When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched its blitzkrieg assault on Iraq, it suddenly put the entire country in play, threatening its very existence. The rapid territorial gains by the ultra-extremist Sunni militant group put enormous pressure on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it is not only Maliki who faces difficult and urgent choices. The Iraqi crisis is also a pressing challenge for U.S. President Barack Obama.
As Obama and his advisers survey the disastrous scene, examining the possible scenarios that could emerge from the crisis and weighing the options for Washington, all of their choices are risky—and daunting.
The U.S. cannot pretend that it is an uninterested party in Iraq, having spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost thousands of troops there. America could, in fact, choose to do nothing in response to the current crisis—that is one of the options. But that would be a deliberate decision, not borne of disinterest but quite the opposite. It would constitute a choice resulting to a large degree from the trauma of an eight-year war that left the American public, and the American president, reluctant to become involved anywhere in the region, but especially Iraq.