World

6 Reasons Why History's Hard Truths Will Likely Doom Obama's Plan to Defeat ISIL

Obama wants to stop evil, but experts say his strategy is fated to fail.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Everett Collection

If history is a guide, then President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday of a new military campaign in Iraq and Syria to defeat the brutal fundamentalists known as the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is doomed to fail, according to experts who have long studied the region and worked to help its civilian populations.

Here’s a list of six reasons why, from Matthew Hoh and Raed Jarrar. Hoh is a former State Department official and Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy who has led a network of foreign and public policy experts advocating for a change in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Jarrar is policy impact coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. He was born in Iraq, and raised in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq and now blogs from Washington.

The Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington, D.C., provided their remarks.

1. Obama’s precedents were bloody debacles. Hoh said, “The President's citing of the success of American military policy in Somalia and Yemen show how intellectually and morally dishonest this administration, like the previous administration, is. Both nations are chaotic and violent and American military action, particularly drone strikes that often kill innocents have not diminished al Shabaab in Somalia or al-Qaeda in Yemen, rather those groups continue to operate and enjoy the recruitment benefits of American airstrikes against Somalia and Yemeni civilians, as well as how American actions play into their propaganda narratives and raison d'être.”

2. The strategy is like heading back to Afghanistan. Hoh said, “A more apt comparison would have been Afghanistan, where a continued U.S. military policy of picking sides in a foreign civil war has seen American troops beginning their 13th year in combat in Afghanistan, violence against civilians at its highest level, the Taliban stronger and more confident than they have ever been, and Afghanistan's government in Kabul in its most severe political crisis since 2001.”

3. A U.S. role will expand the region’s religious and civil wars. Hoh said, “What President Obama stated last night, which if put into policy will in effect be a re-invasion of Sunni lands by Shia and Kurdish forces backed by American firepower, will greatly exacerbate the Iraqi Civil War and will revert Iraq to the bloody days of 2006.”

Hoh is no newcomer to the region. He served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. Embassy teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and was subsequently appointed Senior Civilian Representative of the U.S. government for Zabul Province in Afghanistan. Five months into his year-long contract in 2009, Hoh resigned and became the highest-ranking U.S. official to publicly renounce U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Hoh was awarded the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, for whistle-blowers, in 2010.

4. Drones and airstrikes will not defeat extremism. Jarrar said, “Obama's four-pronged strategy is still based on the myth that extremism can be defeated by military force. The plan includes using direct U.S. airstrikes, arming local ‘partners’ (i.e. proxy groups) for ground combat operations, preventing attacks against the U.S., and continuing humanitarian aid. The word ‘political’ was not mentioned a single time while discussing the situation in Iraq.

“Bombing Iraq and Syria into moderation and stability is one of the main underlying assumptions of the President's strategy,” he said. “While I wish there was a way to get rid of extremism this easily… the President's plan will not work.”

5. The U.S. tried this before and failed. Jarrar said, “Actually, the U.S. tried to destroy ISIS while we had a full-on military occupation of the country with over 100,000 boots on the ground. The group, dubbed as ISI [Islamic State of Iraq] at the time, was weakened but—as we can all see now—was never defeated.

“Our Iraqi ‘partners’ are not that different from ISIS,’ he continued. “They’re brutal, corrupt, sectarian and dysfunctional. Although the White House makes it seem like we’re stepping in to support our good friends to get rid of the one bad guy, facts in Iraq suggest that there is no legitimate Iraqi force that the U.S. can support.

As Reuters reported earlier this week, in a piece titled ‘Iraq's Shi'ite militia, Kurds use U.S. air strikes to further own agendas,’ “Shi’ite militia and Kurdish forces fought under their own banners and the least visible flag was that of Iraq.” A Kurdish commander quoted in the piece described the Shi'ite militia he's coordinating with as the 'Shi'ite ISIS.' Human Rights Watch and other international organizations have documented numerous war crimes and gross human rights violations committed by Iraqi factions supported directly and indirectly by the U.S.”

6. A new Iraq civil war is likely. Jarrar said, “Like in Syria, where the White Houses refuses to lump all armed opposition factions into one umbrella, Iraq has other armed opposition groups behind the uprising. These groups include remnants of the old regime and army, tribal militias, and other local groups. None of these agree with the ideology of ISIS, but they tolerate or coordinate with it hoping to get some leverage in addressing their legitimate grievances. Rather than attempting to draw a wedge between them and ISIS, the President's plan will end up uniting them.”

"”There are very thoughtful and long term plans that can eliminate extremism in Iraq and Syria,” he concluded, “but the U.S. military intervention, and continuing to support some Iraqi factions against others, will only delay real solutions.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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