As a story last week in the New York Times documented, it was not easy for the Obama administration to make the call to launch air strikes in Iraq against Islamic State forces as they advanced through Iraq toward the Kurdish capital of Erbil.
But the headline—“Fear of Another Benghazi Drove White House to Airstrikes in Iraq”—and the top quote from an administration official: “The situation near Erbil was becoming more dire than anyone expected. We didn’t want another Benghazi”—said it all.
The administration still dismisses Benghazi as a phony scandal even though it denied sufficient security to the exposed diplomatic posts in Libya based on the fiction terrorists were “on-the-run” and Libya on the road to stability.
But it was not going to be caught by surprise again. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group poses an urgent threat to American diplomatic posts in Iraq, particularly the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil. Another attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility so soon after Benghazi would be a debacle for the administration.
According to The Times, this is what finally persuaded a reluctant President Obama to order F-18 airstrikes on Islamic State from the aircraft carrier George W.H. Bush.
Islamic state fighters were causing Kurdish defense forces to retreat by the middle of last week. Inaction from Washington was inducing mass panic among the Kurds, thousands of whom fled into the mountains to avoid the murderous rampage of the Islamic State fighters.
The Kurds remain vulnerable to both starvation and genocide by Islamic State, although airdrops from the U.S. and its allies have mitigated some of the concerns. But President Obama has issued remarks indicating he knows this operation will require a sustained effort that could last months or more.
Would Obama have acted to assist the Kurds of Iraq had there been no ghosts of Benghazi to stir him into action? Who knows? But his determination to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and repeated statements they will not be returning provide clues. Also, he has shown no inclination to take on ISIS in Syria, where the group now controls a swath of territory in the north and is murdering Christians and Shia Muslims with impunity.
In other words, Benghazi remains a factor in Obama’s second term whether the White House likes it or not. At least it now admits as much.