U.S. Defense Secretary Says Iraqis Have Lost The Will To Fight ISIS

Some unusually blunt, but true, language from the U.S. Secretary Of Defense.

Iraq US Flag

Over the Memorial Day Weekend, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has some unusually blunt words for the Iraqi Army, specifically in reference to the recent loss of the city of Ramadi to the forces of ISIS:

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter warned that Iraqi troops will not be able to defeat the Islamic State until they develop a “will to fight,” reflecting the deep level of concern and frustration inside some quarters of the Obama administration in the wake of the Iraqi military’s collapse in Ramadi last week.

His comments, in an interview that aired Sunday, came after fighters with the Islamic State, which had appeared to be retreating in parts of Iraq, swept through the western Iraqi city of Ramadi and were gaining ground in Syria.

President Obama has described the losses as a “tactical setback” and said that the administration’s overall strategy in Iraq and Syria would not change. Carter’s comments, though, suggested deeper problems with Iraqi forces. His remarks about the recent Iraqi defeats in Ramadi, a city where scores of U.S. troops were killed during the Iraq war, carried added gravity because they came over the Memorial Day weekend.

“What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They were not outnumbered, but in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. And yet they failed to fight.”

“What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They were not outnumbered, but in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. And yet they failed to fight.”

U.S. officials have been saying for several months that U.S. airstrikes were degrading Islamic State fighters in Iraq and that the radical Sunni group, under pressure from Iraqi forces, had lost as much as 25 percent of the territory that it gained during its blitzkrieg last year. A large offensive involving Iraqi army forces, Sunni tribal fighters and American airstrikes was supposed to begin soon in western Iraq’s Anbar province, where Ramadi is the provincial capital.

The unexpected collapse of Iraqi forces in Ramadi, including elite counterterrorism troops from Iraq’s Golden Division, suggests that the Iraqi forces may be weaker than many in the U.S. government had thought. The recent battlefield setbacks also point to a broader challenge facing the Obama administration’s campaign against the Islamic State throughout the Middle East.

The president has insisted that only local ground forces, bolstered by U.S. training and air power, can defeat Islamic State fighters who have gained ground and new recruits in Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq.

(…)

Those questions have proved particularly vexing in Iraq, where Sunni tribesmen have been largely unwilling to battle the Islamic State on behalf of a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that they think is out to oppress them.

The reports out of Ramadi about the unwillingness of Iraqi troops to fight when the battle was pressed against them is, of course, not a new one. We saw much the same thing happening last year in the face of the Islamic State’s initial advances into large swaths of Iraqi territory. In battle after battle, Iraqi forces would surrender or retreat rather than fight, and often it seemed as though this would happen even when it was clear that the forces arrayed against them where less numerous and possibly even not as strongly armed. To some degree, it’s probable that this was motivated by the reports that had come out about what ISIS fighters were doing to Iraqi troops that they captured. Most of all, though, it’s likely that the real problems were that the Iraqi troops were poorly trained, poorly led, poorly paid, and not necessarily dedicated to the national government. While some of those problems could arguably be fixed with more money and better training, the last factor is one that can’t so easily be fixed and if, in the end, that Iraqi Army is made up of men who aren’t really willing to lay their lives on the line for their country, then it really doesn’t matter how much money it has or how well trained its troops are.

Not surprisingly, though, this blunt talk from Secretary Carter hasn’t sat well with the Iraqis:

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s military vowed Monday to recapture the city of Ramadi from ISIS “within days,” after a stinging criticism of its troops’ “will to fight” from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

An 8,000-strong force of Iraqi forces, bolstered by Shiite militias and Sunni tribesmen, were amassed east of the city in the town of Khalidiya and were awaiting orders to launch “a major offensive,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Yesterday Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi stated that the operation to liberate Ramadi will start soon, and the city is going to be liberated within days,” the official said.

(…)

Responding to Carter’s comments, Al-Abadi’s media director Dr. Sa’ad Al-Hadithi told NBC News the Iraqi government had “started its own investigation to punish those who neglected their duty” in Ramadi.

