violence and teetering on the edge of chaos.
“American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well,” Obama said at a news conference Thursday announcing the decision.
It was immediately greeted with skepticism. Hawkish conservatives insisted that Obama needed to be more aggressive; liberals fretted that the commander in chief might be headed down a slippery slope of further troop commitments.
You could forgive Obama for feeling as if his hands were tied. The American public is war-weary — Obama’s pledge to end the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan helped fuel his political rise — and yet there is real concern among foreign policy experts that the sacrifices made by the U.S. military in the Iraq war could be made meaningless in this latest round of sectarian fighting.
And it’s not as though Obama has his popularity to fall back on. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released this past week showed that fewer than 4 in 10 Americans approve of how he is handling foreign policy. Even more devastating, 54 percent said that Obama “cannot lead and get the job done.”
For a president entering the final quarter of his time in office and still searching for a second-term legacy, it’s hard to imagine a worse spot.
President Obama, for not being able to leave the dumb war behind, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
Cillizza covers the White House for The Washington Post and writes The Fix, its political blog.