That’s the startling, even shocking implication of an article in today’s Free Beacon: that the President of the United States is refusing to evacuate American civilian personnel from Iraq, in spite of the crisis caused by the advance of ISIS, because he needs the threat to them to convince his left-wing base to go along with the air strikes underway:
The administration’s decision to bypass Congress before taking military action is reminiscent of its behavior in Libya, where air strikes also were authorized without congressional approval.
“They didn’t provide any firm answers or decisions,” said one senior Senate source apprised of the briefing. “The administration is saying that they’re going to authorize air strikes if ISIS gets close to U.S. personal or stationed personal, which in [our] mind, if there is a threat in the region you get your people out unless they’re military.”
This rationale from the White House is leading some to speculate that U.S. personnel in the region are being left in harms way “as collateral” because the Obama administration “can’t get his party and donor base to support further action in Iraq,” according to the source.
“That’s where a lot of the confusion is coming from” on Capitol Hill, the source added. “When there’s an imminent threat you get your civilian employees out of the region.”
As Noah Rothman at Hot Air points out, the administration is in a difficult spot with its legal justifications for action in Iraq: they’ve argued since the American withdrawal from Iraq that the Bush-era AUMF is outdated and should be repealed, so it’s very difficult to use that as a justification for new action. Instead, they’re using “danger to Americans” as the casus belli:
The White House appears to be claiming simply that the president has the constitutional authority to protect and defend American citizens, and he is legally empowered to execute strikes on ISIS targets if they present an immediate threat to U.S. interests or personnel. American military officials are, however, apparently prepared to interpret that which constitutes an “immediate threat” in a loose fashion.
And that, in turn has lead some to wonder if those personnel are being used as –and there’s no better word for it– hostages. I can almost see the pitch: “Look, we both agree that the Iraq War was stupid and wrong, but we can’t do nothing. You don’t want us to abandon Americans in danger, do you? The Republicans would have a field day with that. Remember how they reacted after Benghazi?”
It’s something so ruthless, so coldblooded, that I don’t want to believe it could be true of any American administration. Bear in mind also that the Free Beacon’s source is anonymous. And yet, on the other hand, the administration has taken such a hit over its failures in foreign policy, especially in the Mideast in the last two years, that some top adviser (Axelrod? Jarrett?) may have convinced the president he can do this to make sure he isn’t seen as the one who “lost Iraq” (newsflash: too late), that he can use the presence of Americans as leverage against a rebellion by his base without too much risk. If there’s one place this generally incompetent administration has shown any competence at all, its in “base politics.”
And, if true, this would be pretty base.