Obama Sends an Additional 450 Advisors to Iraq
In a move eerily similar to those taken in the early days of the Vietnam War, Obama ordered an additional 450 American advisors to Iraq to act as advisors to the Iraqi Army and tribal militias.
As baseball legend Casey Stengel said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Reaction was swift. Within hours, Sen. John McCain, (R AZ) accused Obama of using tactics from the failed Vietnam War to fight the Islamic State in the Middle East, including a lack of support for effective airstrikes and relying on body counts to gauge success.
“It is so reminiscent of another war, another time many years ago, where under then-Secretary of Defense McNamara, this same kind of strategy prevailed,” McCain said, referring to Robert NcNamara, the defense secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. McNamara relied on thousands of advisers during the Vietnam War.
McCain, who fought in Vietnam and was captured by the North Vietnamese continued, “We’re going to send some more, 400 more people, maybe to staff up their headquarters.” Instead, he argued again that the U.S. needs more special operations forces on the ground to direct airstrikes against the Islamic State, and said most of the air combat missions today are returning “without dropping a weapon.”
McCain also warned the administration about relying on body count statistics as a sign of success – a strategy that McNamara also employed. This month, a U.S. official said 10,000 Islamic State fighters had been killed, but McCain said that statistic ignored the growing size of the terrorist group’s fighting force.
“The bragging about killing 10,000 ISIS [troops], they forgot to mention that there are more coming in they are killing,” McCain said. “Also, again reminiscent of the days of the Vietnam War where body count seemed to be the criteria.”
McCain said the White House has yet to take the tougher steps needed to fix the situation. “This is incrementalism at its best or worse, depending on how you describe it,” he added.
The White House Strategy
Despite the criticism, the White House claims this move reflects a new strategy in Iraq. According to the New York Times, the United States forces will use Al Taqqadum, an Iraqi base near the town of Habbaniya in eastern Anbar Province, as their training hub, the White House said. Obama opted to send them at the request of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, and after consultation with Ashton B. Carter, the secretary of defense, and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The president and his team are confident that for now 450 troops are what is necessary,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, adding that the president will “continually evaluate the strategy.”
“These new advisers will work to build capacity of Iraqi forces, including local tribal fighters, to improve their ability to plan, lead and conduct operations against ISIL in eastern Anbar under the command of the prime minister,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS. “This train, advise, and assist mission builds on lessons learned during the past several months and is just one aspect of our commitment to support the Iraqi Security Forces.”
The new strategy will boost the number of American advisers in Iraq to 3,550 and will also include new arms shipments to the Kurds and other tribal militias. The new troops will arrive early this summer and focus on training.
Despite the optimistic tone from the White House, this latest move represents a quickly cobbled together strategy. The Iraqis have lost considerable men and materials in the last few months as well as Ramadi. Rather than presenting a coherent strategy to retake Ramadi and Mosul, the new move is merely a way to throw together new units, without sufficient training and of questionable quality.
According to the New York Times, the Pentagon strategy is to assemble a force to retake Ramadi. To goal is to train and equip up to 10,000 Iraqi tribal fighters in Anbar from the current number of 5,500. More than 3,000 new Iraqi soldiers are to be recruited to fill the ranks of the Seventh Iraqi Army division in Anbar and the Eighth Iraqi Army division, which is in Habbaniya, where the Iraqi military operations center for the province is also based.
However, there is more to winning a campaign to retake Ramadi and Mosul than raw numbers of soldiers. As we have mentioned in previous analysis, it takes a long time to train new soldiers (6 months to a year). There also is a need for trained, seasoned non-commissioned officers to lead the new soldiers in battle.
As the Germans discovered in WW II, equipment and numbers of men don’t make for battle ready units. In the last months of the war, German weapon production was at all-time highs. However, with losses of trained soldiers on the Eastern Front, Germany had to rely on conscripted, quickly trained soldiers to fill the newly created units and handle the weapons. These units were unable to cope with the Allied forces pressing on them from both the East and West.
