National Security

As Ramadi Falls, Obama Sticks to Failed Strategy

Oh, how things change, despite the commander in chief's deep hope.

Jim Harrington · May 20, 2015

In 2011, Barack Obama assured the American public that after “[e]verything Americans have done in Iraq, all the fighting, all the dying, the bleeding, the building and the training and the partnering, all of it has led to this moment of success. … We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.”

In February of this year, he declared, “ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose. We’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.”

Oh, how things change, despite his deep hope. For one, we did not leave behind a stable democratic state. Iraq is rife with ancient sectarian distrust and hatred that often makes doing things impossible. And while the country is sovereign now, it might not last. Nor, apparently, are they self-reliant. Even after having American protectors, advisers and technicians for 12 years, Iraqis cannot defend themselves from serious internal threats.

Now the Islamic State has acquired much of the technology and weaponry we left behind in Iraq, and a sizable tract of the country itself. Worse, ISIL has captured Ramadi, which James Phillips writing for The Daily Signal describes as “the predominantly Sunni Arab western province that has been a stronghold for the Islamic State and its predecessor organizations, ISIS and al-Qaeda.” It’s also just 70 miles from Bagdad.

Blame for the fall of Ramadi largely rests with Barack Obama, the commander in chief who insisted on the total withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Had we left behind a sizable military presence, Ramadi would likely not be Islamic State territory. Moreover, given the current situation, Obama isn’t doing and can’t do enough against ISIL.

James Franklin Jeffrey, U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012, writes in The Wall Street Journal that Obama did try to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki prior to the U.S. withdrawal. That may be true, but it was a half-hearted attempt designed to fail so Obama could keep a campaign promise.

Jeffrey insists, “[T]he common argument that U.S. troops could have produced different Iraqi political outcomes is hogwash. The Iraqi sectarian divides, which ISIS exploited, run deep and were not susceptible to permanent remedy by our troops at their height, let alone by 5,000 trainers under Iraqi restraints.”

When ISIL showed up, Maliki tried to muster the militias, but sectarian mistrust interfered. And the fact that the militia and police ran in panic before the ISIL advance doesn’t bode well for Iraqi success. Nor does it for Obama’s strategy.

Last fall, Obama addressed the Islamic State on TV, explaining his plans for fighting it. His plan detailed four points:

Number one, “A systematic campaign of airstrikes,” which have so far been unsuccessful. Only boots on the ground can defeat a determined enemy. That said, any proposed military involvement should be voted on by Congress after sufficient debate.

Number two, “increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground,” which includes sending a thousand Americans to Iraq to assess and shore up their security. Yet Obama emphasized his paramount concern: “American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”

Number three, use our “substantial counterterrorism capabilities” against ISIL, cut off its funding, improve our intelligence, strengthen our own defenses, fight ISIL’s warped ideology and cut the movement of its recruits in and out of the Middle East.

Finally, he will “provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians” displaced by ISIL, including Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities.

Unfortunately, we don’t buy for a second that Obama’s serious about national security or doing anything to reverse the immense loss of American blood and treasure in Iraq. Not when his guiding principle is “leading from behind.”

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