The senior defense official conceded that “the Iraqi government now is under a real pressure after the latest statement by the U.S. secretary of defense concerning the will of Iraqis to fight for their country.”

This is brave talk, of course, but whether or not the Iraqis can recapture Ramadi is still an open question, and it’s possible that any effort to do so may only make things worse. According to reports, for example, the force that his being assembled to attempt the recapture of the city is made up primarily of Shiite militas. While these forces have often proven to be a more effective fighting force than the Iraqi Army, the fact that they are being sent into a primarily Sunni area raises prospects for ethnic retribution against the mostly Sunni population of Ramadi and the surrounding area, something that would likely only act to sent even more Iraqi Sunni’s into the arms of the Islamic State.

The most significant thing about Secretary Carter’s comments, though, are the extent to which they have demonstrated that notwithstanding months and months in which the Administration and the Pentagon have asserted that the combination of American air strikes and Iraqi military action was degrading ISIS’s position, the fact is that ISIS is apparently as strong as resilient as it ever was. Yes, it’s true that President Obama had said from the start that the campaign against ISIS would be a long one, but he also acknowledged, and is assuredly aware, of the fact that the American public is not likely to have the stomach for a long drawn out slog of a war, even if it doesn’t include large numbers of American troops on the ground. Indeed, if the political collapse of Syria and Iraq continue at the pace they have been for the past year or more, then it’s probable that nothing can stop ISIS. That’s probably not going to be good news for the future of the Middle East, but there doesn’t seem to be very much we can do about it.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    If Iraqis won’t fight for the territorial integrity of Iraq, there is no strategy or force that can keep Iraq together.

    The neocons who always want more, more, more need to explain just how much more and for just how long it will be required. Because you can’t win someone’s war for them, they’ll just give it all up the minute your back is turned. As we have seen.

    To be clear, ISIS is not going to take Baghdad. Shiites will fight to protect their families. They just don’t seem to give much of a damn whether Sunni areas remain under Baghdad’s control. The only people willing to fight that fight are the Shiite militias, and that’s not going to end well.

  2. Gustopher says:

    If Czechoslovakia cannot stay together, why do we expect Iraq to? Great Britain nearly split apart this month. Canada has perpetual problems holding onto Quebec.

    Is there really a good track record for democratic multi-nation countries?

    If the Sunni areas of Iraq are more willing to fight for an independent –um– Sunniland separate from ISIS than they are for Iraq, then we ought to start holding that out as a carrot. But that’s a big if, and I don’t pretend to know the Middle East enough to know the answer. I just know that Joe Biden was right.

  3. stonetools says:

    Remember when Joe Biden suggested partition and everyone laughed him off as crazy Uncle Joe? He must be secretly chuckling himself as he takes this all in.

    Future Syria-Iraq:

    1. Kurdistan(northern Iraq)
    2.Shiastan ( Southern and eastern Iraq)
    3. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria( western Iraq and eastern Syria)
    4.Alawistan( western Syria along the coast ).

    That’s my guess as to how it turns out.

  4. Tyrell says:

    Why don’t some of the middle east countries unite their forces ? They could defeat and run ISIS out. Lawrence would know how to handle it.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Suppose you held a Civil War and nobody came?

  6. John D'Geek says:

    One bloggist actually called Joe Biden the Last Wise Man in DC — and he did it in such a way that I almost agree with him. Hey, I’m conservative … I’m not that easy to convince. But that I would consider it (and still am) says a lot for this particular bloggist.

    Apparently, and I’m probably oversimplifying here, the two choices are:
    1) Lots of American boots on the ground
    2) Admit that we’d rather permit mass genocide than actually get meaningfully involved.

    Assuming that there’s actually still time …

  7. Mikey says:

    @stonetools:

    Partition of Iraq wouldn’t cease bloodshed, it would just result in different bloodshed as the various parties fought each other for control of the oil and gas reserves in Kurdistan and Shiastan.

