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The most important line from Obama’s Iraq speech

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Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

President Obama just wrapped up remarks about the ongoing crisis in Iraq in a speech in the Rose Garden. And he said something really important:

The US is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis.

If this is is true, then Obama has ruled out the most likely scenario for military action in Iraq: a short-term drone campaign designed to help the Iraqi military halt ISIS' momentum. Political reform inside Iraq is really complicated, and would involve serious reform from Nuri al-Maliki's Shia sectarian government to accommodate Sunni demands. Putting together a credible political reform plan will take a long time, and certainly won't happen in time for the US to get involved in the immediate fighting.

Throughout his speech, Obama took pains to emphasize the importance of Iraqi political reform and minimize the prospects of US military involvement. While he said he was considering military action, he flatly ruled out deploying US troops. He also repeatedly stressed the need for the Iraqi government to reform itself to deal with the root causes of ISIS' success, sectarian divisions and poor governance.

That being said, the standard he set in the Q&A — plan for political reform first, and only US military action afterwards — is way more stringent and specific than anything he said in the prepared text of the speech. So it's possible this was more than Obama meant to commit himself to.

Allegedly, that's how American policy on military action in Syria was created. During a 2012 press conference, Obama said that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a "red line" for American military intervention in Syria. The New York Times reported that his aides did not see this coming: Obama "had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back."

But if Obama is serious about the political reform test, then Americans can breathe easy. There will be no US military involvement in Iraq in the immediate future.

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