Is The Obama Administration Being Truthful About The Porgress Of The ISIS Conflict?

By Sal Bommarito

Recent developments in Ramadi, Palmyra, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan lead me to believe that the U.S. government is not being totally honest or realistic with the American public. After each new incident, the administration says the  ISIS threat is not that serious, or that setbacks are to be expected in a “long-term” conflict. Frankly, many Americans and the press are becoming increasingly skeptical about the rhetoric from Washington. Do our leaders have a moral obligation to be truthful in such situations, or do they have the latitude to spoon-feed us with information in an effort to minimize political upheaval at home?

What was the original battle plan of the U.S. relating to ISIS? The Obama administration has steadfastly said it would not commit ground troops to fight the insurgents. The U.S. would exclusively provide air support to the Iraqi government and train Syrian moderates that opposed both Syrian leadership and ISIS.

Unfortunately, our leader, his generals and his aides miscalculated the determination, resourcefulness and popularity of the enemy. And so, air strikes have not been effective as most bombing missions return with unused armaments (reaffirmed yesterday in a comment by Sen. John McCain, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). The enemy has imbedded itself among innocent civilians so the risk of collateral damage from bombs is great. Did the administration respond to this development? No.

The president said he wanted the Iraqis to fight their own war. This comment was made before ISIS routed Iraqi soldiers at the outset of the war. After ten plus years of providing arms and training, the soldiers ran from the enemy. Since then, government forces have had limited successes, but only with the aid of Shiite militia groups, with whom the U.S. refuses to fight with because of their strong affiliations with Iran.

This issue is further complicated by the fact that Shiite fighters, be they Iraqi or Iranian, are fighting ISIS predominantly in Sunni territory. The president believes that the Iraqi government could engage Sunni tribes to help fight ISIS. Promised weapons to Sunni tribesmen have not been forthcoming and Shiite soldiers have acted aggressively towards Sunni citizens.

A late breaking comment by Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense, was “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.” This occurred in spite of the fact that Iraqi forces outnumbered ISIS fighters.

In Syria, the situation is equally unstable. The U.S., with help from Arab nations, was supposed to train and arm moderate Syrians to fight ISIS. The problem is that it is difficult to determine the ultimate goal of this group. Do they want to fight the insurgents (in conjunction with the Syrian army), or do they want to oust the Syrian regime? Moreover, will the group use armaments provided to them by the U.S. and its allies against the U.S. at a later date?

Is the ISIS conflict moving along satisfactorily? You decide, but do so understanding that the Obama administration may be stretching the truth.

Jeb Bush’s Commets About His Brother’s Decision To Invade Iraq

By Sal Bommarito

Jeb Bush created campaign drama with comments he made about his brother’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. This is part of an effort by his detractors to use Jeb’s family against him. For sure, Jeb is loyal to George Bush and is concerned about his brother’s legacy. Nevertheless, hypothetical questions in every election about previous events are like quicksand that can mire a candidate. Jeb needs to tread carefully.

One such question posed to Jeb was: Would Jeb make the same decisions about Iraq as George knowing what he knows now? The query is an obvious booby trap. The public will likely judge any comment supportive of George’s Iraq policy as unfavorable. The decision to invade led the U.S. into an extended conflict in Iraq that is still in progress, and may be a reason for the proliferation of terrorism in the region.

Most importantly, Jeb does not have all the facts about the decision-making process in 2003; he was not affiliated with the George W. Bush administration.

Given that the public is almost universally negative towards the second Iraq war, Jeb should have dodged the hypothetical game played by his critics and the liberal press. His answer should have been the war was a mistake considering that weapons of mass destruction were not discovered. They were the principal justification of the war and could not ultimately be verified. In a sense, he would not be indicting his brother, but rather those who assured George that WMDs were in play, and Saddam would likely use them against his enemies.

I’m sure Jeb really feels this way. But, putting himself in George’s shoes and considering his affection for his brother, he has attempted to justify the “go to war” decision. Since it was based upon a misreading of Saddam’s WMD capabilities and inclination to use such weapons, the decision is indefensible.