    On the other hand, perhaps an “organic” process like that is what’s necessary to finally settle the mess. An ugly but short-term conflict in exchange for longer-term stability…assuming it actually worked out that way…might be a net good, in the end. Especially if it ended up crushing the Islamic State.

    But if they won and controlled Kurdish oil? I don’t even want to imagine that.

  8. Deadbeat Dads Unite says:

    Damn Doug, sorry to hear about your losing you license to practice in Florida, Virginia and DC. But it does help explain all the time you have on your hands now.

    When can we get your next insight into how Hillary is “unethical”?

  9. aFloridian says:

    Dang – that’s a low blow, although apparently with some kernel of truth, though not Florida from what I can see.

  10. teve tory says:

    “It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army. Hard to imagine.” –Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before the House Budget Committee prior to the Iraq war, Feb. 27, 2003

  11. Missing Hillary Hate says:

    @aFloridian:

    You don’t have to look too hard.

    vexatious and meritless litigation, which apparently can’t get you out of $100,000 in back child support in Florida.

  12. steve says:

    Lost? They never had it to begin with.

    Steve

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, which leaves me out, having been a fairly spectacular sinner.

    I dislike seeing this place turn into a forum for personal attacks, no matter how tempting the target may be.

  14. Slugger says:

    In the last thirty years the Iraqis have endured a bloody war with Iran, Gulf War I, the Bill Clinton wag the dog bombing of Baghdad, the GWB war to get Saddam Hussein, and a subsequent period of lawlessness and insurgency. This adds up to lots of destruction and lots of death. I am not surprised that the charm and romance of war have worn off on them.
    Is there anything to be gained by the average Iraqi in fighting?
    I wish we could hear the voices of ordinary people on the ground in Baghdad, Ramadi, and Tikrit. In our current era of connectivity we should be able to locate some indigenous voices. I googled “Iraqi blogs” and spent twenty minutes but did not locate one that was active at this time and on the ground…anybody got one?

  15. Sherparick says:

    @stonetools: I hold myself as no expert on Iraq (but apparently no one else is likes to bloviate on this subject, whether on this blog or Congress or the Cable news shows. I can study the history of the place. The British created modern Iraq, and fought three wars to maintain a pro-British government (including a “Battle of Fallujah in 1941!!!) but that all got swept away in 1958, 38 years after they received the League of Nations mandate, and 31 years after they captured Baghdad from the Turks. Saddam, a Sunni from Tikrit, continued the policy of favoring Sunnis over Shia that started under the Turks and had continued under the British and Hashemite Monarchy. When we took over in 2003, whether consciously or simply manipulated by Chalabai, the Bush administration favored the Shia over Sunni and left a deeply aggrieved Sunni community, which deeply feels the loss of power only so recently held. Ironically, given the anti-Iran feelings of many Bush Neo-cons, they basically put Iran in charge of Iraq by putting the Shia, overwhelmingly pro-Iranian (as believed to be so by the Turks, the British, and Saddam in succession), they made Iran the most influential country in Iraq. So we created a strategic dilemma for ourselves in Iraq by being tied to a Shia pro-Iranian Government on one hand if we want to suppress ISIS or allowing ISIS to flourish if we weaken our support for this regime and a avoid a de facto alliance with Iran. Since religion and tribalism now are what motivate Iraqis to, as in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “….which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use” our strategy and tactics have to make a decision about what we consider worst, an ISIS dominated entity that extends from Mesopotamia through Western Iraq and Eastern Syria, an area of majority Arab speaking Sunni tribes, with a Shia/Alawite rump state next to Lebanon on one side and a Shia and Kurdish rumps on the other, or the Sunni’s suppressed and two pro-Iranian, Shia dominated states come to power in Baghdad and Damascus. The reintroduction of American ground troops may suppress ISIS activity and retake these cities, but any let up in the occupation will bring them, and with a vengeance, as the British found out in the 20th century.

