I mean the war against the Islamic State, whose expansion was the defining foreign policy calamity of Barack Obama’s second term, whose executions of Americans made the U.S.A. look impotent and whose utopian experiment drew volunteers drunk on world-historical ambitions and metaphysical dreams.
Its defeat was begun under Obama, and the hardest fighting has been done by Iraqis — but this was an American war too, and we succeeded without massive infusions of ground troops, without accidentally getting into a war with Russia, and without inspiring a huge wave of terrorism in the West.
Why haven’t we noticed this success? One reason is the nature of our victory: As Max Abrahms and John Glaser wrote recently in the Los Angeles Times, the defeat of the Islamic State didn’t happen the way many foreign policy hawks envisioned, because it didn’t require also going to war with Bashar al-Assad or creating a new Syrian opposition army.
At the same time, it happened more easily than intervention skeptics feared — so there isn’t a pundit chorus, right or left, ready to claim vindication in the victory.
Other reasons for the lack of attention are suggested by National Review’s David French, in a piece that helped inspire this one: a war-weary assumption that if you crush one terrorist group another just springs up (true to a point, but crushing an ambitious terrorist state is still a real achievement); a popular appetite for bad news that leaves little room for celebrating victory; and the inability of Trump himself to take credit for anything without immediately firing up some unrelated controversy.
But this is also a press failure, a case where the media is not adequately reporting an important success because it does not fit into the narrative of Trumpian disaster in which our journalistic entities are all invested.
I include myself in this indictment. Foreign policy is the place where the risks of electing Trump seemed to me particularly unacceptable, and I’ve tended to focus on narratives that fit that fear, from the risk of regional war in Middle East to the perils in our North Korean brinksmanship.
In particular, Trump has avoided the temptation often afflicting Republican uber-hawks, in which we’re supposed to fight all bad actors on 16 fronts at once. Instead he’s slow-walked his hawkish instincts on Iran, tolerated Assad and avoided dialing up tensions with Russia. The last issue is of course entangled with the great collusion debate — but it’s still a good thing that our mini-cold war has remained relatively cool and we aren’t strafing each other over Syria.
The Saudi war in Yemen remains a humanitarian catastrophe and our relationship with the House of Saud remains corrupt. But the war in Yemen was already an American-abetted disaster under Obama, and the Trump White House has at least called for Riyadh to lift its Yemen embargo and seen the new king promise some mild social and economic reforms.
And the Trump strategy on Israel and the Palestinians, the butt of many Jared Kushner jokes, seems … not crazy? The relatively mild reaction to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may be a case study in expert consensus falling behind the facts; the Arab world has different concerns than it did in 1995, and Trump’s move has helped clarify that change.
Likewise, getting the Saudis to lean hard on the Palestinians, to float radical ideas for a supersized Gaza and a very Israel-friendly solution elsewhere, is as plausible an attempt to break the logjam as was the pressure Obama put on Israel. The truth is that the specific two-state vision of the late 1990s was overtaken by events a while ago, and demonstrating that some Arab states are more amenable to accommodating Israel is a useful step toward diplomatic clarity.
The rule with this White House is that if you write in praise of anything it has done, something disastrous swiftly follows. So if this column conjures up a Saudi invasion of Lebanon, a renewed intifada, or something terrible in the Koreas — well, I apologize in advance.
But if you had told me in late 2016 that almost a year into the Trump era the caliphate would be all-but-beaten without something far worse happening in the Middle East, I would have been surprised and gratified. So very provisionally, credit belongs where it’s due — to our soldiers and diplomats, yes, but to our president as well.
|Black Obama's now discredited old rule of engagement (ROE).|
|Trump's General Mattis's new rule of engagement (ROE) of US military fighting ISIS.|
Trump & Mattis Crushed ISIS To A Total Collapse
BAGHDAD – Hundreds of ISIS fighters had just been chased out of a northern Syrian city and were fleeing through the desert in long convoys, presenting an easy target to U.S. A-10 "warthogs."
But the orders to bomb the black-clad jihadists never came, and the terrorists melted into their caliphate -- living to fight another day. The events came in August 2016, even as then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was vowing on the campaign trail to let generals in his administration crush the organization that, under President Obama, had grown from the “jayvee team” to the world’s most feared terrorist organization.
“I will…quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS,” Trump, who would name legendary Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, promised. “We will not have to listen to the politicians who are losing the war on terrorism."
Just over a year later, ISIS has been routed from Iraq and Syria with an ease and speed that's surprised even the men and women who carried out the mission. Experts say it's a prime example of a campaign promise kept. President Trump scrapped his predecessor’s rules of engagement, which critics say hamstrung the military, and let battlefield decisions be made by the generals in the theater, and not bureaucrats in Washington.
