Great news from the White House: Our ISIS strategy has been a success overall

“Delusional,” said former U.S. advisor Ali Khedery when asked what he thought of the White House dismissing the fall of Ramadi as a temporary setback. “It’s unbelievable, frankly. I now know what it’s like to have lived through Vietnam, I guess.” Why so glum? Per the Long War Journal, with Ramadi now in ISIS’s hands, the jihadis control every major population center in Anbar province from Fallujah to Al Qaim. ISIS is now within striking distance of Baghdad’s western Sunni suburbs. The White House has gone from opposing using Shiite militias against ISIS for fear of massive sectarian bloodletting and Iran expanding its influence within Iraq to grudgingly tolerating their use so long as the Iraqi government remains nominally in control of them. “You got to fight with the army you got, and this is the army they got,” said one U.S. intel official to Reuters. The Iraqi army, which we spent 12 years building with American blood and treasure, is rickety from corruption, demoralized from battlefield losses, and tasked with protecting a country that barely exists right now in any meaningful sense. Letting this fight turn into a Sunni/Shiite death struggle may actually be the White House’s best play at this point to push ISIS back. This is, evidently, what Josh Earnest considers a generally successful strategy. Close your eyes, clear your mind, and try to imagine media reaction if President Romney’s spokesman were trying to sell Ramadi’s fall as a minor step backward in an otherwise winning campaign.

Next stop: Sectarian civil war in Anbar, if not Baghdad. No matter what happens in Ramadi the next few months, warns Newsweek, the outcome is likely to be bad.

Earlier this month, the first 1,000 Sunni recruits joined a pro-government Sunni tribal militia that is slated to grow to 6,000. But the arming of Sunni militias in Anbar province has been delayed by the opposition of Shiite political leaders who doubt the loyalty of many Sunni Iraqis in an increasingly polarized sectarian atmosphere…

Abadi, a Shiite political leader who promised to lead a more inclusive government, reached a deal on sharing oil revenues with Iraqi Kurds and pushed for arming Sunni tribesmen to fight against ISIS. But Abadi’s plans to arm Sunni militias have been trimmed back by rival Shiite leaders backed by Iran, who favor the ruthless employment of Iranian-trained Shiite militias…

A military victory for Iran’s surrogate militias in Ramadi would amount to a political defeat for the United States and for Abadi. And such a victory could trigger a Sunni backlash that could boost ISIS and prolong, rather than shorten, Iraq’s civil war.

Yesterday the AP wondered how long it’ll be before the White House shifts to a containment strategy against ISIS. Iran presumably isn’t willing to pour endless men and materiel into Iraq to cleanse Anbar of its jihadis. The goal is protecting the southern and eastern Shiite parts of the country; once ISIS takes enough of a beating, they might be willing to reach a cold accommodation with Tehran in which everyone stays more or less in their own sectarian sphere. That’s tricky because it would also require some sort of accommodation between ISIS and Assad, as Iran’s not going to forfeit its chief Arab proxy. But who knows? As ISIS entrenches in Iraq and parts of Syria, maybe they’ll decide they’re better off building a caliphate there than dragging out the fight against Damascus, where they’re already at risk of being overtaken by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. If and when that happens, ISIS would in theory be left to consolidate power in its new jihadistan while AQ and Iran carve up what’s left of Syria. At which point we’d do … what? Send in ground troops to topple the caliphate? Double down on a losing effort to train a national army without a nation? Leave the new ISIS jihadistan more or less alone apart from pinpoint strikes like drone attacks and Special Forces raids on terror camps there? If “success” is this dangerous, what would failure look like?

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