By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Correspondent for In Homeland Security
The U.S. needs more advisers in Iraq. That will solve the ISIS crisis. Build more bases. Give an army that delivers U.S. weapons and equipment to the enemy. Train soldiers that run from battle. Lastly, help to unite a state tri-party state in which Baghdad continues to grow closer to Tehran and separated only by a line in the sand and Arab versus Persian blood.
Sometimes a military solution to a crisis is the only option that will work. Other times, it can be a lengthy disaster; if history is any lesson.
At the time American military forces left Iraq by 2011, Iraq looked politically stable on the surface: the markets were open, there was no chaos, no genocide and no bloodthirsty pyscho-terrorist group taking swaths of lands and holding large populated cities. Nevertheless, the undercurrents of rage and tension were stirring in response to a government overreach by the Shias, an insidious Tehran to the East; as well as an encroaching Saudi Arabia in the South. Both penetrated the sectarian and political spheres, with an opportunistic al Qaeda in the middle. Perhaps Iraq could have lasted for years with a heavy sustained U.S.-led military presence, had the military never left. But eventually, these deeper tensions would likely have been unaddressed and ignored or remain a condition of disrepair. The Arab states, Iran and al-Qaeda have all been foreign instigators to Iraq’s internal and problematic dynamic since it was mapped out after World War I.
Iraq is no longer a single state. It is a piece of land torn internally by three strongly independent ethnic lines and religions. They diverge mostly by blood and creed. These include the Kurds in the North, the Shia to the East and the Sunni to the West; although the Kurds are also Sunni. None of them see themselves as Iraqis first and most likely they never will. The ones that do claim to be “Iraqis” are mostly the national Shia government hype channeled to your radio out of Baghdad.
Even if the most advanced military in the world and NATO could help Baghdad reach a secure and stable place with the addition of advisers and ground forces to supplement a largely air campaign, they would not be able to repair this deep ethnic and religious divide that has stood the test of time as well as empires. At best, they would have to install a political structure that while attempting to be fair, would give way to further Shia dominance—something that neither the Kurds nor the Sunni will ever allow again.
That being said, there are things the NATO should be doing, but repairing a unified Iraq is not one of them. It is important to remember that battles can be won and cities can be retaken without any lasting effect. The military’s function is by nature operational and tactical and not strategically political. A strong military and weak diplomacy, intelligence and information components constrain what America can do abroad.
As for the degradation and destruction of ISIS, all we have witnessed so far is the degradation and destruction of a unified Iraq instead. Unfortunate as it is, Washington cannot force a state to fight its own battles. It is and has always has been failing at winning the larger national heart and mind which even the blood cult ISIS has managed to do in the Sunni areas it has taken.
Until the Pentagon learns to control or alter minds during armed conflict, it cannot defeat the ideological terrorist menace. Unfortunately, it is not in a place to do so and every security and intelligence agency has dropped the ball on reshaping the perceptual landscape of the Middle East.
Thinking in terms of overthrows and bombings has made America an dim-witted global architect and an impulsive reactionary to conflicts springing up all of the world. This comes at a time when America must be more strategic than it has ever been before and more crafty and politically influential on the strategic human terrain than it is willing to be now. Critics argue it is too proud to learn lessons of political warfare from a movement that went from rags to riches in such a short time.
The addition of 450 U.S. ground troops to supplement the authorized 3,550 could make a difference in retraining Iraqi forces and Sunni tribal resupply at the base in Al Taqqadum and Habbaniya. This is a very limited operational capacity and concentrated local effort in the contested Anbar Province.
“This alone is not going to do it,” said former Undersecretary of Defense of Policy Michèle A. Flournoy. “It is a great first step, but it should be the first in a series of steps.”
Still, why does U.S.-Iraq policy feel so eerily similar to the British military campaigns of the late, waning, empire after the Great War?
Why does the Anglo-Iraqi War come to mind over and over again: the possibility of the re-occupation of Iraq by a parent state?
What happens if and when 4,000 American advisers are not enough?
In for a Penny, in for a Pound?
The aftermath of the Anglo-Iraqi War saw a decisive British victory through a re-occupation using their military forces during the early 1930s to 1947. But such victories appear short lived in this region. And a state, even a super state, cannot hold Iraq and seek to repair such a damaged national psyche without massive diplomatic, intelligence and information operations that fit the requirements of the mission and the 21st century enemy.
British influence was lost after the re-occupation ceased to a serous of coups and eventually a ruling party far worse known as the Baathists emerged as well as a tyrant that looked like an evil Mario from the Nintendo’s Mario Brothers.
The U.S. would be wise to consider the future of the region and the possibility that it must work with three separate players independently, rather than having everything flow from Baghdad. It should consider the future ruler of Iraq, which might again become another strong man or various demarcation lines where Iraq could be absorbed by larger states. A future with swelling the national borders of Iran and the Arab states is possible, if not a mid-term projection.
Washington’s role might be better spent in helping to manage the fate of Iraq, rather than its preservation. Could Washington ever see Iraq as a non-military problem; for example, an intelligence problem? A diplomacy problem? An information problem? Should the military be in the frontlines? If so, whose military?
Iraqi parliamentary figures are not representative of the entire state and parliamentary actions or the rally cries for unity from Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani apply only to a Shia dominated Iraqi hopeful or the restoration of al Maliki-like principles. The Sunni will never trust them again; although they had so only when they had no choice. The Kurds cannot work with them and find Baghdad has lost its grip. There is no true indigenous outcry for anything resembling Western liberal democracy and minority rights or a soverign nation of a post-Saddam era Iraq. Mostly actions speak larger than words and they come too little too late. The numbers of Iranian paramilitary units increases as do the visits of Tehran’s generals.
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