For a moment, let’s consider George’s dilemma. It was not crazy at the time for George to think that Saddam had WMDs based upon the intelligence offered to him. This being the case, it made perfect sense to eliminate Saddam and take the threat of WMDs off the table in the Middle East. Use of such weapons could have easily mushroomed into a much broader conflict and possibly World War III. If a nuke were to be used against Israel, it certainly would have retaliated and obliterated Iraq. Moreover, Saddam possessed WMDs in the past and used them against Iran in an earlier war. The man appeared ready, willing and able to employ WMDs and gave his enemies every assurance that he would do so. Given this, some think it would have been irresponsible to not take out Saddam.

Maybe the voters and all the talking heads should focus on more pressing issues that are plaguing the region such as ISIS, Russian aggression in Crimea, Israel’s plight, Iran’s nuclear program and the proliferation of terrorist organizations in America and across the globe. Rehashing the past is not informative or productive because everyone knows, in hindsight, that America and the world would have been better off if the Iraq invasion did not take place.

The U.S. Gets No Thanks Or Respect From Iraq

By Sal Bommarito

No good deed goes unpunished. Oscar Wilde. The U.S. agreed to assist the Iraqi government with airstrikes in the last stages of the battle for Tikrit. Yet, a New York Times article titled “Retaking Tikrit, Iraqis Give Little Credit to U.S.” was published today.

The following are some of the disconcerting quotes from the piece.

  • “ . . . Americans deserve little or no credit.”
  • “ . . . Shiite militiamen involved in the fight say the international coalition’s air campaign actually impeded their victory . . .”
  • “ Some [Iraqis] even accuse[d] the United States of fighting on the side of the Islamic State . . .”
  • One Iraqi fighter said “ . . .[I] saw nothing to thank the Americans for . . .”
  • “This is a victory of Hadi al-Ameri and God, . . .” Mr. Ameri is a pro-Iranian leader of a large militia group.
  • “All they did was bomb the wrong side and kill federal policemen the other day.”
  • “The Americans supported Daesh, not us . . .” Daesh is a nickname for ISIS.
  • “Yes, the international coalition helped but not really in a good way . . .”

On another note, the article indicates that humanitarian rights groups believe that ISIS massacred 1,700 unarmed cadets last June. Similarly, the Iraqis are taking no prisoners. “To be honest, everywhere we captured [ISIS fighters] we killed them because they were the enemy.” Later the person who gave this account changed his story and added “. . . ISIS fighters who were about to be captured were assumed to be suicide bombers so they were killed as a precaution.”

A battalion commander of a militia unit said “. . . this week [my men] captured three Afghan men, an Afghan woman and an Algerian man, all Islamic State fighters . . . After we were done with them, we killed them.” The commander spoke anonymously to avoid being charged with war crimes.

The final slap in the face came from the Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, the man who asked the U.S. to send more bombers to Tikrit, who credited “the joint efforts of the army and police forces alongside the popular mobilization fighters and the tribal fighters and the people of Tikrit with air coverage of the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.” The prime minister finally got around to the U.S. attacks. By the way, the Iraqis have about “a dozen attack jets, but less than half are known to be in service, and none are equipped for precision bombing.”

What the hell is the U.S. doing in Iraq? Iraq shows no appreciation. The U.S. is playing a secondary role. And, the Iraqis are going to slaughter ISIS fighters just like ISIS has slaughtered non-believers.

The ISIS conflict is not a war. It is a street fight, in which neither side engages the enemy with any honor. And there are no rules. It is going to drag on indefinitely, ISIS into civil war. The U.S. should disengage or go all-in and kill the insurgents. Leading from the rear is a horrible and unproductive strategy.

It’s Iran Versus Saudi Arabia Versus ISIS Versus The U.S.

By Sal Bommarito

Sectarian violence and threats resulting from the ISIS conflict and other events in the Middle East are starting to occur on a daily basis. Led by Saudi Arabia, Sunnis are responding to a number of Iranian provocations in the region. Most experts believe this is the beginning of a long drawn-out confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. A New York Times article details these matters.

