Monday, June 8, 2015

Fall of Ramadi – Obama’s Tet Offensive

The strategic implications of the fall of Ramadi remain unclear in terms of the threat to Baghdad or control of Anbar Province, but its immediate affect has been to shred the Obama Administration’s strategy against ISIS.
  • The Iraqi Army is not ready for the aggressive combat for which ISIS is capable. Once again, the Iraqi soldiers left American equipment on the battlefield. This is not a question of courage, for there were many casualties, but rather of superior strategy. Determined ISIS fighters overwhelmed the Iraqi forces. Equipment, training, leadership and the army’s elusive morale were factors in the Iraqi collapse.
  • U.S. air power may have caused some disruption of ISIS’s operations, but it has not stopped its advance, and in Ramadi, appeared to have limited benefit.
  • The newly constituted government in Baghdad suffered a major defeat in its effort to convince in-country, regional and international stakeholders and observers of its progress on building a national reconciliation government and an army capable of stopping and reversing ISIS.
  • As is its instinct, the Obama administration initially denied the significance of the Ramadi rout, but media and political reaction were so overwhelming, especially when combined with ISIS taking control of Palmyra in Syria, that it quickly reversed direction and declared the need for reassessment of its strategy. 
Of course, the competence of the administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Central Europe and the Far East just as the 2016 presidential contest is underway adds compounded scrutiny, and has proven a difficult moment to lose an entire city and possibly province to a terrorist state.

Three months after the Tet Offensive dimmed the light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam, President Johnson announced a bombing pause and the end of his presidential ambitions. With nearly 500,000 men in the field and little political support, Johnson had no options. Given this administration’s self-imposed restraints and short time remaining in office, it’s not clear what options it may have.

For this administration, Iraq was not a war of choice. Obama was drug into it last September after the sweeping victories of ISIS and its notorious cruelty toward prisoners and captured citizens (including Americans). Public opinion and American foreign policy leadership, even within his own party, demanded action. The President offered bold rhetoric of degrading and destroying ISIS, attached to limited commitments of training, equipment and bombing, but reiterated his “no boots on the ground” or American casualties stance.

America clearly has an inadequate strategy, but what the administration can offer as an alternative in its final eighteen months is not clear.

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