While the Germans were rushing soldiers to the front, the Americans were usually giving their soldiers about a year of training before being sent into battle. And, although they weren’t as good, man for man, as war seasoned German soldiers, they had the training, air power, and equipment to smash through German lines and eventually win.
This strategy, however, has been ignored by the White House. Like the Germans, they are hoping to quickly train and equip a force that is expected to defeat a seasoned army that has battlefield experience in both Syria and Iraq.
Another problem is that the White House is limiting the availability of air power. McCain, who, as a pilot, specialized in air-to-ground missions when in Vietnam, has noted Obama has yet to approve the use of American spotters on the battlefield to call in airstrikes in and around Ramadi. Nor has it approved the use of Apache helicopter gunships to help Iraqi troops retake the city.
The result is that there has been no substantive change in Obama’s Iraqi strategy. As in the early days of the Vietnam War, the White House is thinking a minor boost in the number of American advisors will have a significant impact in a war with a large, dedicated enemy.
It is likely; the results will also mirror those in Vietnam and South East Asia.
Turkish Election Promises New Tack in War on ISIS
Turkish policy in Syria and Iraq, where Ankara has been accused of aiding militants like ISIS, is likely to change under a new government, according to the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas.
The comments by Demirtas follow a stunning upset in Sunday’s general elections in Turkey, where Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years and is mulling the idea of a coalition government. Erdogan’s AKP party only won 43% of the vote, which prevented it from forming a majority government. It also guaranteed that it wouldn’t be able to change the constitution, which is what Erdogan wanted in order to give himself more power.
The election, however, gave the Kurds more political power as they won 80 seats in the 550 seat parliament.
The result is probably a new strategy towards ISIS. “Coalition governments will not be able to continue to support groups like ISIL and other extremist groups in Syria,” Demirtas said in an interview with CNN.
The reason for the Kurdish victory was a decision to field Kurdish candidates instead of supporting independents. It represented a gamble because if the Kurds didn’t reach 10% of the vote last Sunday, they wouldn’t have won any seats in the Turkish parliament.
The gamble was successful and the Kurds have won considerable political power in determining Turkish policy towards ISIS.
Critics in America have accused Turkey of worrying more about an independent Kurdistan than fighting ISIS and other militant Islamic militias.
Earlier this year, US intelligence chief James Clapper said that the Turkish government is more concerned with its Kurdish opposition. “I think Turkey has other priorities and other interests,” Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee in late February. “They are more focused on what they consider to be a threat with the Kurdish resistance in Turkey,” he explained.
Those feeling were reiterated this week when Obama said there are still thousands of foreign fighters flowing into Syria and Iraq.
“We are still seeing thousands of foreign fighters flowing into, first, Syria, and then, oftentimes, ultimately into Iraq,” he said at a news conference on Monday.
“And not all of that is preventable, but a lot of it is preventable — if we’ve got better cooperation, better coordination, better intelligence, if we are monitoring what’s happening at the Turkish-Syria border more effectively,” he added.
“This is an area where we’ve been seeking deeper cooperation with Turkish authorities who recognize it’s a problem but haven’t fully ramped up the capacity they need. And this is something that I think we got to spend a lot of time on,” he said.
The future of the Turkish policy towards ISIS, Syria, and Iraq will depend to a great deal on political realities. Since no party has a commanding lead, Erdogan will have to piece a coalition in order to rule. This will mean compromises and the question is what Erdogan is willing to give up.
Erdogan does have an edge over the opposition. “There is virtually nothing to unite the different (opposition) political parties other than hostility toward Erdogan,” Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at London-based Chatham House said. “For a coalition, you need some sort of compromise politics, and that kind of culture is not really prominent in Turkey.”
Although Erdogan could call for snap elections, that is a gamble that might further weaken him and his AKP party. One reason for the AKP loss was the voters’ distaste for Erdogan’s belligerent attitude towards his opponents. Failure to honestly seek a compromise with the opposition might make voters more unwilling to give him power. This gives him an incentive to work with the opposition and even the Kurdish HDP party, even though he is historically unwilling to work with the opposition.
