Plan to Defeat ISIS, Part 1

ISIS is doomed anyway, but Trump wants to speed the outcome. Iraqi forces sustained (Washington Post) heavy casualties in the taking of eastern Mosul. Only part of this was due to the difficulties of urban warfare where civilians could or would not evacuate. The rest was due to the pain involved in  successful development of the coordination between  the various coalition forces.

General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s new national security advisor, is doubtless cognizant of everything in the discussion that follows. His appointment is in stark contrast to the populist, nationalist, militarist rhetoric issuing from Twitter and official statements. I hope that General McMaster will be unimpeded from  exercise of his own judgment. His preparation for the specific problem of an American intervention includes his Ph.d thesis, from which issued his book,  Dereliction of Duty. It followed with his command of the forces that retook (Washington Post) Tal Afar in 2005. Tal Afar is 40 miles west of Mosul, part of the strategy to cut the lines of ISIS to Syria.

Tal Afar is singular in McMaster’s mind because of his experience of it, and the brief durability of the result of a successful military campaign.  The broader parallels of Vietnam and Iraq are striking:

  • An insurgency; grass-roots military movements. In Vietnam, there was one. In the Levant, there are many.
  • Inability to isolate the theater from external reinforcement and influence.
  • Absence of national sentiment.
  • Ethnic discord. In Iraq, this is three-way: Shia, Sunni, and Kurd. Until the otherthrow of Ngô Đình Diệm in 1963, there was in Vietnam, along with the Communist insurgency, a Catholic-Buddhist struggle analogous to Saddam Hussein’s suppression of Shia political activity in Iraq.

Quoting WTNH (because it has no ad blocker)

Despite those tensions, Mattis and Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, described an enduring partnership between the U.S. and Iraq.

“I imagine we’ll be in this fight for a while and we’ll stand by each other,” Mattis said.

Townsend, who was standing by Mattis, declined to say how long the U.S. will stay in Iraq. But, he said, “I don’t anticipate that we’ll be asked to leave by the government of Iraq immediately after Mosul.” He added, “I think that the government of Iraq realizes their very complex fight, and they’re going to need the assistance of the coalition even beyond Mosul.”

This sounds very reasonable. But looking past the tranquil, reasonable, pluralistic, conciliatory face of Prim Minister Haider al-Abadi, all the important figures of the Iraq insurgency are still hanging around. Their soldiers have been reprogrammed, repurposed, repackaged, or killed. Except for those killed, they have the shelf life of dry matches, neatly stacked in boxes, ready for arson. Unlike matches, they can even be grown from seed. The product of religious schools receive the inculcation of “separate-but-better”, accentuating the religious divide.  Entering into a weak job market, they are classically vulnerable to radicalization.

The potential arsonists include ISIS sympathizers, who are embraced by coalition military strategy. The masses of Shia poor cannot be so embraced. They are part of Iran’s military strategy.

We cannot omit Kurdish nationalism,  a problem and an opportunity, mainly for manipulation. The Kurds, the groups with the most western outlook, have been in the meat grinder of political maps since around 1870. There can be no peace with or without the Kurds, oxymoron intended.

I would not have expected Mattis to say anything else. But in this region, an article of faith is, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Such friendship is fleeting.

To be continued shortly.


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