Obama Weighs Adding Military Trainers in Iraq

Obama Weighs Adding Military Trainers in Iraq
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President Obama, juggling U.S. worries abroad and a few at home, said he’s formulating new military options to degrade the Islamic State by speeding up U.S.-led training of Iraqi fighters and thwarting ISIL’s recruitment of foreign fighters.

Under mounting pressure from U.S. military analysts as well as GOP critics to fortify the administration’s strategy to defeat ISIL by increasing the number of U.S. forces operating on the ground in Iraq, Obama on Monday said he is weighing two priorities: first, to speed up military training in Iraq, and second, to thwart ISIL’s successful recruitment of foot soldiers from abroad.

“We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis, as well, about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place,” Obama said at the conclusion of a global summit in Germany. “The details of that are not yet worked out … We’re reviewing a range of plans.”

The president put no timeline on his review, indicating he awaited Pentagon proposals he has not yet evaluated.

During a news conference at the summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, the president said the United States and its allies are willing to deploy more personnel to help train and assist the Iraqi military, if Iraq can demonstrate its willingness and capacity to effectively utilize the help. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was at the summit to plead for international help.

Since the fall of Ramadi in May, senior Pentagon officials have questioned the Iraqi military’s willingness to fight, and U.S. air strike support is complicated by the need to avoid accidentally bombing Iraqi military units and Iraqi civilians. U.S. military experts, who predict the defeat of ISIL will take years, have not embedded U.S. combat specialists at the front lines to avoid U.S. casualties. More than 3,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq to train, advise and assist an operation begun in December.

“All the countries in the international coalition are prepared to do more to train Iraqi security forces if they feel like that additional work is being taken advantage of,” Obama told reporters. He noted that in some locations in Iraq, military trainers lack a sufficient number of recruits, not the other way around.

“Part of my discussion with Prime Minister Abadi was how do we make sure that we get more recruits in. A big part of the answer there is our outreach to Sunni tribes,” Obama added, repeating his belief that the Iraqi government must work to meld Sunni local forces into the broader assault against ISIL. 

“Without that kind of local participation, even if you have a short-term success, it’s very hard to hold those areas,” the president said.

On the domestic front, Obama spoke for the first time publicly about the massive Internet penetration of U.S. government personnel records, which has been blamed on China. The president warned that breaches of government data are bound to accelerate, but he declined to say who was behind the December hacking of Office of Personnel Management computers, which potentially affected the records of 4,000,000 federal employees.

He said the discovery in April of the penetration four months before occurred because the administration is systematically examining existing data systems, department by department, searching for what he called “significant vulnerabilities.” Without being specific, he asked Congress to approve legislation to strengthen federal cyber security.

“We’re going to have to be much more aggressive, much more attentive than we have been,” he said. “This problem is not going to go away. It is going to accelerate.”

Back in Washington Tuesday, Obama will try to get ahead of the public messaging about the Affordable Care Act, which continues to be debated by voters, lawmakers, governors and candidates running to succeed him in 2017.

Anticipating a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this month about a key provision of the 2010 law, the president plans to address a Catholic Hospital Association conference about his signature legislative achievement. In an email to supporters Monday, the Democratic Party said the president plans to outline the “improved and affordable coverage options for individuals, but in terms of new rights and protections for all consumers, rising quality of care, and the transformative impact on the economy as a whole.”

Asked in Germany how his administration will handle the aftermath, should the high court pull apart the tax subsidy provisions of health insurance marketplaces run by the federal government from those operated by the states, Obama said he expected the court’s majority to side with the government.

“This should be an easy case,” he said. “Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.” Nevertheless, in King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court is expected to determine how federal tax subsidies underwrite health insurance purchased by consumers from 34 exchanges operated by the federal government. Many lawmakers who helped write the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have argued that Congress meant to treat consumer tax subsidies the same way in marketplaces run by states and the federal government, but a legislative drafting error created a question kicked to the judiciary branch. 

The government says the vast majority of Americans who purchased health coverage through the marketplaces relied on tax subsidies to afford their coverage. Advocates of the law say consumers who are covered by private plans outside the marketplaces would also feel the impact if the Supreme Court pulls apart a key provision tied to costs. Without subsidies under the ACA, health insurance premium prices would rise for everyone. 

Polling continues to show considerable public support across party lines for ACA tax subsidies for middle- to low-income Americans, regardless of whether consumers bought plans through state-run or federally operated marketplaces.

“It would be disruptive,” Obama continued, “not just, by the way, for folks in the exchanges, but for those insurance markets in those states, generally. So it’s a bad idea. It’s not something that should be done based on a twisted interpretation of four words in -- as we were reminded repeatedly -- a couple-thousand-page piece of legislation.”

 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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