Stirring Sunni outrage towards Iran are the following significant actions:

  • Iran’s backing of a rebel faction in Yemen. The Saudis are leading airstrikes against the insurgents.
  • Iran’s support of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The Saudis are aiding jihadists in Syria that are fighting government forces.
  • Iran’s support of Iraqi forces against ISIS. The Saudis have warned Washington “not to allow the Iranian-backed militia to capture too much of Iraq [in the fight with ISIS].
  • The U.S./Iran pending nuclear deal. Saudis have indicated that they want the same rights as Iran to either develop or buy nuclear weapons. The aforementioned deal could lead to significant nuclear proliferation in the area.
  • Iran’s efforts to control the Middle East. The Saudis are backing a “combined Arab military force to combat Iranian influence around the region.”

The ISIS conflict has reached a critical point. The question is, can Iraq successfully win back territory absconded by the insurgents? For a moment in time, Iraqi government troops backed by Iran seemed to be making progress against a much smaller group of ISIS fighters embedded in Tikrit. This battle is a precursor to a much more important assault that is planned for later in the year on Mosul, the Islamic State’s capital.

The Tikrit operation has stalled, and Iraq has asked the U.S. to begin bombing in the area. President Obama agreed to do so only if Iran and Shiite militia groups loyal to Iran disengage. The competition between the U.S. and Iran is unproductive, as both want to destroy ISIS. Unfortunately, both nations hope to influence Iraq prospectively.

Further complicating the situation in Iraq is that most of the ISIS fighting is taking place in Sunni populated areas, and government forces consist mostly of Shiites. This was alluded to earlier in this post. Sunnis inside and outside of Iraq are concerned that the status of Iraqi Sunnis will be diminished even further in post-ISIS Iraq. Also, concern for collateral damage may not be adequate. The Saudis and other Sunni nations are likely to come to the aid of Iraqi Sunnis, if controlling Shiites marginalize the group. This, of course, will ultimately lead to civil war.

Most disturbing is the role of the U.S. By taking a subordinate or apathetic position on the issues herein, the Obama administration is losing credibility with all interested parties. The Iraqis resent the benign response of America to its problems, and other Arab nations cannot determine whom the U.S. is backing in the long-term, especially relating to the Iran nuclear deal.

The Middle East After ISIS Is Defeated

By Sal Bommarito

The Middle East’s political landscape is becoming a bit clearer every day. Unfortunately, the future is bleak for the region.

The backseat role of the U.S relating to current affairs leaves the destiny of the Middle East in the hands of current Arab leaders. This assumes a political status quo on the heels of the Arab Spring, the ultimate dissipation of ISIS and continuing insurgency by both Shiite and Sunni factions.

The apparent victory of Bibi Netanyahu foretells an uncomfortable stagnation of peace plan efforts dealing with the plight the Palestinians. Netanyahu said there would be no two-state deal for Palestine. This promise effectively guarantees the flow of venom between Arabs and the State of Israel for the foreseeable future.

The most important issue is what might transpire in the final days of ISIS. Frankly, the unorganized and murderous group of rebels deserves credit for surviving as long as it has. The tepid response of the U.S. and countries in the region enabled ISIS to thrive. But, the insurgents do not have the firepower to expand beyond Sunni neighborhoods in Iraq and Syria.

Stepping across borders into Turkey, Iran or Jordan will be a fruitless exercise. ISIS will be fortunate to retain the land it has already absconded. Nevertheless, it will not be a cakewalk to unearth ISIS in places that it has embedded itself. Current offensives by Iraq in places like Tikrit prove that a coordinated ground force initiative can be effective against the insurgents.

However, the final pushes into cities with large civilian populations will be bloody, for ISIS in any case, but also for innocent bystanders. The question is whether Iraq with encouragement from Iran will destroy cities held by ISIS with rockets that Iran has already provided to Iraq. Leveling cities populated by Sunnis will not endear Iraq to Sunni Arabs and could cause a great sectarian backlash.

There are several givens from my perspective. ISIS will likely be defeated in Iraq and Syria. But, its influence over disenfranchised rebel groups around the world could be problematic. Imported and exported terrorism is likely to increase.

Iran is the new gorilla in the region. If it is able to develop a nuclear weapon, the entire political landscape of the area will change dramatically. Even without a nuke, Iran is proving that it can and will be helpful to Shiite regimes, such as Iraq. The cost of its aid will be great influence over those countries prospectively.