  16. JohnMcC says:

    The last time that the Iraqi army fought staunchly AFAIK was the Iraq-Iran war in the ’80s. Whole units of Saddam Hussein’s soldiers surrendered en mass in the 1st Gulf War; we all remember them surrendering to CNN reporters and the like.

    Of course, that army was disbanded by the Occupation Authority under Amb Paul Bremmer with well known consequences.

    I think the only armies I’ve heard of that fled in panic from forces less than 1/10th their size were local armies routed by colonial powers back in the 19th century.

    There is an eye-opening you-tube (if you’re into hour-long lectures on military history) by Col Gian Gentile called ‘A requiem for American CounterInsurgency’ that is roughly a year old now but explains a lot about the failure of the ‘surge’ and the present Iraqi army.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBpD0eCCHNc

  17. JohnMcC says:

    @Sherparick: In the wonderful ‘Informed Comment’ site by Prof Juan Cole there is a post that conveys the reply to Sec’ty Carter from Iranian Gen Soleimani alleging that the US policy has been to give very small amounts of air support (and one supposes other support) to the Shiite militias and therefore to the Iraqi army. There is a tweet there from a Dr Mohammed Hammudi showing (what is described as) an ISIS column of trucks and APCs stretching virtually out of sight with the question, ‘…if ISIL has convoys this size in Iraq without fear of attack, how serious is our air campaign?’
    http://www.juancole.com/2015/05/stepping-fight-daesh.html

  18. JohnMcC says:

    @Deadbeat Dads Unite: We have learned that you are a person sadly full of bile and venom. We have learned that you are an anonymous and therefore cowardly person who is anxious to spread ugly stories about Our Gracious Host without citing any proof and for no good reason. We have not learned that Ms Clinton is free of ‘unethical’ behaviors.

  19. Tyrell says:

    @John D’Geek: VP Biden: agree with that description and I would vote for him for president. He reminds me somewhat of Hubert H. Humphrey.

  20. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    Is there really a good track record for democratic multi-nation countries?

    The USA seems to be holding together, though it was touch and go there for a while…

  21. michael reynolds says:

    What’s clear here is that if you want a good fight you have to go tribal/sectarian. Shiites will kill Sunnis and vice versa, but it seems Shiites won’t fight for a non-religious, political abstraction like territorial integrity. There’s something missing from the cultural DNA relative to westerners who’ve been fighting over political abstractions for quite some time. Arabs are raiders by inclination, there’s a long history of it. But the last effective Arab army was probably the one led by the Kurd Saladin.

    It is equally obvious that our “training” of Arab forces is a complete disconnect. All we’ve trained them to do is drive tanks until someone waves a gun at them at which point they hand over the keys.

    This is not a case of ISIS being ten feet tall – the Kurds beat them armed with handguns and the USAF. The Shiite Arabs collapse under a tiny fraction of that pressure. The fault is in our ally, and in our training of same.

    Oddly enough, the one thing that worked was the much-maligned strategy. Beginning just 9 months ago we were able with minimal US effort in support of the Kurds roll ISIS back. In that case contain and degrade worked fine. Now we get the other benefit of staying largely out of this fight: we’ve exposed the uselessness of the Baghdad regime’s army. Which leaves us with only the Shiite militias as effective ground forces.

    Is there any way we can “win” with the militias? No. The militias won’t be fighting for the borders of Iraq, they’ll be acting out of sectarian hatred. That’s a loser for us.

    So what we have is a circle we probably can’t square. Neocons suggesting still that we reinvade – over the strenuous objection of our alleged Baghdad ally! – are hallucinating. Sure we can send in 50,000 men and wipe out ISIS. And then? Then the same disgruntled Sunni form the successor to ISIS. Rinse and repeat.

    As mentioned upstream, Joe Biden was right. We are spending enormous effort to try and glue the torn pieces of Sykes-Picot back together. And our Shiite allies don’t seem to give a sh!t.

