My reaction to Obama’s speech last week outlining his plans to deal with ISIS started out like most Obama speeches I watch. I started out with the best of intentions; I was going to pay attention, make note of the high points…but at some point his speech starts taking on a droning quality, and then it becomes a test pattern buzzing…and then I’m watching cat videos on line and what? It’s over? What did he say? For some reason, I can no longer pay attention to the world’s greatest orator.
So I had to read it online and just didn’t find it that workable. No wonder I couldn’t pay attention to it. Oh I give the President credit for trying. I had written previously that the President is making a difficult step; facing the reality that he may wind up going back to the place he was most anxious to leave, Iraq. But the President thinks he can build the type of coalition the previous Bush Presidents had built, and they’ll trust him on it, when he’s been trashing our relationships with most of the Middle East for the past 6 years.
But not to worry, I have an alternate plan.
The problem with Obama’s plan is it depends on stuff he is unlikely to get; ground troops from other coalition partners. They have zero reason to trust us for the long haul, so are unlikely to put their own troops up when we are making clear that we’re not. We’re telling our coalition partners that we’re not going risk our troops, but we’ll gladly risk theirs. You can imagine how that’s going to sit in the differing capitals. So that only leaves the air option, associated support, and training of Syrian rebels.
This brings me to another problem with Obama’s plan: training Syrian rebels. It’s a bad idea in my opinion. We’re rolling the dice that we can arm and train Jihadi’s that will only fight other Jihadi’s. Even a military noob like Obama should be able to see where that will lead.
So what’s my plan? First, since the beginning of the crisis, the US has pushed the Iraqi government to be more inclusive and allow US troops back in. Done and done. If the administration had done this in the first place, we likely wouldn’t be in this situation, but water under the bridge…
1) That leaves limited forces that are worthwhile to train; mainly the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army. Of the two, the Peshmerga is the more motivated and reliable force, but they could really benefit from advanced weaponry, and intelligence assistance. The Iraqi Army is demoralized and needs a great deal of babysitting. Ideally, we would only need worry about helping the Iraqi Army but they are not up to the task of kicking ISIS out of Iraqi cities. Some of the Shia militias might be but if we add them into the coalition we risk alienating Iraqi Sunnis, as well as the Sunni coalition partners. The only Shias we should be reaching out to are those under the auspices of the Iraqi military. So no dealing with Iran of course.
2) Since the US invasion, the problem with Iraq has been its porous borders. They allowed jihadi’s and supplies from all over the world to come to Iraq and fight Americans, and later allowed the Iranians to train and equip insurgents to fight Americans with extremely sophisticated weapons and tactics. Since the Iraqi Army is the weakest link, their best use could be used as a border guard. We need to secure Iraq’s borders to prevent ISIS the easy back and forth access they’ve enjoyed. If we can cut ISIS in two the Peshmerga can secure Kurdistan easier and the Iraqi’s will have a more limited force to deal with and it will make it easier to take back the cities when they don’t have to worry about ISIS reinforcements.
3) Cutting ISIS in two saves Obama from the political problem Obama has created for himself in being in a de facto alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad is counting on the US taking care of his ISIS problem for him. However if we secure the border, that leaves Syrian part of a bifurcated ISIS for Assad to handle. Do we really want to be in the position of saving the Assad regime? I say, that cutting ISIS in two solves both the military and political problem.
4) There is one major gap that’s missing, and this is the part that makes my plan politically impossible; if needed, we need to be prepared to send in ground forces to back up our Iraqi and Kurd partners. Yes, the dreaded, boots on the ground! Although I opposed the initial invasion of Iraq, I get Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn warning; we break it, we buy it. That’s why I was able to consistently oppose the invasion, support the surge, and support keeping a stabilizing force in Iraq. So post surge, by 2008 we had a fragile Iraq taped up, the new administration was only interested in getting out and not caring about what came after. So although Bush was wrong to invade Iraq, Obama was wrong to abandon it. Now, we’re still responsible for fixing it.
Not to worry, there’s no chance that any of my suggestions will be adopted. Of course maybe I’m wrong and we can defeat ISIS with air power alone. But I’m not counting on it,