Sectarian violence will envelope the region post-ISIS. Iran will accelerate its efforts to destabilize Sunni governments, and Saudi Arabia will respond in kind to thwart Shiite nations. Murderous actions, suicide bombing and political gamesmanship will be prevalent.

Several other powder kegs could also create unrest and more violence. They include the efforts of Turkey to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state. Another is the fate of Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Most Arab nations want him dethroned. The downward spiral of the price of oil could create economic and political stress among Arab oil producing nations that might threaten existing regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The outlook for the Middle East is great turmoil, destabilization and discontentment.

Future Sectarian Violence Is Dependent Upon Iraq’s Use Of Force In Tikrit

By Sal Bommarito

The New York Times reported that the impending assault on Tikrit in a Sunni-dominated area of Iraq could be coming to a dramatic conclusion in the next few days. During this encounter, Iran has become a powerful benefactor of Iraq providing soldiers, intelligence and, most recently, rockets that may be deployed in the battle with ISIS.

The current standoff at Tikrit is a saga that will likely be repeated time and again as the 30,000 man Iraqi army continues to recapture land absconded by ISIS. Important issues are that the force consists almost exclusively of Shiites that are attacking ISIS in areas dominated by Sunnis, and the use of rockets to liberate Tikrit could result in many civilian casualties and massive property damage.

These controversies relate to the ongoing debate about what methods Iraq will employ to root out ISIS. The cost of this process could be very high depending upon the amount of force Iraq (and Iran) utilizes, and the determination of ISIS as they fortify their positions among innocent bystanders.

Ground forces are finally in play and resulting in some success; the U.S is providing none. These fighters will need to enter the city and engage the enemy door-to-door. Alternatively, the Shiite government fighting force may opt to use rockets and heavy artillery, which will kill ISIS insurgents and decrease its own casualties. But, this tactic will result in the destruction of Tikrit and the deaths of many Sunnis living in it.

President Obama does not want to engage ISIS with U.S. ground forces, nor does he wish to conduct bombing sorties that result in collateral damage. These decisions have enabled ISIS to survive to this point. The Iraqis and Iranians could change the state of play, but it may be at a huge cost.

Sectarian violence will increase if innocent Sunnis are slaughtered. A backlash is probable in Iraq and from neighboring Sunni-Arab nations. Collateral damage could be interpreted as a form of genocide to increase Shiite control in Iraq in the post-ISIS era. Moreover, the influence of Iran in Iraqi affairs will grow exponentially. It will be the ultimate cost of Iran’s aid in the fight with ISIS, a role that most people believed the U.S. would play.

This dilemma is symptomatic of the complexity of the ISIS imbroglio. The U.S. wants to defeat ISIS but is unwilling to deliver the firepower necessary to accomplish this end. Iran also wants to kill off ISIS and has joined Iraq on the ground while providing rocket armaments.

The response to the Iraq/Iran battle tactics could have a lasting impact on the sectarian rift in Iraq. It appears that the U.S. will be sitting on the sidelines as this all plays out.

The Decline Of American Influence In The Middle East

By Sal Bommarito

The president and Congress have devalued the war with ISIS as neither has any motivation to produce a resolution from Congress to continue the fight. This story was reported in the New York Times.

Many Americans believe our leaders and lawmakers are not meeting their constitutional responsibilities regarding the war and that a unified response by both parties to it is critical. How can 535 of our government representatives ignore what is happening in the Middle East? How can these “leaders” turn their backs while ISIS is murdering innocents and inciting violence around the world? Why would the U.S. allow Iran to usurp the leadership of the effort to exterminate the insurgents?

The party lines are that Republicans won’t agree to a watered down resolution that limits the power of the president to take the fight to the rebels. This would include any restrictions on the employment of ground forces. Democrats would only consider a limited resolution fearing another long-term military sojourn in the region.

The president doesn’t give a damn what Congress does or doesn’t do; he says that he has the authorization to continue his battle plan based upon resolutions from Congress dating back over a decade.

One wonders whether all these individuals would be so aloof if our soldiers started coming home in body bags. Then again, it’s doubtful that the U.S. will experience significant casualties if it just continues to drop bombs.

