U.S. policy in Iraq is in a shambles — there can be no serious disagreement about that. Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and a mere 70 miles from Baghdad, has been captured by ISIS. Mosul, Iran’s second largest city, remains in ISIS’s hands.
As importantly, it’s now clear that military success against ISIS hinges on the use of Iranian-dominated militias, but that these forces will not be able to drive ISIS out of Iraq entirely. Thus, the influence and power of America’s two arch enemies — Iran and ISIS — is expanding.
President Obama vowed to degrade and eventually destroy ISIS. Why has his policy failed to accomplish this in Iraq?
Tom Cotton says it’s because Obama is “not providing the resources” needed to defeat ISIS. Here again, I don’t think there can be any serious disagreement.
Consider the fall of Ramadi. Kimberly Kagan and Frederick Kagan, writing in the Washington Post, point out that neither ISIS nor any other al-Qaeda offshoot has ever taken a major urban area actively defended by the United States in partnership with local forces.
But lack of adequate U.S. resources helped pave the way for ISIS’s victory in Ramadi before the battle commenced. ISIS’s successful offensive against that city was preceded by the movement of numerous fighters across Syria and Iraq. The Kagans acknowledge that bad weather impeded the ability fully to detect this movement. But, they say, with more resources and greater freedom to use them, the U.S. military could have inflicted serious losses on ISIS before its forces ever reached Ramadi.
In sum, say the Kagans, the fall of Ramadi was unnecessary and avoidable.
What happens next? Given the fecklessness of U.S. policy, if Ramadi is retaken it will be retaken by forces in which Iranian-dominated militias play the decisive role. In this scenario, Iran is the winner and the Sunnis of Anbar province will be vulnerable to a sectarian bloodbath.
But there is another way. Sen. Cotton proposes that the U.S. send a few thousand more troops to Iraq. What would be the likely impact of such a deployment? According to Kimberly and Frederick Kagan:
A few thousand additional combat troops, backed by helicopters, armored vehicles and forward air controllers able to embed with Iraqi units at the battalion level, as well as additional Special Forces troops able to move about the countryside, would certainly prevent further gains by [ISIS].
They could almost certainly regain Ramadi and other recently lost areas of Anbar, in cooperation with local tribes. They might be able to do more.
Obama undoubtedly finds the deployment of even a few thousand U.S. troops an unpleasant prospect. But by now it’s obvious what the alternative is: the establishment and entrenchment of an America-hating terrorist state.
You would think that Obama finds this alternative more unpleasant. Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear that he doesn’t.