The crisis unfolding in Iraq is the first real test for the new American foreign policy President Obama announced in late May — but it's unlikely to end well for the administration.
Speaking in front of a graduating class of West Point cadets last month, the president announced a shift away from full-on military confrontation and toward cooperation with foreign governments to combat terrorism worldwide. At the time, he pointed to proofs-of-concept in the Middle East and Africa: arrangements to train opposition fighters in Syria; to cooperate with counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan; and to build up elite troops in Libya, Niger, Mauritania, and Mali.
But in Iraq, the White House must find a way to implement its partnership-focused foreign policy in the face of a rapidly unraveling situation.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took a key crossing on the Iraqi-Syrian border on Sunday through which it can easily ferry military supplies and reinforcements between territory it controls in both countries. Meanwhile, ISIS fighters draw nearer to Baghdad every day.
Obama announced on Thursday that the U.S. will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help stop the ISIS advance. Some of these advisers will set up "joint operation centers" in Baghdad and northern Iraq to share intelligence with Iraqi forces and coordinate planning. But the president emphasized that the move is limited in scope and that American troops would not get involved in combat. Ultimate responsibility, he said, lies with Iraq's political leaders, who "must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq's future." Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Iraq over the weekend to meet with some of these leaders.