In the meantime, Iran is stepping up and assisting Iraq’s Shiite government with soldiers, equipment, arms, expertise and intelligence. Iraqi officials are gratefully accepting this aid. Iran’s investments will surely pay off in the future when Iraq can begin to focus on building its government, which will be totally dominated by Shiites and greatly influenced politically by Iran.

Iraqi leadership has been relishing recent successes on the battlefield with limited U.S. involvement. Yet, the sectarian storm is brewing as Iraqi forces, which include Shiite militiamen and Iranian soldiers are storming Sunni-controlled territory.

After ten plus years of American bloodshed and over a trillion dollars of money spent in Iraq, the U.S. has given up and is leaving Iraq and Syria to the dogs.

The big question is why is the U.S. hanging around at all? If we are disengaging, let’s pull all our forces and stand by as the Arabs kill each other. Apparently, the fate of six million refugees and displaced Arabs is of no concern to American leaders. Neither are the anarchy, civil wars, sectarian violence and genocide that will follow the end of ISIS hostilities. And what of the dominance of Iran that now seems inevitable?

For Americans 60 years and older, it is difficult to witness the deteriorating influence of the U.S. throughout the world perpetrated by the current regime in Washington. It has squandered much of what has been created since World War II.

Congress Should Do Whatever Necessary To Prevent Iran From Developing A Nuclear Weapon

By Sal Bommarito

The impending Iran nuclear deal is one element of the ever-expanding enigma known as the Middle East. Every day the complexity of issues becomes more daunting exacerbated by indecision and rash diplomatic ploys.

President Obama and leaders from around the world must react to events in the Middle East influenced by a backdrop that includes ISIS fighters slaughtering other Arabs, a competitive Israeli election, a growing diplomatic rift between Israel and the U.S., a nuclear controversy, worsening tension between Shiites an Sunnis and an epic refugee problem.

Most of the issues are very important but none are existential with the exception of the Iran nuclear deal. The mass execution of innocents and the threat of civil wars in a strategic part of the world are disconcerting, but an Iranian nuclear capability is a game changer.

President Obama indicated at the outset of the current round of negotiations with Iran that a nuclear Iran was not a viable option. Things have changed dramatically over the past several months along with Obama’s objectives. He seems satisfied with a treaty that keeps Iran non-nuclear with a one-year lag if Iran opts out of the treaty; and the treaty expires in 10 years in any case.

Can you blame Congress for being unnerved by the new calculus? One day, our president is saying, “No nukes for Iran.” The next day, Iran is non-nuclear until they opt out, but no longer than a short decade.

The response of Republicans and Democrats to Obama’s efforts to keep them uninvolved was bipartisan; the lawmakers wanted to be able to approve a new treaty and any reductions in economic sanctions against Iraq. As Obama neared a deal with Iran, it appeared that he was prepared to be generous to our mortal enemy that has called for the annihilation of Israel and has been the most prolific supporter of terrorism in the region.

It’s probably a legacy thing. Obama has had very few memorable diplomatic achievements during his tenure, and he wants to make a big splash by ending the hostile relationship with Iran.

Republicans responded by asking Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress without [authorization, endorsement, approval] from the president. As the deadline for a deal approached, Senate Republicans sent an open letter to the Iranian leadership indicating that they were not happy with the proposals contained in the new deal, and that a new president or Congress could annul the treaty in the near future.

This action created a huge rift between the parties as it did break the traditional lines that separate the executive and legislative branches of the government. Many believe a president has the authority to negotiate a treaty, and after it is completed, the Senate votes to accept it or not. The Republicans were jumping the gun because they thought Obama overstepped his authority and was willing to give away too much relating to Iran’s ability to complete a bomb.

The question is, does Congress have a right, or even an obligation, to speak up and pre-judge a potentially dangerous arrangement by the president? Damn right it does! It’s unconscionable that the U.S. would negotiate a deal that would make Iran stronger militarily and create an existential threat to Israel.

When IS This ISIS Thing Going To End?

By Sal Bommarito

The possibilities for ISIS are numerous. Depending upon the actions of its opposition, the rebels may survive and/or morph into yet another manifestation of Al Qaeda or another Arab Spring; the former is more likely than the latter.

