World War O – Michael Crowley – POLITICO

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President Barack Obama’s expression of remorse on Thursday for the death of two hostages in a U.S. drone strike underscored one of the great frustrations of his presidency: His dream of extricating the U.S. from messy foreign conflicts remains just that.

Obama pledged in his 2013 inaugural address that “a decade of war is now ending,” but the numbers suggest otherwise. The U.S. takes regular lethal action in at least five countries. U.S. troops are deployed in three conflict zones. And America is directly involved in a pair of Arab civil wars.

Some administration officials fear that things will get worse before they get better, particularly in Ukraine and Iraq. But they are divided on how best to proceed, people familiar with the Obama team’s internal debates say — with top officials like Secretary of State John Kerry urging measures like arming Ukrainian government forces with Javelin anti-tank missiles, which can ostensibly be called defensive.

The goal, as one administration official put it, would be that “dead Russians will come back across the border and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will feel a greater price for his escalation.”

But the roster of violence is sobering, and the president’s more cautious advisers fret about how much more military risk America should take on as global conflicts multiply.

In Ukraine, the administration is alarmed over fresh signs of another Russian military offensive that could shatter a February cease-fire agreement and turbocharge an internal debate about sending lethal weapons for Kiev.

In Yemen, Obama has lent logistical and intelligence support to a Saudi-led bombing campaign against Houthi rebels — despite concerns among senior advisers that the Saudi action is counterproductive and risks a confrontation with Iran.

In Iraq, as U.S. air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant continue, military planners are pushing for U.S. special forces to operate near the front lines when Baghdad’s troops mount a planned offensive against the ISIL stronghold of Mosul later this year.

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