I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that.
I hope I'm wrong, but I am afraid that Iraq is going to turn out to be the greatest disaster in American foreign policy - worse than Vietnam, not in the number who died, but in terms of its unintended consequences and its reverberation throughout the region.
ISIS STRENGTHS & LIMITATIONS
I wrote this a few weeks ago before ISIS started attacking Kobani—based upon very little information. Still, I thought it might be a useful exercise. Then I forgot to post it because my blog software only shows the last nine titles—so if I write more they vanish. The software is Windows Live Writer—which I love—but the fact that you can’t see all your work is ridiculous. Worse is the fact that Microsoft has not remedied this blatant defect. But, let me not digress. though Microsoft has a great deal to answer for (Windows has certainly terrorized enough computer users), the issue at hand is ISIS.
- Well lead
- Well motivated
- High morale
- Well financed
- Appealing to religious extremists
- Maneuver oriented
- Firepower oriented
- Equipped with surprisingly heavy weapons for a force of this kind—most of which they seem to have captured. They have heavy artillery, mortars and some armor.
- Skilled at propaganda
- Fear inducing.
- Unappealing to religious moderates
- Relatively lightly armed by conventional standards
- No air cover
- Vulnerable to airpower
- Vulnerable to surveillance
- Limited armor
- Limited artillery
- Logistically challenged
- Not completely homogenous. Some evidence that ISIS is made up of different group with differing agendas—though ISIS would have us believe otherwise. This is particularly interesting.
As we enter this fight with ISIS, we are suffering from several preventable weaknesses:
- We have demonized ISIS.
- We are failing to either understand or admit our own responsibility for the actions which have given rise to ISIL and Islamic fundamentalism generally.
- We are being too predictable militarily.
- We are not up-arming the Kurds adequately.
- Yet again, we seem to be underestimating the value of speed in gaining psychological dominance.
The situation calls out for a sudden and significant defeat of ISIL in a specific area to shatter their current aura of invincibility. Such a raid –or series of actions—should ideally inflict serious casualties case them to lose serious territory—crush their confidence It should shake ISIS to the core.
Are the Iraqis equipped to do this? I doubt it. The Kurds seem to have the right fighting qualities, but lack the training and equipment. That leaves the Turks—who are well capable of the task—or us. But we seem to denying ourselves that option. The end result will, of course, actually be a coalition but it should be centered around military strength.
Terrorists are almost always vulnerable to conventional military forces in direct encounters—which is why terrorists use the tactics they do. However, short of an unacceptable level of brutality, they are near impossible to defeat if they have the support of the population. This is where their brutality may well be their undoing. The fact that they are Sunni won’t help them if they rule by terror—which seems to be their way. Moderate Sunnis will turn on them.
The weakness in our whole campaign against ISIS lies with the Shia who seem highly likely to continue to try and oppress the Sunni. Since this has been going on under Maliki for years, it reflects either a massive failure of intelligence or policy—or both—on our part.
We need to come up with some answers.
A loose federal structure for Iraq seems to be the best option—with the Kurds having de-facto independence (which they pretty much already have). Quite how to divide up the rest of Iraq to give some security to both Sunni and Shia seem likely to be more problematical. But, it can be done.
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