The surest way to “destroy and degrade” ISIS is for the U.S. to employ ground troops. There seems to be no impetus to do this on a grand scale, but over time, President Obama may approve the deployment of more Special Forces units to help root out ISIS. This action would make bombing missions more productive and give pause to ISIS fighters. Special Forces could also be used to assassinate ISIS leaders, which might destabilize the rebels.

By some miracle, or with the help of Iran, the Iraqis may make some progress in repelling ISIS and recover land absconded by the insurgents. Many are not sanguine about the motivation or the courage of Iraq soldiers, so significant Iranian intervention may be necessary to impact ISIS. Obviously, a mass Iranian intrusion could have a material effect, but there is no reason to believe that the Ayatollah’s army will be more inspired than the Iraqis.

A more significant issue is that the potential influence of Iran will increase in Iraq, as does its military involvement. This contingency will surely affect the tenuous Shiite/Sunni situation in Iraq. The more the Iranians interfere, the less chance Sunnis will ever achieve any significant political power or access to natural resources.

At some point, other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey may reach a breaking point and finally become active members of the coalition. This possibility is doubtful unless ISIS threatens the stability of these nations. For instance, unless ISIS recruits large groups to commit terrorist acts, or ISIS grows strong enough to cross the Iraq or Syria borders, neighboring nations will probably refrain from any aggressive actions.

ISIS may try to establish a new religious state on Iraqi and Syrian territory. This is truly a pipe dream. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the last caliphate ended in 1924. It was overseen by a select group of Imams, but ruled by local leaders. Today, ISIS could never muster the resources to build a secure central government. The chances that any other nations would recognize this new entity are zero. ISIS squandered whatever political capital it had by murdering, immolating and torturing innocent men, women and children.

The final possibility is that the ISIS rebels tire of fighting. Constant bombing threats and months away from home will have an impact on the enthusiasm of the group. It just might dissipate over time leaving a massive, social, political and financial disaster in its wake.

After the hostilities subside, the problems are not over. Civil wars are likely in several places in the region. In particular, the Shiites and Sunnis will be at each other’s throats in Iraq. And, the world will once again be demanding that Assad in Syria abdicate. We can all look forward to continuing issues emanating out of the Middle East including the possibility that Iran may have a nuclear weapon in a few years.

Iran Will Effectively Annex Iraq After ISIS Is Defeated

By Sal Bommarito

Iran is assisting the government of Iraq and fighting side by side with Iraqis against ISIS on the battlefield. This turn of events that is documented in a New York Times story will likely lead to the effective annexation of Iraq by Iran after the war ends.

Iran has filled a void created by President Obama’s decision not to employ ground troops against ISIS. Recent successes on the ground throughout the country have stemmed, to a degree, the advances of the enemy.

There is a method to Iran’s actions that will greatly impact the direction of Iraq after ISIS is neutralized. Iran’s hegemonic behavior is recognized by all Arab nations. Its desire to control Arabs and assist Shiite regimes is infamous. This latest ploy to stem the tide of ISIS on the ground could very well lead to even stronger bonds between these two Shiite-controlled governments as they jointly oppress Sunnis throughout Iraq.

A civil war is inevitable in Iraq post ISIS. In order to gain total control, the Iraqi government must exterminate the ISIS insurgents and marginalize Sunnis who remain in the country. Oppression is virtually guaranteed. In fact, Shiite militia groups have already violated many Sunnis during the campaign against ISIS.

After a decade of support given to Iraq by the U.S. that included the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror, a trillion dollars of financial assistance and thousands of American casualties, Iraq will likely yield to Iran politically.

Could this have been avoided? Yes, if the president had sent in ground troops to take the fight to ISIS, Iranians would not have asserted themselves upon the Iraqis. The price of assisting Iraq after the war might have been prohibitive and could have led to another nation-building adventure, something that most Americans eschew.

The bonds between Iraq and Iran have now strengthened materially and perhaps a puppet government that ruthlessly oppresses the minority religion will result in a tenuous peace.

The subordination of American leadership and military support may be the direction future presidents adopt. But, the impact of such a policy will enable hegemonic nations like Iran to increase their influence in surrounding nations and decrease the chances for democracy.