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Should the U.S. Act to Stabilize Iraq?

WHO: American University Experts on Foreign Affairs and Presidential Power

WHAT: ISIS Advances in Iraq and U.S. Response

WHEN: June 13- ongoing

WHERE: American University, via telephone, in-studio 

June 13, 2014 (Washington, D.C.) –American University experts below are available to discuss U.S. options in Iraq ranging from foreign policy objectives, failures in the Iraq government, likely outcomes, and what, if anything, President Obama can do to assist the Maliki government.

Below, please find a brief description of what each expert can address and a sampling of their analysis.

U.S. Foreign Policy & Military Options

Gordon Adams, professor in American University' School of International Service, is a foreign policy expert who focuses on national security and defense issues. Adams was responsible for the national security and foreign policy budget Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration.  

On responsibility for Iraqi security Adams thinks:

"The government of Iraq has always been and will be responsible for its own security. Clearly, Maliki has failed at this essential responsibility. But it is critically important to understand that U.S.'s policy is not responsible for that failure and that U.S.'s leverage to change the outcome is extremely limited."  

Adams on U.S. assumptions in Iraq:

"It was the assumption of both the Bush and Obama administrations that with enough training and equipment the U.S. could somehow create an Iraqi military that was capable of providing that security. That assumption was naïve. So, too, is the President's assumption that throwing another $5 billion at partners to make them effective in fighting terrorist organizations will usher in an era of global stability. The hardest reality for U.S. policy-makers to accept is that, however "indispensable" or "exceptional" they may say the U.S. is in the 21st century, U.S. leverage is extraordinarily limited, especially in the Middle East. "

On the effectiveness of air strikes, Adams cautions:

"We may, through air strikes, play a bit part in holding off the current ISIS thrust, but we cannot stem the tide of massive change sweeping over the Middle East region. The stalemate in Syria is one illustration –even if the US wanted to invade Syria, it would only exacerbate a regional crisis that is indigenous and on-going. The same can be said for Iraq –this fight is a Sunni-Shiite, moderate-radical fight that we helped unleash by removing Saddam Hussein, but cannot now repair. The disintegration is under way, now, as the Kurdish seizure of Kirkuk demonstrates. The pieces on the Middle Eastern chessboard are rearranging themselves;our ability to halt that change is much more limited than we think."

James Goldgeier, dean American University's School of International Service, is an expert in contemporary international relations, American foreign policy, and NATO. Goldgeier has held positions at the U.S. Department of State and on the White House National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration. 

Goldgeier on the U.S. being drawn into the domestic conflict says:

"U.S. options are bad all around. The Iraqi government is a failure, so President Obama has to be wary of stepping up on its behalf. But of course, Iraq convulsed by civil war is going to have a significant impact, including on world oil markets. However, I just can't see Obama allowing U.S. to be drawn back into Iraq given that his foreign policy has been built around getting out."

Hillary Mann Leverett, American University School of International Service professor, served in the Bush Administration's National Security Council (NSC) in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq (2001-2003) Leverett resigned from the Bush NSC shortly before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, in disagreement with policy. She has been to Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey --the key regional actors in this crisis-- numerous times and knows high-level players in all of them.

On training and funding Sunni militias in Iraq and Syria, Leverett says:

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, the core problem in Iraq is not its Prime Minister's flawed governance, but a decision by the U.S. and its regional "allies" to arm, fund and train Sunni militias, first in Iraq as part of the "surge" and then indirectly in Syria as part of a strategy to check Iran's rise in the region." 

"In this context, for the U.S. to send more arms—to either the Iraqi government or, indirectly to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) through so-called "moderate" Syrian oppositionists—or itself to become more engaged in the conflict will only feed into the grand strategies of ISIS and al Qaida."

Ben Jensen, School of International Service professor in international politics and U.S. foreign policy, is an expert in international security, historical sociology, international relations theory, and conflict analysis and resolution. Jensen is also a professor at the Marine Corp Command & Staff College.

Ben Jensen's analysis of U.S. policy in the region says:

"To the rest of the world, U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy appear schizophrenic and increasingly ineffective. The rebalance to Asia gave way to the West Point speech signaling a renewed commitment to funding counterterrorism activities. What holds these seemingly disparate policy objectives together is a belief is the vital role of multilateral institutions and international norms, as opposed to military force, in meeting America's challenge. Iraq presents a hard case for this policy paradigm. Coming on the heels of the failure of the U.S. to respond to the crisis in Ukraine and Bashir Assad's use of chemical weapons in Syria, another weak response will only embolden America's enemies and further strain the existing international system. At the same time, any response risks trapping the U.S. in the Iraqi civil war."

President's Ability to Act

Chris Edelson, department of government professor in American University's School of Public Affairs, is an expert on U.S. presidential emergency powers and Constitutional law. Edelson is author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror (2013). His op-eds have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and Constitution Daily, and among other places. Edelson is available to discuss President Obama's ability to act as commander-in-chief as the situation in Iraq deteriorates and whether he needs Congressional authority before acting.

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.