Investors.com begins with the good news:
Nine months after President Trump promised to defeat ISIS “quickly and effectively,” U.S.-backed forces captured Raqqa, which until Tuesday had served as the ISIS capital. The battle now is over who deserves credit: Trump or President Obama.
Trump, not surprisingly, claims it for himself: “It had to do with the people I put in and it had to do with rules of engagement,” Trump said in a radio interview.
Before dismissing this as typical Trump self-aggrandizement, consider that for several years Obama insisted that a quick and decisive victory against ISIS was all but impossible.
After belittling ISIS as a “JV” team and then being surprised by its advances, Obama finally got around to announcing a strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militant Islamic group.
As his strategy dragged on and seemed to go nowhere, Obama kept telling the country that this was just the nature of the beast.
“It will take time to eradicate a cancer like (ISIS). It will take time to root them out.”
“This is a long-term and extremely complex challenge.”
“This will not be quick.”
“There will be setbacks and there will be successes.”
“We must be patient and flexible in our efforts; this is a multiyear fight and there will be challenges along the way.”
And he kept insisting that winning the war against ISIS has as much to do with public relations as it did weapons. “This broader challenge of countering extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas.”
What Obama didn’t say is that reason defeating ISIS was taking so long was of how he was fighting it.
A former senior military commander in the region told the Washington Examiner that the Obama White House was micromanaging the war “to the degree that it was just as bad, if not worse, than during the Johnson administration.” Johnson, you will recall, once bragged that “they can’t bomb an outhouse in Vietnam without my permission.”
Contrast this with Trump. Rather than talk endlessly about how long and hard the fight would be, Trump said during his campaign that, if elected, he would convene his “top generals and give them a simple instruction. They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS.”
Once in office, Trump made several changes in the way the war was fought, the most important of which were to loosen the rules of engagement and give more decision-making authority to battlefield commanders.
Joshua Keating, writing in the liberal commentary site Slate, noted that Trump had “instructed the Pentagon to loosen the rules of engagement for airstrikes to the minimum required by international law, eliminated White House oversight procedures meant to protect civilians, and ordered the CIA to resume covert targeted killing missions.” (He meant it as a criticism.)
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who can hardly be called a Trump lap dog, praised what he said was “a dramatic shift in a very positive way — away from the political micromanaging of the Obama years to freeing up generals and troops to destroy ISIS.”
The result of this shift seems pretty obvious. In July, ISIS was booted from Mosul, and this week Raqqa was liberated. For all intents and purposes, ISIS has been defeated. Trump did in nine months what Obama couldn’t in the previous three years.
Trump’s critics will insist that victory was inevitable, given that Obama had severely degraded ISIS over the previous years, and that all Trump did was continue Obama’s strategy.
But the bottom line is that while Obama preached patience, Trump promised a swift end to ISIS, and then delivered on it.
The “yeah, but” comes from the Associated Press:
Over several nights in September, some 10,000 men, women and children fled areas under Islamic State control, hurrying through fields in northern Syria and risking fire from government troops to reach a province held by an al Qaeda-linked group.
For an untold number of battle-hardened jihadis fleeing with the civilians, the escape to Idlib province marked a homecoming of sorts, an opportunity to continue waging war alongside an extremist group that shares much of the Islamic State’s ideology — and has benefited from its prolonged downfall.
While the US-led coalition and Russian-backed Syrian troops have been focused on driving IS from the country’s east, an al Qaeda-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee has consolidated its control over Idlib, and may be looking to return to Osama bin Laden’s strategy of attacking the West.
Syrian activists with contacts in the area say members of the Levant Liberation Committee vouched for fleeing IS fighters they had known before the two groups split four years ago and allowed them to join, while others were sent to jail. The activists spoke on condition of anonymity because they still visit the area and fear reprisals from the jihadis.
IS has lost nearly all the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, including the northern Iraqi city of Mosul — the largest it ever held — and the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, which once served as its de facto capital. Tens of thousands of its fighters have been killed on the battlefield, but an untold number have escaped. As it gradually disintegrates, theological splits have also emerged within the organization, including the rise of a faction that blames its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for the setbacks. …
“Al Qaeda will welcome ISIS members with open arms, those are battled-hardened with potent field experience,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of “ISIS: A History.” …Two Iraqi intelligence officials told The Associated Press in Baghdad that bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, sent an envoy to Syria to convince IS fighters to defect and join his group. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters, said this might have been the reason behind an audiotape released by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Sept. 28, in which he ordered his fighters not to “retreat, run away, negotiate or surrender.”
Benny Avni has more bad news:
On Monday, Iraqi forces trounced Kurdish fighters and emerged victorious in a short fight for control of the oil-rich northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk.
And they couldn’t have done it without us. …
Problem is, the Iraqi army wasn’t alone in defeating the Kurds. Much of the fighting was done by Iraqi Shiite militias — many of which swear allegiance to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran’s vanguard, even as they, too, get American arms. …
And now Kirkuk, a key regional asset, is about to be dominated by militias that answer to [Qassem] Suleimani, the IRGC general charged with exporting Iran’s Shiite Islamist revolution to the world.
The easy victory over Kirkuk and America’s indifference could encourage a further Iranian-led push into Kurdish areas. If so, expect fighting to become increasingly bloody. And the longer the crisis remains unresolved, the more Iran gets involved — and the deeper its influence over the Abadi government becomes.
[Prime Minister Haider al] Abadi has long juggled alliances, hoping to keep ties with both Washington and Tehran. But only Americans can force him to face reality and acknowledge Kurdish aspirations. Only America can facilitate a negotiated agreement to prevent a long, bloody war between Baghdad and Erbil — which will force Abadi into Tehran’s arms.
America has spent too much blood and fortune in Iraq to allow Iran to take over now that ISIS is on the verge of extinction.
From National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on down, Trump is surrounded by advisers well-versed in the nuanced realities of Iraq. They need to take charge ASAP and get Erbil and Baghdad talking.
Otherwise, Soleimani will do it his way.