If Erdogen decides to work with the Kurds, the reality is that this Turkish election may have more impact than Obama’s 450 American advisors.
House Department of Defense Appropriations: Where the Battle over Budget Priorities Begins
By John Gray
June 10, 2015
Issue Brief #4419
This week, the House of Representatives debates the Department of Defense (DoD) appropriations bill, which provides $490.2 billion in discretionary budget authority (BA) for fiscal year (FY) 2016. The levels provided are nearly the same levels as current funding but $37 billion less than the President requested in his budget submission to Congress. However, the bill also provides resources for a fund dedicated to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), or war funding. When base discretionary and OCO funds are combined, the total budget authority increases to $579.2 billion—about $800 million above requested levels and $24.4 billion more than current funding.
The Turkish Elections: A Major Reversal for Erdogan
By Bulent Aliriza
Center for Strategic and International Studies
June 8, 2015
The June 7 parliamentary elections in Turkey delivered a genuine surprise with massive implications for the country’s political future. Having dominated Turkish politics for over twelve years through three successive victories in 2002, 2007 and 2011, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to retain its majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA). While it still received many more votes than its opponents and will have the largest bloc in the TGNA, the AKP performance is undoubtedly a failure by its previously very high standards. Subject to official confirmation, the AKP vote went down from almost 50 percent in 2011 to just below 41 percent and its share of the 550 seats in the TGNA fell from 327 to 258, below the 276 required for a majority. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) received around 25 percent and 132 seats; the National Action Party (MHP) around 16 percent and 80 seats and the predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) around 13 percent and 80 seats.
Iran’s Enduring Missile Threat: the Impact of Nuclear and Precision Guided Warheads
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
June 10, 2015
Statement before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
Let me begin by thanking the Chairman, Ranking Member, and members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to testify today on what I believe is a critical aspect of the military balance in the Gulf and the potential threat that Iran can pose to its neighbors and the U.S. I have prepared a formal statement describing the Iranian missile threat and addressing what is and is not known in the unclassified domain regarding the full range of Iran’s artillery rockets, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. I respectfully request that this be included in the record. Iran uses missiles as one of three key aspects of its military efforts. The other two include forces for asymmetric warfare in the Gulf and nearby waters, and efforts to use its Al Quds forces, other elements of its IRGC and intelligence services and arms transfers to expand its influence into nearby states and areas like Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
Did the Supreme Court Just Give Obama’s Iran Deal a Major Assist?
By John Yoo
American Enterprise Institute
June 10, 2015
National Review Online
At first glance, yesterday’s decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry might seem destined to end up as but a footnote in most constitutional-law books. It decides only whether the president or Congress controls the content of U.S. passports — now Nancy Pelosi can no longer demand that the Golden Gate Bridge appear on the visa pages of your next one. But because Zivotofsky involves the treatment of Jerusalem, it adds to the president’s foreign-affairs arsenal and could affect the struggle over U.S. Middle East policy, such as an Iranian nuclear deal. Zivotofsky upholds the executive’s right to control passports. According to the Court’s decision, the State Department, rather than Congress, decides whether to record the birthplace of a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem as “Jerusalem,” rather than “Israel.” All of the justices agree that the president holds a monopoly on the recognition of foreign governments, which stems from his exclusive constitutional authority to “receive Ambassadors” and has existed since President Washington’s 1793 proclamation of neutrality during the French Revolution. Congress, on the other hand, has the authority to control immigration, the borders, and international travel.
Turkey’s Postelection Future
By Sinan Ülgen and Marc Pierini
June 9, 2015
On June 7, Turkey’s electorate shook up the country’s political landscape: the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority, while the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) entered the legislature for the first time. In this blog post, Sinan Ülgen assesses the domestic implications of the result, then Marc Pierini considers Turkey’s international outlook. After almost thirteen years of single-party government, Turkey is entering an era of coalitions. No party was able to obtain a clear majority at the parliamentary election on June 7. With almost all the votes counted, the ruling AKP looks to have won 258 seats, eighteen short of a majority. This result was a setback for the party’s ambition to establish another single-party government.
