Since the beginning of this crisis, I’ve been highly skeptical of the three-way alliance President Obama apparently expects to topple ISIS for him. The Kurds are solid players, but they’re mostly on defense, protecting territory that is likely to become an independent nation. That nation will make a fine regional ally for the West, but it will not be well-liked by either of its “partners” in the three-way alliance: what remains of Iraq, and the busload of Syrian rebels who aren’t already allied with al-Qaeda or at peace with the Islamic State.
The Syrian front in this anti-ISIS effort is a point of particular concern. Well, let’s be blunt: what the White House is talking about is sheer fantasy. They might as well be announcing plans to hit the Islamic State from the north with a coalition of hobbits, elves, and dragons. Most of the Islamic State’s strength is in Syrian territory. The relatively small and ineffective segment of the Syrian rebellion that isn’t composed of outright terrorists and al-Qaeda subsidiaries is much more interested in throwing Bashar Assad out of Damascus than flinging themselves into battle against the caliphate, while Assad sits back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoys the show. In addition to its legendary low-tech savagery, ISIS is also thought to have chemical weapons taken from both Syrian and Iraqi WMD stockpiles (which our friends on the Left spent a decade claiming were non-existent – yet another thing they were wrong about.) There have been reports of ISIS using chemical weapons.
Convincing a small and not-terribly-fierce subset of the Syrian resistance to forget about the guy they were resisting and charge into that chlorine-laced meat grinder with Barack Obama, of all people, watching their backs is not going to be easy. This President’s fecklessness, his view of foreign policy as an annoying distraction, and his penchant for turning on U.S. allies – because pushing them around is easier than taking bold stands against barbarians – will all come back to haunt us, as we try to round up proxies for an operation where the President keeps loudly declaring we won’t be on the front lines, no matter what happens. What this “no boots on the ground” stuff is saying to prospective Syrian proxies is: We won’t be there to save you, if this all goes wrong. We’ll be your air force, but that’s it.
Likewise, the endless public arguments between Obama and his subordinates about whether we’re at war or not – they’re basically arguing with each other on-camera, while the world watches in slack-jawed amazement – sends this message: We’re not really serious about this. It’s all about U.S. politics and media spin. If things go bad and our poll numbers dip, we’ll hang you out to dry in a single news cycle.
With that in mind, I wonder if the cagier members of the Syrian resistance will be able to resist the temptation to get some of that American air power turned against Assad, perhaps with a false-flag attack or two. Or if Assad sees his erstwhile enemies bleeding themselves out in battle against each other, what’s to stop him from rolling in at the end of the bloodbath to mop up the resistance and declare victory in the Syrian civil war? What if the rest of the Syrian resistance decides America’s willing proxies against ISIS are a distraction from what they see as the more urgent business of knocking down Assad, and turn against the American-allied Syrians in the kind of scrum that can’t be easily broken up from 30,000 feet? There are so many ways the Syrian side of this triangle can go wrong.
Which brings us to Iraq, where things are not looking good at all. In fact, the Iraqi military in such bad shape that General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that American “boots on the ground” might just be in the picture after all… a burst of candor that will not endear him to the panicked White House.
In separate press conference, Dempsey also made remarks that have been widely reported as saying only half the Iraqi military is ready to fight. It’s actually much worse than that. What he said was that half the Iraqi military is almost completely useless against the Islamic State for sectarian reasons, and the other half needs work before it’s ready for heavy combat. From Fox News:
The U.S. military’s top officer said Wednesday that almost half of Iraq’s army is incapable of working against the Islamic State militant group, while the other half needs to be rebuilt with the help of U.S. advisers and military equipment.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey made the remarks to reporters while traveling to Paris to meet with his French counterpart to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria. The general said that U.S. assessors who had spent the summer observing Iraq’s security forces concluded that 26 of the army’s 50 brigades would be capable of confronting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Dempsey described those brigades as well-led, capable, and endowed with a nationalist instinct, as opposed to a sectarian instinct.
However, Dempsey said that the other 24 brigades were too heavily populated with Shiites to be part of a credible force against the Sunni ISIS.