  22. Slugger says:

    @JohnMcC: I my search for indigenous Iraqi voices, I did locate the Juan Cole site and the Iranian general’s complaint about US nonintervention. In all candor, if ISIS and Iran are fighting, I think the sidelines, maybe a nice box behind third base, is the place to be. I wonder if a local feels the same way. A clear voice from Babhdad would be very interesting.

  23. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “The USA seems to be holding together, though it was touch and go there for a while…”

    Sure, but that’s only if you think of a nation as a territorial unit. Think of it as a cultural or ethnic unit, like the Cherokee Nation. I think it’s pretty awesome how in the USA, we think of a nation as a territory. But it’s a rather unique view, I’d say, in the rest of the world.

  24. Missing Hillary Hate says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s a good biblical quote. But seriously, 100k in back child support will get you every time.

  25. Tyrell says:

    This is interesting:” FBI Investigates Threats Against Memorial Day Flights” It seems that there were ten direct threats made against airline flights on Memorial Day. One flight even had a fighter jet escort.
    ISIS ?!

  26. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I am going to commit heresy here and suggest we think of negotiating with ISIS. Maybe they will accept some kind of state along the lines of what they have now.We recognize them in return for them not advancing any further, here or in Syria.
    Crazy?
    Defeatist?
    Too soon?

  27. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: And by “no matter how tempting the target may be” I assume you are not referring to Doug. Yes, his posts are sometimes infuriating — but isn’t that we come here? It’s the argument clinic — abuse is just down the hall. (Although if certain commenters wandered into “hitting over the head lessons,” I wouldn’t complain…)

    Doug’s personal and professional lives are no business of mine or of anyone else here. I’m grateful that he posts here as frequently as he does and provides this forum for our entertainment.

  28. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    I don’t think it’s our negotiation to have. We don’t own a square inch of Iraq or Syria. This has become a sectarian war, Sunni and Shia, and I do not see us needing a piece of that.

    Our concern is for Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but there, too, it will come down to whether the Sunni regimes – one of which happily provides the ideological underpinning for ISIS – are any better at mounting a fight than the Baghdad regime.

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    Yeah, I don’t like bullying, and that’s what this feels like.

  30. anjin-san says:

    I think banning anyone who attacks a member of the editorial staff in this manner is called for 🙁

  31. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: I don’t know… Some personal attacks are called for, and entirely appropriate.

    Are you saying we shouldn’t refer to Superdestroyer as a racist? Because, he is one. He’s our little racist, and we all know him and love him, but he’s a racist. He’s shown it at hundred times. One of the sweetest, well-meaning racists around. When he grows up I hope he falls madly in love with a black woman.

    I don’t know what’s up with Doug’s law license, but he is a completely ridiculous self-parody of a “libertarian” Republican. And he should be mocked for his “both sides do it, I’m above that” and his thinly veiled partisanship that he won’t acknowledge (possibly even to himself). When he grows up, I hope he falls madly in love with a socialist.

    So, I say, let the personal attacks continue, but they should be relevant, topical, and not creepy-stalky.

  32. Gustopher says:

    @DrDaveT: I don’t think the US is even really a nation, let alone a multi-nation country. The nations that came before us are basically gone, and we are a nation of immigrants, adopting a culture of ideas, with different subcultures defining the same ideas differently. Whatever culture our ancestors had before coming here is discarded except for food and the occasional parade.

    We believe in freedom, but there’s a huge gulf in what that means — is it the freedom to not worry about health problems destroying you, or the freedom to not have health insurance?

    We have nationalism, but I’m really not sure we are a nation.

  33. Mikey says:

    One big problem in the fight against ISIS in Iraq: no JTACs.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-missing-role-in-the-u-s-strikes-against-isis/

  34. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Frankly, I’m spitballing, and I understand the downvoting, because ISIS are monsters, ethically. But I don’t see a possibilty for a negotiated settlement that doesn’t include ISIS, and I don’t see a miltary solution for the wars currently engulfing the entire region and causing a refugee crisis with knock-on effects in Europe.
    I think the negotiation option is too soon, and probably a couple of other things have to happen first, but this is something we should be at least considering.Watch this space.

