When President Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, long before ISIS controlled an estimated 12,000-35,000 square miles of territory between Iraq and Syria, the Decider stated the following in his now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech:
In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed...
In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world...
In the images of celebrating Iraqis, we have also seen the ageless appeal of human freedom...
The Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001, and still goes on...
Our mission continues. Al-Qaida is wounded, not destroyed...
The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless.
From today's vantage point, such rhetoric seems ludicrous, but it sounded good in the euphoria of the moment. Bush and his team made endless mistakes, proving time and again that flowery sentiments can't stop a Sunni suicide bomber from blowing up a Shia mosque; even though both sides are Muslim. Removing Saddam from Iraq caused catastrophic upheaval and aroused a hornet's nest of ancient hatreds. Also, Bush's lofty nation building aspirations didn't account for the fact that our soldiers would ultimately become targets of an unseen enemy.
Almost two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been victims of IED's. Ultimately, 4,487 U.S. soldiers have lost their lives during Operation Iraqi Freedom, while 2,349 American soldiers have died in Operation Enduring Freedom. Including "non-fatal injuries," which are often times life altering and debilitating, close to one million Americans (out of the 2.5 million Americans who served in both wars) have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Needless to say, the decision by Bush and his neocon advisors to play Stratego with the map of the world is one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history.
Fast forward to 2014 and President Obama is quoted in The New Yorker as calling ISIS the "jayvee" squad of Al-Qaeda:
In the 2012 campaign, Obama spoke not only of killing Osama bin Laden; he also said that Al Qaeda had been "decimated." I pointed out that the flag of Al Qaeda is now flying in Falluja, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria; Al Qaeda has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too.
"The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant," Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy.
While President Obama and others have disputed he was actually referring to ISIS with this remark, Politifact.com has ruled that "...it's pretty clear this is the group that was being referenced in the conversation. The transcript backs this up, as do news events from the time of the discussion."
Not only did Obama grossly underestimate the threat posed by ISIS, but he's on record in September as stating, "We don't have a strategy yet" in Syria. U.S. weapons intended for Kurdish fighters recently ended up in the hands of ISIS and Syrian Kurds have stated recent U.S. airstrikes are not working. Bush's initial debacle of invading Iraq has now turned into Obama's inability to adequately address threats like ISIS in a timely and effective manner.
While Baghdad has yet to fall, Gen. Martin Dempsey states, "I have no doubt there will be days when they use indirect fire into Baghdad," meaning ISIS mortars or artillery shells could hit the city. Baghdad is more heavily guarded than most other places in Iraq, but ISIS already commits terror attacks inside Baghdad and has claimed responsibility for the October 11 suicide booming that killed 43 people. Also, ISIS isn't far from the Iraqi capital, controlling an estimated 80% of the Anbar Province. A quick glance at the map shows just how much territory Islamic State controls and how fragile Iraq looks in the face of imminent collapse. All this happened under Obama's watch and although he isn't Nostradamus, he nonetheless failed to accurately predict the capabilities of al-Qaeda's jayvee team.
With Iraq falling apart and a new enemy on the horizon that's simply a rebranding of the old one, there's a striking observation to be made about two presidents, Congress, and the leaders who send our soldiers off to war. Whereas we are perhaps governed by intelligent people, these bureaucrats don't necessarily possess the wisdom needed to put this country, and our soldiers, in a position to win against a word called "terror." The days of presidents like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower seem long gone, and instead we're stuck with a generation of Bush's and Obama's; or the latest LBJs and Nixons.
Therefore, if and when Baghdad falls, President Obama should leave American troops out of any strategy to save Iraq.
A recent poll conducted by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal finds that 41% of Americans believe the military campaign against ISIS should include "air strikes and combat troops." This poll runs in striking contrast to The Military Times poll indicating 70% of troops say "no more boots on the ground." Unlike the vast majority of American's who've never been to Iraq, a Marine interviewed in the poll states, "It's kind of futile in the end -- regardless of how well we do our job, the Iraqi government isn't going to be able to hold up.
This sentiment is backed up not only by recent events, but also the fundamental reason why both Bush and Obama were clueless in recognizing their leadership faults in regards to the Iraq War. While Bush was convinced in his prediction that liberty would reign in Iraq, Obama was focused solely on not being another Bush. As a result, both presidents ignored the biggest obstacle to any military endeavor in Iraq: the Shia and Sunni rivalry and the implications of this centuries old sectarian battle. The Council on Foreign Relations explains this bloody conflict in The Sunni-Shia Divide:
In Iraq, for instance, remnants of the Ba'athist regime employed Sunni rhetoric to mount a resistance to the rise of Shia power following the ouster of Saddam. Sunni fundamentalists, many inspired by al-Qaeda's call to fight Americans, flocked to Iraq from Muslim countries, attacking coalition forces and many Shia civilians. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded al-Qaeda's franchise in Iraq, evoked ancient anti-Shia fatwas, or religious rulings, to spark a civil war in hopes that the Shia majority would eventually capitulate in the face of Sunni extremist violence.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq, decimated by the "Awakening" of Sunni Iraqis who joined the fight against extremists, the U.S.-led military surge, and the death of Zarqawi, found new purpose in exploiting the vacuum left by the receding Syrian state. It established its own transnational movement known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
No amount of American ground troops, or military might from other Western nations, will adequately address the hatred fostered by this Shia and Sunni rivalry. Consequently, any further involvement by U.S. soldiers will turn into another counterinsurgency war where the ally in the day turns into the enemy at night.
We're still learning in Afghanistan (the longest war in U.S. history and a war that is still ongoing) the same lessons we've already learned in Iraq: counterinsurgency wars don't put our soldiers and our military in a position to win or create a lasting political reality. We already learned this in Vietnam, but repeated the mistake with Iraq, and now might repeat the mistake once again because of ISIS. As stated by General Daniel Bolger regarding the lessons of the Iraq War, "This enemy wasn't amenable to the type of war we're good at fighting, which is a Desert Storm or a Kosovo."
American soldiers have done enough in Iraq. Even if Bagdad falls, ISIS will never achieve the caliphate it desires; especially if both Saudi Arabia and Iran view them as heretics. In addition, with territorial gains comes the responsibility of holding this territory and that costs money, resources, and lives; something ISIS might not have in the long run. Most importantly, both Bush and Obama have proven that they're not capable of using the U.S. Armed Forces for a war with decisive battles or a definite end date. So, until a war doesn't involve religious rivalries and sectarian violence (or raiding houses in the middle of the night to capture insurgents), let's keep our soldiers away from another Middle Eastern quagmire. Congress, as well as President Obama, should do everything possible to arm and fund the enemies of ISIS rather than send one more American to the Middle East.