Sectarianism has been a major problem for the Iraqi security forces for years and is in part a reflection of resentments that built up during the decades of rule under Saddam Hussein, who repressed the majority Shiite population, and the unleashing of reprisals against Sunnis after U.S. forces toppled him in April 2003. Sunni resistance led to the relatively brief rise of an extremist group called Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That group withered but re-emerged as the Islamic State organization, which capitalized on Sunni disenchantment with the Shiite government in Baghdad.
On Tuesday, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would consider recommending the return of ground forces to Iraq if an international coalition sought by the Obama administration proves ineffective.
The first “degrade and destroy” American air attack yesterday hit an ISIS position that had been firing on Iraqi troops for several days. It was only about fifteen miles away from Baghdad. That’s how combat-effective the Iraqi military is. They needed American air power to take out shooters who were close enough to deliver pizza to Baghdad.
Dempsey wasn’t finished trashing Obama’s non-strategy:
On Wednesday, Dempsey said no amount of U.S. military power would solve the problem of ISIS’s takeover of large swaths of northern and western Iraq. The solution, he said, must begin with formation of an Iraqi government that is able to convince the country’s Kurdish and Sunni populations that they will be equal partners with the Shiites in Iraq’s future.
“I’m telling you, if that doesn’t happen then it’s time for Plan B,” he said. He didn’t say what that would entail.
Dempsey also said that ISIS fighters in Iraq have reacted to weeks of U.S. airstrikes by making themselves less visible, and he predicted they would “literally litter the road networks” with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in the days ahead. That, in turn, will require more counter-IED training and equipment for the Iraq army, he said.
With all due respect, General, you just told those reporters in Paris that the Shiite brigades of Iraq’s army can’t be trusted to fight alongside the Sunni brigades against the monstrous enemy nation that invaded and conquered a significant portion of Iraq, leaving a large number of Iraqi citizens hanging from crucifixes, buried in mass graves, and imprisoned in rape camps. The Iraqi’s don’t even have a defense minister at the moment – their parliament voted down the nominee put forth by new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi yesterday. The Kurds are going to think independence looks better as conditions in Iraq get worse, and they take more valuable, formerly Iraqi territory away from ISIS with American air support. Iran’s going to keep stirring the pot with Iraqi Shiites – some of whom have experience at launching below-the-belt attacks on American forces under Iranian tutelage. Equal partnership in unified Iraq seems like a very distant goal, especially if a dubious Iraqi military that has already been routed by ISIS once gets stuck in a quagmire.
Which makes it very unsettling for Dempsey to clam up when reporters asked what Plan B is. The prospect of Barack Obama and his Ship of Fools coming up with a Plan B on the fly – possibly live on the stage of Sunday-morning talk shows, sometime next year – is terrifying, especially when you remember how thoroughly this President botched Iraq over the past six years, saddling us with the current crisis:
According to the general, a renewed U.S. training effort might revive the issue of gaining legal immunity from Iraqi prosecution for those U.S. troops who are training the Iraqis. The previous Iraqi government refused to grant immunity for U.S. troops who might have remained as trainers after the U.S. military mission ended in December 2011.
“There will likely be a discussion with the new Iraqi government, as there was with the last one, about whether we need to have” Iraqi lawmakers approve new U.S. training, he said. He didn’t describe the full extent of such training but said it would be limited and he believed Iraq would endorse it.
Too bad the Golfer-in-Chief didn’t get all that squared away years ago, huh? But he walked away from those negotiations, because he got tired of them, and he wanted a nice shiny talking point about how he pulled all the Americans out of Iraq. Now he’s on record saying, dozens of times, that under no circumstances will he put combat forces back in. Which means that if the (highly likely) scenario Dempsey warned about comes to pass, it will be taken as an embarrassing defeat for U.S. policy, and one of the few imaginable Obama betrayals that Democrat base voters won’t obediently swallow. Does anyone really think Obama will have the spine to make that call, when the time comes? More to the point, do you think any of America’s prospective front-line proxy fighters are confident Obama will make it?