(Washington, D.C.) — What is the latest situation on the ground in Iraq as ISIS jihadists take more and more territory?
What can and should the U.S. do to help the Iraqis stop ISIS in their tracks, and launch a counter-offensive to roll back the ISIS rebels and regain control of the sovereign Iraqi territory?
Are there viable options?
If the President does not take decisive action, what are the risks to the American people, to Israel, and to moderate Arab allies in the region like Jordan?
On Wednesday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a fascinating conversation with three experts on the subject:
- Jack Keane, the retired Army General who was the architect of the “surge” strategy that helped the U.S. military win the war in Iraq (before the President pulled out all U.S. forces and left no residual force to help stabilize Iraq)
- John McCain, the U.S. Senator who was the main advocate for the “surge” strategy in Iraq
- Danielle Pletka, a defense and foreign policy expert at AEI
I just finished watching the event online, and strongly encourage you to watch it as well.
Summary of the conversation (note: the discussion begins at the 2 minute mark on the video):
- McCain says the situation in Iraq now is “grave” and that ISIS forces are worse than al Qaeda or any other terrorist group on the planet.
- He argues we absolutely must help the Iraqis now, or allow ISIS to create a safe haven from which to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S. and our allies, including Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon, to name a few.
- McCain said the first priority is to help the Iraqis halt the ISIS offensive, and then help the Iraqis launch a counter-offensive.
- Then, he said it is time for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down, and a new coalition government be formed in Iraq that would be led by a moderate Shia Arab, but include moderate Sunni leaders, too.
- General Keane explained why the Iraqi military has proven so ineffective against ISIS so far.
- In part, he said, this is because after the withdrawal of all our forces in December 2011, Maliki began to remove the best trained and experienced Iraqi generals and commanders and replaced them with loyalists who weren’t as prepared and didn’t have the trust of the men.
- Keane also said we took with us our state-of-the-art intelligence systems and battle management systems when we pulled out.
- Keane said the U.S. absolutely has the capabilities to help the Iraqis turn this thing around, and recommended the President send Army General (ret.) David Petraeus and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to Baghdad to assess the situation, reopen lines of communication with the Iraqi leadership, and begin to advise the Iraqis on what to do next.
- Keane said he did not believe Baghdad was at risk of falling, as ISIS only has about 10,000 fighters and couldn’t control a city of Baghdad’s enormity.
- However, Keane added that ISIS could start sending suicide bombers into Baghdad to terrorize the people and disrupt daily life.
- Both men said this challenge was foreseeable, and it’s part of why they strongly opposed the President’s plan to withdraw all U.S. forces in 2011.
- McCain drew an analogy to Korea in the 1950s, wondering what the world would look like if President Truman had decided not to help the South Koreans stop the invasion from the North, or if President Eisenhower or future commanders-in-chief had refused to leave a residual force of the American military in South Korea to help maintain the peace.
- Keane warned that our Arab allies in the region are deeply worried that the U.S. cannot be trusted to help them in this or future crisis because America is giving up its role in the Middle East.
- Both Keane and McCain repeatedly warned that Iran is an enemy, and should not be allowed to gain a foothold in Iraq.
General Keane and Pletka published an oped in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week laying out a plan to stop ISIS. I commend the piece to your attention. Here are a few excerpts:
A plan to save Iraq from ISIS and Iran
By Jack Keane, Danielle Pletka, oped in the The Wall Street Journal
It is still possible to reverse the recent gains of ISIS, an outgrowth of what was once al Qaeda in Iraq. The group’s fighters number only in the thousands, and while well-armed, they lack the accoutrements of a serious military. But only the United States can provide the necessary military assistance for Baghdad to beat back our shared enemy.
Setting aside for the moment the question of whether this administration has the will to intervene again in Iraq, here are the components of a reasonable military package that can make a difference:
• Intelligence architecture. Iraq’s intel screens went blank after the U.S. military pulled out in 2011. Washington needs to restore Baghdad’s ability to access national, regional and local intelligence sources, enabling the Iraqi military to gain vital situational awareness.
• Planners and advisers. The Iraqi military needs planners to assist with the defense of Baghdad and the eventual counter-offensive to regain lost territory, as well as advisers down to division level where units are still viable.
• Counterterrorism. Special operations forces should be employed clandestinely to attack high value ISIS targets and leaders in Iraq and Syria.
• Air power. Air power alone cannot win a war, but it can significantly diminish enemy forces and, when used in coordination with ground forces, can exponentially increase the odds of success.
To read the text in full, visit the Wall Street Journal’s website.
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