The Obama administration is forced to overturn the complete withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011, due to the rapid advancement of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) early June. Apparently, President Barack Obama and his cabinet members made a wrong strategic assessment of Iraq. In an interview with Larry King on February 11, 2010, Vice President Joseph Biden commented optimistically that Iraq would move toward a stable democracy without gun fights. See the video below.
However, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) warned of radical Islamist attacks to the United Stes and Britain long before the ISIS thrust this June, as they monitored telegraph messages among ISIS, tribal leaders, and Baathists (“Washington and London Ignored Warnings about the ISIS Offensive in Iraq”; Daily Beast; June 24, 2014). More importantly, some Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham warned of Sunni militant uprisings without residual US forces after 2011 (“GOP on Iraq: We told you so”; Politico; June 13, 2014). In the Morning Joe on MSNBC on June 13, McCain even demanded that Obama’s national security team resign, and they be replaced by experts such as General David Petraeus, General Jack Keane, and Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Furthermore, he mentioned that residual forces were necessary in Iraq as in Japan, Germany, and South Korea to maintain post occupational stability. See the following video.
Let me examine why things in Iraq have developed so destabilized, and explore strategies to defeat the ISIS and stop geopolitical rivals like Iran and Russia, primarily based on the panel discussion by Senator John McCain and Retired General Jack Keane at the American Enterprise Institute on June 18, because they are the most influential and well-versed policymakers on Iraq as seen in the surge in 2007. With residual forces, McCain argued that the United States could have deterred the rise of insurgents, and even steered Maliki to form an inclusive government to overcome ethnic and sectarian differences. In a recent article, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations also comments that Iraqi security could have been more stabilized with at least 10,000 military advisors, and America would have exerted more diplomatic influence on Maliki to run more ethnically and religiously balanced government (“Obama’s Iraq”; Weekly Standard; Jun 23, 2014). Apparently, Obama hardly had any intention of driving Iraq to evolve into another Japan or Germany.
How can the United States and the Iraqi government bounce back ISIS and their allies? It is vital to split the insurgents. ISIS is allied with Ansar al Islam, a coalition of Sunni Arab tribes, and ex-Baathists, as the Maliki administration is heavily dependent on Shiites. They are not necessarily cohesive, and it is necessary to explore true causes of non-ISIS militant uprisings, according to Hassan Hassan, Research Associate at the Delma Institute of the United Arab Emirates (“More Than ISIS, Iraq’s Sunni Insurgency”; Carnegie Endowment for international Peace -- Sada Journal; June 17, 2014). The strategic priorities are to defend Baghdad and to launch counter offenses against terrorists. Despite the striking advancement into the Iraqi territory, General Keane commented that ISIS had no “force generation (ARFORGEN)” to capture Baghdad as it was a sprawling city. On the other hand, they are founding the largest realm of Islamic extremism in history from Syria to Iraq. Keane mentioned that they could attack Europe and the United States directly from this safe haven. McCain said even Stalin didn’t pose such threats. Therefore, both panelists stressed the danger of Islamic terrorists.
American option is limited as war weary public shall not approve of sending ground troops. However, Keane says that the United States can help Iraq by the following ways. First, American advisors can provide intelligence service to know the location of the enemy, and give information about Syria and northern Iraq for the Iraqi federal government. Also, American advisors can help Iraqi planning to defend Baghdad and launch counter offenses against insurgents. In addition, American special forces must attack critical targets and terrorist leaders to help the Iraqi security forces. Furthermore, American air operations must be coordinated with special forces on the ground that speak local languages. Though the air campaign is critical for limited and targeted attacks on the ground, Keane stressed that US air power not act as a Shiite air force.
In addition to military perspectives, American strategy must be explored from political perspectives. Iraqi neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Gulf emirates, worry American disengagement rather than “decline”. McCain told that it was presidential leadership that would persuade war weary public to accept global engagement as Harry Truman did during the Korean War. He stressed US help to Iraq was urgent because ISIS was more dreadful than Al Qaeda as to displace 500,000 people in Mosul, and execute 1,700 of them. In PBS News Hour on June 21, Gideon Rose, Editor of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that ISIS was disowned by Al Qaeda, because of the brutality. See the video below.
Currently, ISIS is richer than Al Qaeada as they took oil fields, and extort tax from the business. Furthermore, they seized money and gold from the bank when they captured Mosul. See the video below.
On the other hand, the shadow of Iran is growing among Shiites. Is it likely that the United States work with Iran? In response to Maliki’s call for the Shiite militia to fight against Sunni insurgents, Iranian proxies moved from Syria to southern Iraq. Maliki could lapse into heavily dependent on Iran (“Iranian Proxies Step Up Their Role in Iraq”; Washington Institute for Near East Policy---Policy Watch; June 13, 2014). Meanwhile, Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei condemned US intervention in Iraq when Obama announced to send 300 troops there. Some watchers see it a warning against the United States not to replace Maliki with someone else (“Iran rejects U.S. action in Iraq, ISIL tightens Syria border grip”; Reuters News; June 23, 2014). Iran’s leverage in Syria, Iraq, and Gulf Arabs, is growing. In view of this, Camille Pescasting, Senior Associate Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, even argues that Iran may act as the Regional Guard as it did under the Nixon doctrine, since Obama is so unwilling to get involved (“Iran, the New Force for Regional Stability?”; World Affairs Online; June 2014). However, General Keane pointed out that Iran was hardly interested in driving ISIS out of the desert in western Iraq, and simply wanted to take the oil rich south. Therefore, Keane told it nonsense to work with Iran, or rely on this country for regional stability.
In addition to domestic and regional power interactions, things will be increasingly unpredictable as Maliki’s purchase of 12 Su-25 ground attack fighters from Russia. Iraq was frustrated with slow delivery of F-16 fighters from the United States. Though Iraq agreed to buy 18 of them in 2011, they acquired the first one this June (“From Iraq to Syria, splinter groups now larger worry than al-Qaeda”; Washington Post; June 10, 2014). Also, Obama ordered drones to protect US personnel on the ground who were on non-combat missions (“Iraq receives Russian fighter jets to fight rebels”; BBC News; 29 June, 2014). Russian instructors came to Iraq along with Sukhoi jets, which is an implicit challenge to the United States. In addition, there is a rumor that Iran will return some Saddam Hussein’s warplane to Iraq, mostly Russian and some French Mirage F-1s, that evacuated from US air attack during 1990-91 Gulf War (“Russian Jets and Experts Sent to Iraq to Aid Army”; New York Times; June 29, 2014). The problem is, the Iraqi armed force has been Americanized in weaponry systems and training after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Even if redeploying Soviet-made Su-25s, can Iraqi pilots use them effectively? In addition, it is quite doubtful whether old Soviet fighters can coordinate with US special forces on the ground in targeted and limited attacks.
As seen in the contract on F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters, the Obama administration withdrew the whole of US forces before building up the Iraqi security forces. McCain told the critical point that Obama was elected in protest of Bush’s long war in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the panel discussion. His non Western thoughts and backgrounds are the antitheses of traditional America. The current crisis is a result of disrespect to foreign policy continuity. Will the United States overturn this negative trend in Iraq as General Keane suggests, and not repeat the same mistake in Afghanistan?