Army Major Exposes The “ISIS Defeat” Myth That No One Is Talking About

Saturday, January 27, 2018
By Paul Martin

by Major Danny Sjursen, op-ed via The Hill,
Sat, 01/27/2018

Under President Obama’s watch, the Islamic State conquered a so-called caliphate the size of Ohio in Syria and Iraq. Luckily a new, “tough” president – Donald Trump – stepped in, loosed restrictions on his military, and, defeated the bad guys. At least that’s the popular story and the party line.

Of course, the ground-level truth is much messier.

If ISIS is so decisively and irreversibly defeated, how then to explain last week’s gruesome double-suicide bombing in Baghdad and expert warnings that up to 10,000 ISIS loyalists remain in Iraq and Syria?

The problem is that, even after 17 years of hard lessons to the contrary, most Americans – and administration spokespeople – insist on viewing ISIS as a linear, conventional threat. A quick look at color-coded Syria maps gives the obvious impression that ISIS as a conventional military force indeed has receded. Plentiful U.S. airstrikes, ample American advisory teams, and local Kurdish ground troops combined to devastate Islamic State’s fighters – which is a positive development.

Unfortunately, that may have been the easy part. Conventional destruction does not equate to total, ideological defeat. ISIS is as much idea as army, and such groups have proved remarkably resilient and capable of morphing into new, menacing manifestations.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis hinted at this, fearing the growth of “ISIS 2.0.” The thing is, we’re already fighting the second manifestation of Islamic State, which used to be called al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and reconstituted itself in U.S. prisons in that country. The next threat is actually ISIS 3.0.

Odds are ISIS leaders, fighters and sympathizers will go underground for a while — in both Iraq and Syria. They’ll keep up their slick media campaign, slowly reconstitute and continue to inspire terror attacks. But there’s something else: America’s regional military presence itself undoubtedly will fuel the Phoenix-like rise of ISIS 3.0.

The Islamic State’s worldview and ideological playbook consist of more than just Sunni chauvinism and jihadi interpretations of the Koran. A third key ingredient has always been virulent opposition to any Western military presence. What Americans view as advising and assisting, jihadis — and an uncomfortable number of like-minded sympathizers — see as occupation.

Trump supporters, most political conservatives and many military officers point to Obama’s supposedly hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 as the impetus for the rise of ISIS. That explanation was simplistic — and, in the case of candidate Trump claiming that Obama literally “founded ISIS,” bordered on the absurd.

Nevertheless, in the court of public opinion (especially among Republicans), the charges stuck. Premature withdrawal indeed can be a serious mistake, but there’s a flip side: Stay too long, and military assistance can resemble invasion or occupation. Notice how that’s rarely discussed.

It’s a tough balance to strike: applying sufficient U.S. military aid when necessary whilst not overstaying a (very brief) welcome. Sixteen full years of U.S. military occupations in the Greater Middle East and a 2003 Iraq regime change have simply tarnished the American brand regionally, perhaps beyond repair. So much so, in fact, that one could argue that any overt U.S. military action tends to be counterproductive. Maybe that’s hard to swallow in hyper-interventionist Washington, but it’s something sober strategists must seriously consider.

Each side of the border, in Iraq and Syria, presents its own challenges.

The Rest…HERE

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