ISIS’s Military Operations during Ramadan: A Forecast for 2015
Institute for the Study of War
June 7, 2015
The purpose of this intelligence forecast is to outline ISW’s assessment of the most likely and most dangerous courses of action for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to pursue during Ramadan (June 17, 2015 to July 17, 2015). For the past three years, ISIS has conducted major offensive operations during the Ramadan holy month, accomplishing its major annual campaign objectives. Its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), had historically also elevated violence in Iraq during Ramadan. ISIS is therefore likely preparing a surge of operations to try to achieve important campaign objectives. ISIS can also be expected to commemorate its declaration of a Caliphate on the first full day of Ramadan 2014 by trying to build upon or surpass its declaration of the caliphate last year. ISIS could do so by accomplishing new military objectives, striking religious targets, or announcing a new political milestone. Regardless, ISIS is likely to begin and end Ramadan with attempted spectacular military offensive actions in Iraq and Syria.
Beyond Islamists and Autocrats: Prospects for Political Reform Post Arab Spring
By David Schenker and Sarah Feuer
Concern about the political direction of the Middle East has long ago replaced the optimism that briefly followed the 2010-11 so-called Arab Spring. Many countries in the region seem headed toward either a return of traditional dictators or a new Islamist authoritarianism. Yet all is not lost. The Arab states have not fallen like dominoes to the Islamists. Modest opportunities to move toward greater pluralism, more-representative government, and increased respect for universal human values can be found in several places in the region. And in other areas, the poor governance record and declining popularity of Islamists in power are creating an opening for non-Islamist alternatives. To address the prospects for the region’s non-Islamist, nondictatorial forces, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is announcing the publication of a new series of scholarly papers, Beyond Islamists and Autocrats: Prospects for Political Reform Post Arab Spring, to be published over the next eighteen months. The essays offer sober assessments of non-Islamist and non-Islamist pluralistically inclined actors in a dozen or so Middle East states. The analysis focuses on the particular conditions in each country, detailing the goals, strengths, and weaknesses of the groups in question, and exploring their approach in the contest with their Islamist rivals.
What Turkey’s Election Results Mean
By Soner Cagaptay
June 8, 2015
This weekend, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its thirteen-year parliamentary majority. According to unofficial results from the June 7 elections, its vote tally dropped to 41 percent, down from 50 percent in 2007. Elsewhere, the main opposition faction — the leftist Republican People’s Party (CHP) — saw its support drop from 26 percent to 25 percent, while the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) boosted its tally from 13 percent to over 16 percent. And the smaller Kurdish nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) more than doubled its support, winning 13 percent on a liberal platform that reached out to women as well as political and ethnic minorities. Preliminary results indicate that the AKP will hold 258 seats in the 550-seat legislature, CHP 132, MHP 80, and HDP 80. Since no party holds a majority, the next government will be either a coalition or minority government. The AKP can form a coalition with just one partner, whereas the other parties need at least two partners to muster a majority.
Why Drip-Feeding U.S. Support Won’t Work in Iraq
By Michael Knights
June 5, 2015
In Paris this week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken gave us his vision of the war effort: It will be a long war, but the right strategy is in place, and Washington is going to “redouble our efforts.” That last point is exactly the problem. The United States is constantly redoubling its efforts, because it’s drip-feeding support to Iraq at a time when its enemy, the Islamic State — and its competitors, Iran’s militant proxies — are outperforming Washington by a long shot. The U.S. campaign in Iraq since 2014 has been a study in too little, too late half-measures that do not actually save American resources in the long term. Instead, Washington just ends up needing to deepen its investment anyway — only, each time its allies trust it a little less, thousands more Iraqis have died, and irreplaceable communities and cultural artifacts have been lost forever. Time is decidedly not on the side of the United States. As then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told me in March 2014, the Iraqi government had been requesting U.S. airstrikes and Special Forces assistance against the Islamic State since the end of 2013. The U.S. unwillingness to act then did not save it anything: Its Iraqi ally collapsed, and now it has been forced into another military campaign.