Home/Daniel Larison/Why the U.S. Should End Its War in Iraq and Syria

Why the U.S. Should End Its War in Iraq and Syria

The Postdemands that the U.S. must “do more” in an unnecessary war:

Rather than blame Iraqi troops, Mr. Obama should bolster them with more U.S. advisers, including forward air controllers, and more air support. He should insist that Mr. Abadi open a weapons pipeline to Sunni and Kurdish units. Perhaps most important, Mr. Obama should make his priority eliminating the Islamic State — as opposed to limiting U.S. engagement in Iraq.

Obama could do all these things, but there is every reason to assume that the Iraqi government’s forces cannot be “bolstered” enough to retake lost territory or even defend the territory it still controls. If the Iraqi army is failing to put up much resistance, it is doubtful that more U.S. support will make much of a difference. Last week, Steven Metz noted the similarities between this and another ill-fated effort to support an ineffective military in its war effort:

There are also similarities between the military situations in Vietnam and Iraq. In Vietnam, the United States found that even massive amounts of equipment, training, advice and air support could not fix a politicized, poorly led, unmotivated military. And today’s Iraqi military is significantly worse than South Vietnam’s ever was. It has proved consistently inept, except when operating directly with Iranian-backed Shiite militias. During the recent battle for the city of Ramadi, even the elite Golden Brigade, widely considered Iraq’s premier special forces unit, abandoned its positions.

Despite this, the Obama administration’s critics continue to assert that more American trainers and supplies will turn the tide and allow the Iraqi security forces to push IS back. U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, for instance, has called for 10,000 U.S. troops to train the Iraqi forces faster. Certainly it is true that militaries can become dramatically more effective even while fighting insurgents. That is what happened in El Salvador in the 1980s and, more recently, in Colombia. But in both cases, the impetus for improvement came from within those countries’ armed forces, not from American advisers or trainers. All signs are that in this respect, today’s Iraqi military is more like South Vietnam’s than El Salvador’s or Colombia’s. Americans cannot change that [bold mine-DL].

If the U.S. can’t change this, it doesn’t make sense to sink more resources into Iraq and increase its commitment to a war it should never have joined when there is little chance that this will lead to a different result. Should the administration agree to what the Post wants and Iraqi forces are still unable or unwilling to resist ISIS’ advances, there will inevitably be another round of demands that the U.S. “do more” yet again. Sooner or later, this will require the U.S. to escalate its involvement in the war or to admit that it cannot achieve its goals at an acceptable cost. The administration boxed itself in by insisting that “destroying” ISIS was the goal of the campaign, and now it is stuck with gradually increasing the U.S. role in a war that the U.S. could easily have avoided or backing down from its past public statements.

The failures of the war on ISIS to date should force us to have the debate over whether U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria makes sense and serves American interests. We skipped that debate nine months ago, and the absurd “debate” over a new AUMF for this war was never likely to remedy this oversight. Before plunging deeper into a conflict that the U.S. doesn’t need to fight, it is time to ask how doing so will make the U.S. more secure at an acceptable cost. If deeper involvement won’t do that, the U.S. should start making its way towards the exits and should not allow itself to be sucked back in.

Paul Pillar recently observed:

The fight against ISIS is, in multiple respects, not America’s fight. The United States is not the principal original target of the group, and certainly not in the way that it served as the “far enemy” that Al-Qaeda wanted to attack as part of its strategy for getting at the near enemy. The fight is not one the United States can win; winning ultimately will depend on local will of the sort that, as the U.S. secretary of defense observed in his recent awkward but truthful comment, was lacking in the recent combat at Ramadi.

If the U.S. can’t win the war without competent and effective local partners, and if those partners are clearly lacking in both respects, the U.S. absolutely shouldn’t be trying to do more on their behalf. Instead, the U.S. should be finding a way to disentangle itself from a conflict in which it should never have been involved.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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