At its peak, ISIS held land in Iraq and Syria that equaled the size of West Virginia, ruled over as many as 8 million people, controlled oilfields and refineries, agriculture, smuggling routes and vast arsenals. It ran a brutal, oppressive government, even printing its own currency.
The terror organization now controls just 3 percent of Iraq and less than 5 percent of Syria. Its self-styled "caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to be injured and holed up somewhere along the lawless border of Syria and Iraq.
ISIS remains a danger, as members who once ruled cities and villages like a quasi-government now live secretly among civilian populations in the region, in Europe and possibly in the U.S. These cells will likely present a terrorist threat for years. In addition, the terrorist organization is attempting to regroup in places such as the Philippines, Libya and the Sinai Peninsula.
But the military’s job -- to take back the land ISIS claimed as its caliphate and liberate cities like Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, in Syria, as well as countless smaller cities and villages, is largely done. And it has taken less than a year.
“The leadership team that is in place right now has certainly enabled us to succeed,” Brig. Gen. Andrew Croft, the ranking U.S. Air Force officer in Iraq, told Fox News. “I couldn’t ask for a better leadership team to work for, to enable the military to do what it does best.”
President Trump gave a free hand to Mattis, who in May stressed military commanders were no longer being slowed by Washington “decision cycles,” or by the White House micromanaging that existed under President Obama. As a result of the new approach, the fall of ISIS in Iraq came even more swiftly than hardened U.S. military leaders expected.
“It moved more quickly than at least I had anticipated,” Croft said. “We and the Iraqi Security Forces were able to hunt down and target ISIS leadership, target their command and control.”
After the battle to liberate Mosul – ISIS’ Iraqi headquarters - was completed in July -- the U.S.-led coalition retook Tel Afar in August, Hawija in early October and Rawa in Anbar province in November.
Marine Col. Seth Folsom, who oversaw fighting in Al Qaim near the Syrian border, agreed. He wasn’t expecting his part of the campaign against ISIS to get going until next spring and figured even then, it would then "take six months or more." Instead, ISIS was routed in Al Qaim in just a few days.
“We really had one mandate and that was enable the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat ISIS militarily here in Anbar. I feel that we have achieved that mission,” Folsom said. “I never felt constrained. In a lot of ways, I felt quite liberated because we had a clear mandate and there was no questioning that.”
Brig. Gen. Robert “G-Man” Sofge, the top U.S. Marine in Iraq, told Fox News his commanders have “enjoyed not having to deal with too many distractions and there was no question about what the mission here in Iraq was.”
“We were able to focus on what our job was without distraction and I think that goes a long way in what we are trying to accomplish here,” he said. Sofge said criticism that loosening rules of engagement put civilians at risk is “absolutely not true.”
“We used precision strikes, and completely in accordance with international standards,” he said. “We didn’t lower that standard, not one little bit. But we were able to exercise that precision capability without distraction and I think the results speak for themselves.”
The U.S.-led coalition said this week the Coalition Civilian Casualty Assessment Team has added 30 new staffers to travel throughout the region. It said military leaders continue to “hold themselves accountable for actions that may have caused unintentional injury or death to civilians.”
The coalition also said dozens of reports of civilian casualties have been determined to be “non-credible,” and just .35 percent of the almost 57,000 separate engagement carried out between August 2014 and October 2017 resulted in a credible report of a civilian casualty.
In addition to air support, the U.S.-led strategy also includes training and equipping Iraqi troops on the ground. While the Trump administration’s success is often underplayed in the U.S. media, it is obvious on the ground in Iraq, according to a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, Yahya Rasool.
“I was not optimistic when Trump first came to the office,” Rasool said. “But after a while I started to see a new approach, the way the U.S. was dealing with arming and training. I saw how the coalition forces were all moving faster to help the Iraq side more than before. There seemed to be a lot of support, under Obama we did not get this.”
Despite the victories on the battlefield, U.S. officials cautioned much work remains to be done. “ISIS is very adaptive,” noted Col. Ryan Dillon, the U.S.-led coalition spokesman. “We are already seeing smaller cells and pockets that take more of an insurgent guerrilla type approach as opposed to an Islamic army or conventional type force. So we have got to be prepared for that.”
He said as a result the coalition is “adjusting some training efforts” so the Iraqi forces -- upwards of 150,000 have already undergone training -- are equipped to address such threats and ensure long-term stability.
Related posts at following links:
General James "Mad Dog" Mattis: Trump Defense Secretary?
Mattis Calls ISIS Islamic State and Ditches Obama's Rule Of Engagement (ROE)