Last week the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to the Islamic State (ISIS) forces despite the numerical superiority of the Iraqi armed forces. USA Today reported:
“Iraqi security forces fled Ramadi without putting up a fight, despite holding as much as a 10-to-1 advantage over Islamic State militants, according to two senior U.S. defense officials.”
In response, President Barack Obama delivered two signature lies. The first was that “we are still winning” and that Ramadi is just a “minor setback.” The second is that none of the Iraqi forces were those trained by the United States.
The truth of the matter is that Ramadi is a major defeat. Ramadi is a major Iraqi city and provides a staging ground for attacks on Baghdad (just eighty miles away) and the military installations surrounding Baghdad. The loss of Ramadi digs the hole deeper from which the Iraqi government and armed forces must recover. And the truth of the matter is that the Iraqi armed forces that fled included its elite special forces (the Golden Division forces) all of whom were trained by our military. The Voice of America reported:
“Kurdish commanders say Islamic State extremists were able to capture Ramadi a week ago because elite U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts 48 hours before the jihadis launched their final assault on the western Iraqi city. Their retreat left Iraqi units remaining in Ramadi and defending the strategic city dangerously exposed.”
In denying the loss of Ramadi as any more than a minor setback, Mr. Obama has doubled down on his current “strategy” to “degrade and defeat” ISIS. Mr. Obama still cannot distinguish between a goal and a strategy. To date, no one knows precisely what the “strategy” is. We do know that Mr. Obama is busily training members of the Iraqi army but recent events where that army, including its elite commandos, have cut and run before the ISIS hordes indicates that training alone is not working. We also know that Mr. Obama is providing “air support” to Iraqi forces albeit without any coordinated in-country air controllers to detail specifically where airstrikes are needed.
And therein lies the rub. The Washington Examiner recently reported:
“But it appears the president is putting overly burdensome constraints on himself. As of the third week in March, the U.S. had flown about 12,000 strike sorties against the Islamic State — that is, fighter and bomber missions intended to drop bombs or fire missiles against Islamic State targets. Of those, about one in four — just 25 percent — actually dropped bombs or fired missiles. The rest returned to base without attacking any targets.”
That would suggest that of the 12,000 sorties flown from August of 2014 through March of 2015, only approximately 3,000 sorties actually involved combat. Eight months – two hundred forty days. That’s twelve and one-half combat sorties per day flown over a 50,000 square mile area in Iraq currently controlled by ISIS. (When I worked at Pacific Northwest Bell we flew six round trip flights per day between Portland and Seattle and that was only 180 miles and we weren’t even at war.)
The Washington Examiner article continued:
“The question is why that is happening. Why do the vast majority of strike missions against the Islamic State end with no strike?
“To some experts, the problem is that U.S. pilots are not being allowed to take the fight to the enemy. ‘The primary reason why ordnance is not being dropped 75 percent of the time is because the rules of engagement are so restrictive on our pilots that they have to avoid targets that normally we would be striking under similar conditions in Afghanistan or in the previous war we were fighting in Iraq,’ says Jack Keane, a retired Army four-star general who now chairs the Institute for the Study of War. ‘These are the most restrictive rules of engagement our pilots have ever been asked to execute.’
“The larger problem, as Keane sees it, is that the commander-in-chief has ordered that civilian casualties — unavoidable in a bombing campaign — be kept to such an absolute minimum that military commanders have had to stay away from significant Islamic State targets. ‘That has produced these very restrictive rules of engagement where we have targets available but we’re not shooting those targets,’ says Keane.”
And it is that rationale that has contributed to the enormous distrust by the Iraqi government and its military over US support promised by Mr. Obama. Simply stated: if you promise weapons and fail to deliver them, if you promise training and fail to support it with in-the-field leadership, and if you promise air support and deliver it only twenty-five percent of the time, it is easy to understand why Iraqi soldiers cut and run at the first signs of aggression – the promise of air support is dubious. (It should be noted that the Iraqi Shiite militia forces led by the Iranian Republican Guards are having no such troubles getting Iraqi’s to stand and fight and that is because the Guards are providing not only training but in-field leadership support.)
Recently pundits have described Mr. Obama’s strategy in Iraq in the alternative:
- He is doing just enough to appear to be doing something without doing enough to actually effect the outcome, or
- He is content to allow the Shiites led by Iran, the Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic terrorists led by ISIS to engage in a war of attrition that will weaken all three.
I think the former is more accurate while the latter requires a degree of sophistication and ruthlessness that Mr. Obama lacks by large degrees.
And the pity of this is that no one should be surprised when, Mr. Obama’s lack of commitment, drives the Iraqi government squarely into the arms of the Iranians who will provide all of the things that Mr. Obama refuses to provide. And after they defeat ISIS – and they will – they will continue on to purge Iraq of Sunnis and then they will increase their interference in neighboring Sunni nations (e.g. Yemen).
From the commencement of Mr. Obama first term in office, through the “apology tour,” through the miscalculations on the “Arab Spring,” through the embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, through the withdrawal of troops in Iraq, the Red Line in Syria, and virtually every other decision that he has made in the Middle East, Mr. Obama has demonstrated absolute and utter incompetence. And now, in the waning days of his failed presidency, Mr. Obama has said the cure to the mess he has created lies with the next president. What a guy!
This isn’t rocket science. If we intend to aid Iraq, defeat ISIS and hold Iran at bay we need to do two things. And neither of them require the bellicose extremes demanded by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his Mini-me, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC). First we need to embed combat leaders with the Iraqi forces we have trained so that there is experienced leadership at the point of combat – that isn’t a forever commitment but rather until battlefield experience has been coupled with training. Along with that leadership we need to embed air controllers with the Iraqi combat forces to actually make our air superiority effective.
And second we need to revise the constraints around civilian causalities to allow combat missions to actually result in combat engagements. Civilian casualties in war are a constant. Unfortunately, the number of civilians killed or wounded always exceeds that of the combatants. This is not a video game. It is war. If you are not prepared to accept civilian casualties as a byproduct of war, then do not conduct the war and accept the consequences of disengagement. Trying to have it both ways results in the mess Mr. Obama has created in Iraq and is reminiscent of the tragedy of the Vietnam War.
A friend recently asked whether I thought I was actually competent to comment on these matters. I asked him what the standard was for determining “competence”? If it is Mr. Obama then I am more than competent. But if the standard is President George H.W. Bush, General Colin Powell, or General Norman Schwartzkopf I would bow to their wisdom.