  35. stonetools says:

    Add me to the list of no personal attacks on Doug ( and I admit I’ve gone up to the line on this). Let’s stick to attacking his arguments, which are enough of a target rich environment as it is.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    I admit to being inconsistent on this. I suppose what I’d like is to treat this place as a forum with each of us judged by our behavior within this forum. SuperD is a racist and I’ve called him that dozens of times, but because of what he’s said within this forum.

  37. CB says:

    @Mikey:

    That seems like a rather glaring omission, no?

  38. Mikey says:

    @CB: Back when we started supporting with airstrikes, I said “we’re going to need JTACs for this to be effective.” In fact, I thought special ops JTACs would be involved from the start, although it appears they have not.

    I know the official position is “no boots on the ground, and personally, I don’t see much point in sending my JTAC buddies downrange to support an army that bails at the first whiff of an ISIS fighter’s body odor. Still, there’s a point at which we have to ask whether we want to provide effective support or just keep throwing good bombs after bad.

  39. CB says:

    @Mikey:

    Exactly what I was thinking. I always assumed JTACs were outside of the “boots on the ground” formulation as the necessary second half of any effective air campaign. To not even have these guys on the ground speaks to a lack of seriousness. Are we doing anything with purpose and clarity, or are we just dropping some bombs to mollify political critics?

    Honestly, this strikes me as incredibly troubling, as far as our involvement goes.

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey: @CB:

    The air war against ISIS has always been somewhat minimal, and I think that’s deliberate. Our goal is not to destroy ISIS. Our goal is to get the Iraqis to destroy ISIS. We’re trying to avoid once again being used as mercenaries, doing the work the Arabs should be doing for themselves.

    When the French backed our play in 1776 they didn’t come in guns blazing, they allowed some young noblemen to bring their personal retinues. The French fleet swung in at the end to seal the deal, but the war was fought by us, not by foreigners, and in the process of fighting for our country we became a country.

    The Iraqis at Ramadi outnumbered ISIS by 10 to 1. They ran and they blamed us for it. People like that are not allies, they’re children. Can you imagine Russians fleeing under those circumstances? Or Kurds? Or Germans? The Baghdad regime can either motivate and field an army or it can’t, but if we do it for them they’ll never get the chance and we’ll never reach a good solution.

    I’d also point out that a single captured American in ISIS hands will swing public opinion and force Mr. Obama’s hand. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

  41. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: That’s all good sense, I agree with you. But at the same time, if we’re going to commit any resources at all, shouldn’t we commit them in a way that’s actually effective?

    Sometimes I think we should throw in with the Kurds, help them break away with their oil and gas resources, and keep the rest out so they can rip each other apart fighting for what’s left. Mollify the Turks by pushing the Kurds to accept compromise on the northern Kurdish border in exchange for our protection of the southern. Bring in the B-52s to flatten any place ISIS lives.

    Brutal, awful realpolitik, without a doubt, but the longer I watch this the more I think nothing short of brutal will get the job done.

  42. JohnMcC says:

    @Mikey: I understand the difference of course. But for what it’s worth:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z27JNlovOGM

  43. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    the longer I watch this the more I think nothing short of brutal will get the job done.

    It’s funny in a grim way. Back when George W. Bush was prattling on about WMD I was saying that his real aim was a transformative invasion and occupation. (Japan/Germany 1945.) I backed it barely in the theory that if such a transformation actually worked it could yield excellent results. And one of the reasons I thought it might work was that the American people were still juiced about 9-11 and (I thought) if anyone could bring the necessary ruthlessness it would be Dick Cheney.

    Well. That didn’t exactly work out.

    Within a week of the invasion I knew we were fwcked. Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney weren’t doing Japan 1945, they were doing laissez-faire libertarianism. They were buying into the whole line of nonsense about freedom being man’s “natural state.” They thought all they had to do was knock off Saddam and hey, presto! Iraq becomes Indiana.

