The Obama Administrations gets Serious about Defeating the ISIS

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter meeting in  Davos  Switzerland with European  counterparts has stated that the United States will accelerate  efforts  to defeat the ISIS.  It would seem that such a mission and admission would contradict administration claims that the ISIS is in retreat. In fact the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the most authoritative source of information on the war against ISIS, recently published a report that indicates the opposite is true.  One does not need to be a Kissinger to know  that the Administration efforts are years late. The interim period has seen a catastrophic loss of inn0cent lives and a massive refugee movement to Europe which threatens the entire European continent financially, and eventually, the security of the continent as well. Hesitant half-hearted actions,  beginning with the precipitate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, coupled with a rather  mysterious compulsion to negotiate a  useless “nuclear agreement” with Iran has brought us where we are today. In fact this “agreement’ will further destabilize the already chaotic situation in the Middle East.  (More on this in a later blog entry.)  As the ISW report correctly states, our US officials have a  misapprehension   that there is  convergence of interests among the Western states, Russia, and Iran in defeating the ISIS. Nothing could be more wrong, or in the long term, more damaging to our national interests. The enemy is more the just the ISIS. It is the global menace of the Sunni Islamist ideology, a totalitarian movement that  is potentially more potent than communism or fascism.

The ISW report  concludes that the present counter-ISIS /Al Qaeda policies are inadequate and a coalition will not do the job. They emphasize that the US must lead the effort. There is little likelihood that this will happen. Moreover even the planned acceleration of the effort to destroy ISIS is unlikely to have success, given the weakness of the current anti-ISIS coalition.  Why are the anti – coalition efforts likely to fail?

  1. The Sunni Muslim states, ( with a few exceptions) despite the  threat the ISIS poses  to the regimes, know that their populations are  vehemently anti – Shi’a. In  the hearts of  most Sunnis particularly the Gulf Arabs, there is a great of deal of sympathy for the triumphalist Sunni doctrine of the ISIS.   The Gulf Arabs are still funneling funds to the Islamists, whatever their regimes profess. The Turkish Islamist government of Erdogan has let the Islamist genie out of the bottle and is now beyond Erdogan’s control. His doctrinaire Sunni  Islamic orientation with glimmers of a neo – Ottoman empire beckoning, blinded  him to the consequences he now faces.  Unable to destroy the decades long Kurdish rebellion and a slow building Shi’a -Sunni conflict  inside Turkey, Erdogan can no longer control his own borders.   The large  and disenfranchised Alevi ( an offshoot of Shism) population along the  southern border constitute a threat Turkey has tried to ignore.  Therefore calls on the Turkish government to stop the massive refugee movement to Europe, and block recruits coming to the ISIS will fail. Erdogan is caught in a snare of his own making.

antierdogan cartoon

  1. Iran, ostensibly the Iraqi government ally, has a vision of an Iraq that is weak, divided, and unable to contest Iranian ambitions. Iranian leaders want an Iraqi government dependent on Iranian support. The re-emergence of a united Iraq will become a renewed threat to Iran. The Arabness of the Iraqi Shi’a will once again emerge, submerging their Shi’a identity. Therefore the Iranians are quite happy to keep the Iraqis divided, granting and withholding aid as required to keep Iraq in a constant state of conflict and subservience to Iranian control. The Iranians  control many Iraqi politicians and powerful militias,  and they are the tools they will use to keep Iraq in harness.



  1. Despite the  bombastic predictions of the Iraqi government that they will retake Mosul in 2016, there is virtually no possibility that the Iraqi army will be  prepared to do that. Week ago the reports were that the Iraqi army had retaken Ramadi but  there are still parts of Ramadi under ISIS control.  Urban combat is the most bloody and difficult of all types of warfare, giving a huge advantage to defenders. The Iraqi army, mostly Shi’a,  will be attacking into traditional Sunni territory in which the people generally abjure the possibility of coming  under Shi’a government, and the expected retribution they will face.  Moreover the  Iraqi army is still poorly led and trained. The Shi’a government will continue to be plagued by militia and tribal conflicts, and unable to focus on the campaign against the ISIS.
  2. The expectation by some that the Kurds will push further into ISIS territory is not realistic. There will be no or minimal cooperation with the Iraqi government, which reflecting the sentiment of the Shi’a population, has little sympathy or  desire to see the Sunni Kurds enlarge their territory. The Kurdish  people and government are, as usual, divided into many factions, and because of the oil glut are unable to pay their own troops.  Moreover Turks fear the Kurds more than the ISIS and will resist any Kurdish attempt to extend further along the Turkish border.
  3.  The US will not, for the foreseeable future, put in enough troop presence to make a difference, and the excessively cautious rules of engagement hampering air power, will preclude decisive help in the populated urban environment. Unless the Americans put in  a large troop investment, no one else will either.
  4. The Russians, in Syria, will be playing the same game as the Iranians in Iraq, i.e., supplying only enough help to keep the Syrian regime in place but not enough to drive the ISIS out of Syria. So the idea of forcing the ISIS to fight a two – front war is an illusion.
  5. No one really knows what is going on inside the ISIS territory. Presumably the people are  not thrilled to be ruled by medieval warriors and archaic religious edicts, but are they likely to rebel? No! Fear, as always, is the most powerful arbiter of human control. It is far more likely that the ISIS control will deepen and  become “the normal.”

isis territory

ISIS areas controlled or free in which to move at will

6.The so called “Syrian transition plan” is primarily another John Kerry smoke and mirrors  production. The very small difference it may make will be adverse. It will leave the Assad regime intact – with or without Assad in the presidential palace- and ISIS and the al Nusra front (al Qaeda) will also be  left unaffected and further entrenched. It will have little effect on the Iraqi front  against the  ISIS .

So there you have it.  The ISIS will be with us for the foreseeable future and unless the ISIS mini state in the Levant is destroyed militarily, it will remain a mecca for the recruits and  adherents of a Caliphate concept the world over.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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