A city-by-city Iraqi mirage

This morning JK sent a link to an article written by Craig Whiteside at War On The Rocks, “Mosul: A Bridge Too Far?”.  This article presents an excellent background history of the factions and dispels the mythological sudden appearance of IS/ISIL/ISIS with a very detailed chronology of how radical Islamist elements aligned in the region surrounding Mosul had local support going back much further than last year when ISIL broke into the western media’s consciousness.  Whiteside states:

“The narrative that Mosul was invaded from Syria by a small number of militants last summer who managed to drive out a corrupt security force supports the idea the ISIL has shallow roots in the area and can be pushed out with moderate effort. As I argued here at War on the Rocks last December, that narrative only tells half of a story. Mosul’s fall last year was less telling as an indicator of the collapse of an occupational army than a measure of ISIL’s true and longstanding strength in the area. It was a tipping point and a shift that better explains why thousands fled from mere hundreds of insurgents. ISIL has had a strong presence in Ninewa (Mosul’s province) ever since Fallujah’s clearance in late 2004 left Mosul as the unofficial capital of ISIL.”

Whiteside’s phrasing using “the narrative” descriptive as more magical myth than detailed, fact-based chronology explains much of the problem with our understanding of IS/ISIL/ISIS and the political lay of the land among Iraq’s many tribes and factions.  The city-by-city strategic plan of defeating the Islamic State seems poorly thought out and a very costly endeavor in not only materiel, but also in lives.  Our press does a terrible job at asking questions and the laziness at actually digging for answers leads to these lapses in understanding  not only  foreign affairs, but also domestic affairs too.  We live awash in reports, experts, and intelligence. Yet, it seems our intelligence agencies don’t communicate and they definitely don’t collate the information available, then carefully assess their working theories or analyses to incorporate the new information.  So, we have these Mike Brown gentle giant myths and this ISIL magically appearing type understanding of the situations.

I’m adverse to escalating military intervention in Iraq (or anywhere in the ME) until there is a complete rethinking of our big picture foreign policy objectives in the region, a careful analysis of the situations on the ground in the various countries (especially the collapsing and failed states).  Then, the U.S. should carry out intense, serious diplomatic discussions with the players in that region and beyond, to include sitting down and talking to Putin and the Chinese about the ME chaos.  This pushing to make retaking Iraqi cities, the metric by which  “defeating ISIS” is judged, is totally idiotic!

That massive hyping by politicians and the press on the battle for Kobani set the stage for this myopic strategy.  By the time Kobani was “won”, what the hell did it matter – the “city” was mostly abandoned, demolished and a pile of rubble.  It made me think of that Vietnam era quote: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”, Peter Arnett reported as a quote from an unnamed U.S. officer.  Sun Tzu, my favorite military strategy book, mentions both avoiding battles in cities and also avoiding so much destruction:

“1. Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.”

The War On The Rocks article includes informative links worth reading, which explain the strategic issues more clearly.  One link, “Stop Looking For The Center Of Gravity”, by Lawrence Freedman, highlights a serious problem in American military strategic planning, where we look for points to attack (center of gravity) and deliver a blow that will topple the enemy.  What we miss in this way of approaching our strategic planning is the most basic big picture strategy, which Freedman explains:

“So the wrong question to ask at the start of a campaign is “What is the enemy’s center of gravity?” The term should henceforth be banned. What should be put in its place? My suggestion may appear anticlimactic and banal. I would pose a simpler, more straightforward question: “What is the position you wish to reach?””

Fighting the Islamic State in cities, where the civilians are forced to flee, the city is reduced to rubble and the combatants, as in Kobani, are two brutal terrorist entities, while western reporters watch and cheer the Kurdish PKK liberators left me wondering what they were cheering about.  The alarming refugee numbers in Syria, Iraq and in many other Islamist battleground locations add up to failed states and ruined lives.  Too often men get so entrenched in fighting and winning that they lose sight of the bigger picture of “at what cost to the people who live there?”  That is an important question that our leaders need to consider.  Yes, defeating IS/ISIL/ISIS is important, but that band of loons is just one component to this whole big Islamic Ascendency civilizational crisis.  Without a big picture understanding and then a comprehensive strategy to address the larger Islamic civilizational crisis, we are wasting lives, money, and time chasing windmills. 


Filed under Foreign Policy, General Interest, Islam, Military, Politics, Terrorism

4 responses to “A city-by-city Iraqi mirage

  1. JK

    Too LB, and you’ve pointed it out many times, that center of gravity tactic leads to going after “the current number three guy” – easily replaced and usually by somebody far worse.

    Immediately after the event in Tunis our media hyperventilated ISIS, ISIL !!! or whatever the media’s going with currently (I am heartened to see some guys are pushing back against that) but usually it seems of late “the first reports” doom us to sticking to The Narrative.

    The media seems overly fond of “the flavor of the day” rather than looking at the History of particular regions – Tunisia of all places should’ve given the media pause – birthplace of the Arab Spring with AQIM crawling all over the place. Boko Haram to the south, bordering Libya (and if the media ever heard of LIFG I can’t recall them mentioning it) … but, if one is to stick to The Narrative it begs The Narrative “So what are we to make of which exactly, was the group responsible for attacking the annex in Benghazi?”

    (Nevermind ISIL/ISIS/IS apparently magically made it’s debut only last June.)

    What was absent in the operation in Tunis? And secondly, what is the hallmark of ISIL?

    In a word, Spectacle, eg beheadings, immolations, enslavements etc. Not something more akin to the Achille Lauro.

    What’s happening in areas not directly contiguous to Iraq, Syria and to an extent Lebanon, is; these otherwise likeminded Islamist groups realize there’s a certain cachet in pronouncing themselves (aligned with) ISIL.

    & – unfortunately – we’ve seen it before;


  2. JK

    Didn’t mean to imply this most recent attack on the cruiseship tourists in Tunis was exactly like the Achille Lauro – but there’s some eerie similarities.


  3. Yes, JK, this administration chirps along with its tweets and twitters, ahemmmm, might I go so far out on a limb as to say, “birdbrains” and “bimbos” too, lol.

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