    For weeks I was writing blog posts crying for more violence, more iron fist, more ruthless control. The line I kept spouting was to the effect that Occupations 101 begins: Place boot firmly on enemy’s neck. This did not make me popular with fellow liberals, but there was no other way this was ever going to work.

    But we had no boots to place there and no intention of doing so. This was to be a soft, gentle, libertarian, inexpensive, minimalist invasion with barely an occupation at all.

    I couldn’t believe Cheney was that stupid. Still can’t believe it. Invade or don’t invade, but if you do then for God’s sake, do it hard. Hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved had we been willing to be harsher up front. That’s not to say it would have worked in the end, but there would at least have been a reasonable chance. Doing a half-assed bargain basement version? That was 100% guaranteed to fail.

  44. Mikey says:

    @JohnMcC: Wow, that’s fantastic. The Bird Dog’s military designation was O-1, and they were used extensively in the Vietnam War as airborne Forward Air Control platforms. Often they had white phosphorous rockets mounted under the wings which the FAC would use to mark targets for the fast movers to hit.

    We have A-10s performing the airborne FAC mission today, although I don’t know if they are engaged in the fight against ISIS.

  45. Noah Baudie says:

    @Slugger:
    No Arab army has had the will to fight since Saladin.

    See also,

    https://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles2002/20020909.asp

  46. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Back when George W. Bush was prattling on about WMD I was saying that his real aim was a transformative invasion and occupation. (Japan/Germany 1945.) I backed it barely in the theory that if such a transformation actually worked it could yield excellent results.

    It would have been a true and wonderful change in the course of Middle Eastern history. I also had high hopes for it. Unfortunately, as you write, it was doomed from the beginning.

    I believe Bush and his advisers horribly misread Iraq in assigning to it attributes that could not have reasonably attached. The “transformation” worked in Germany because even though the Germans had endured a significant period of de facto dictatorship and a terribly destructive war, they at least knew what the democratic process signified and they understood the meaning of duly constituted authority. In Iraq, where a generation had grown up with nothing more than meaningless trappings of “democracy” and tribal allegiances still count for more than any governing power, doing the “kinder, gentler” occupation was never going to work. But Bush was propelled by idealistic visions and was blind to the ugly undercurrents that were always flowing in Iraq.

    Hussein and his cronies controlled Iraq and its people so tightly and brutally that any transition had to start there. Moving directly from boot-on-neck to rainbows-and-unicorns was like popping the top on a pressure cooker without venting it first.

  47. Ian says:

    Well, it’s not shocking. The essential wisdom of Bush the Elder in keeping Saddam to avoid setting off a sectarian mess and to keep stability in the region was signally disregarded by his successors. The neocons made sure that the Saddam era officers and spooks ended up turning ISIS into a military machine when we left them to face a Shi’a dominated state that hated their guts. They had this fantasy that Iraq was going to be like Germany, failing to take into account the completely different culture and history. They so desperately wanted a post WWII scenario, which is the exception, not the rule, in war. Joe Biden had the least worst idea back in 2007 when he suggested balkanizing the place. Too bad Obama didn’t listen.

    At least the ARVN could repel the Easter Offensive and hang on to An Loc and Kontum, with the help of Operation Linebacker I.

  48. Ian says:

    @Mikey:

    To be honest, what we consider a normal path of democratic development in the USA is far from the “norm” in much of the world. Democracy places faith in obedience to law, which is only useful if it reflects a universally accepted truth or grows out of a generally accepted political process. Until the 80s/90s, that was the exception, not the norm. in the world. It still relatively is in the Middle East. This is especially the case in civil war or sectarian conflict scenarios. You can’t reproduce the US political system without taking into account the basic differences in situation.

    This tends to be a problem in much of US foreign policy, whether it was Wilson in WWI, Kennedy/LBJ in Vietnam, or Bush II in Iraq.