U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, September 30, 2013.
With radical militants seizing vast swaths of territory in Iraq less than three years after American soldiers left the country, two former senior defense officials tell Business Insider much of the blame for an increase in sectarian violence stems from a lack of leadership in the White House.
"Unfortunately, this administration's principal interest seemed to be not stability in Iraq, not partnership with Iraq, or even Iraq as a hedge against extremism in the region," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity of the 2008 status of forces agreement signed under Bush and implemented by Obama. "Their principal interest was 'get out of Iraq' and they didn't care about the consequences. Domestic politics rules in this administration."
"The bottom line," he added. "Watching the administration is like watching a cross between Keystone Cops and amateur hour."
Extremists from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured key cities, including Fallujah, Tikrit, and Mosul, while Kurds have taken the oil-rich city of Kirkuk — with many wondering whether Baghdad comes next.
"What we're seeing now is exactly what we forecasted," said a retired senior military officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
While the White House rebuffed a request for air support from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki last month, the Obama administration is under increasing pressure to do something as Tehran's influence seems to be quickly replacing Washington's.
On Thursday, Obama signaled that he was prepared to act militarily, telling reporters he wouldn't "rule out anything." His remarks came the same day Iranian security officials told the Wall Street Journal they would send in Revolutionary Guard forces to help support the Maliki government.
But with much talk and little action seen from the Obama administration to quell a four-year-old civil war in Syria, both officials expressed deep skepticism the White House would act as militants continue to make gains.
"Instability in the region is in the interest of both Russia and Iran," the defense official said. "Both of whom run circles around us in every aspect of strategy and foreign policy."
When asked what happens next, both defense officials — who served under both Bush and Obama and have extensive experience and contacts in the Middle East — said ISIS will continue to seize terrain and push closer to Baghdad. The country could see a split along ethnic and religious lines, but more likely is a brutal stalemate similar to what was seen in Syria, which both characterized as "messy."
"Because of a series of bumbling errors, beginning as far back as the Bush administration with their 'democracy at any cost' philosophy, and further exacerbated by the complete lack of grand strategy or common sense by the Obama administration, we are incapable of leading now," the official said.
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