The following editorial appeared in The (Aiken) Standard:
The Iraqi army essentially fell down on the job. That was the frank assessment, at least, given last week by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who said the city of Ramadi in Iraq fell to the Islamic State recently because the country’s forces showed “no will” to fight.
“They were not outnumbered: in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force,” Carter said. “And yet they failed to fight.” While this prompted a quick backpedaling by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, it’s hard not to find at least some validity in Carter’s comments.
The political system – and Iraq itself – is obviously still extraordinarily fractured and fragmented. America’s involvement and its strategy moving forward also seem to be completely muddled.
Given this reality, to say Carter wasn’t speaking the truth – as ugly as it might be – seems rather unlikely. Iraqi forces were certainly faced with an onslaught – one that reportedly included a wave of suicide car and truck bombs. And to be fair, the Iraqi forces had been trying to hold off forces for several months.
However, while Obama and Biden offered praise for the Iraqis, the White House also stood by Carter’s comments. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Carter’s comments were “consistent with the analysis that he’s received from those who are on the ground.”
Earnest added that the Iraqi government also “acknowledged” that the setback in Ramadi was “at least in part attributable to a breakdown in military command and planning.” That should be a telltale sign of the capabilities that the Iraqi forces have shown so far in combating the Islamic State.
What’s needed is for Obama and members of Congress to clarify exactly how intense U.S. efforts will really be against the Islamic State.
The president has rightfully called them a “cancer” that must be “extracted” from the Middle East. However, little has yet to be seen as far as putting the Islamic State on its heels.
The U.S. is currently involved in an air strike campaign, but that doesn’t appear to have been too damaging with the extent of ground the Islamic State has gained. With that reality, there’s been talk of sending thousands of troops – possibly as high as an additional 10,000 – back to the Middle East, an enterprise that would undoubtedly be a highly unpopular one.
At this point, Iraq resembles far less a country and more a myriad of competing social, religious and political factions and divisions.
Finding the right path forward is a must. That path, however – whatever it may be – is no doubt made more difficult, convoluted and unattainable if the administration isn’t willing to be forthright and face the hard truths from its top officials.
Obama administration needs to clarify what its strategy for fighting Islamic State will be.