As an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist army sweeps across Syria into the heart of Iraq and the US dithers on whether to intervene, John McCain launched a broadside against the Obama administration from the Senate floor earlier today. McCain demanded the immediate resignation of the entire White House national security team, advising Barack Obama that he has been “ill served” by their advice and their decisions. McCain urged that anyone who declared the withdrawal from Iraq a success should be canned, which would include Obama himself, although McCain stopped short of that demand:
McCain blames Obama and his national security team for the rout by withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq and calling back the generals he called the successful architects of security in the war-ravaged country.
McCain specifically called for the resignation of Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The first thing is get rid of this national security team, which has been a total failure,” he said told reporters ahead of a classified Senate Armed Services briefing on the security situation in Iraq. “[They] called back in people who succeeded in Iraq like General Petraeus, General Mattis, many of the other leaders —General Keane, who’s the architect of the surge. …
“Get rid of his entire national security team, the same ones who said we’re safely out of Iraq,” he added.
McCain isn’t alone in condemning the Obama administration for its pretense of victory in Iraq. General James Dubik, who commanded forces in Iraq in 2007-8, accused the US of allowing a power vacuum to develop in Iraq with our disengagement, which only “pretended” that the war in Iraq was over in 2011:
The war in Iraq was not over when the United States withdrew from Iraq in 2011. We just pretended that it was. Like it or not, our departure left a diplomatic and security vacuum that contributed to the crisis unfolding there. The government of Iraq floundered in that vacuum, promulgating the wrong domestic policies and allowing the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to backslide to pre-2007 performance levels. The net result has been that Al-Qaeda in Iraq has not only reconstituted but expanded, drawing in many of those disenfranchised and disillusioned by Iraq’s domestic policies. Worse, it has morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose stated ambition is to create a new Islamic state, absorbing parts of Syria and Iraq. As the past few days have amply demonstrated, ISIS is already more than capable of taking territory and governing.
In much of eastern Syria, ISIS serves as the de facto government. Is it advancing rapidly into northern, central and western Iraq. This week it seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city; most of Baiji, home of one of the largest oil facilities in Iraq; and Tikrit. Now it is moving south toward Samarra and Baqubah, en route to Baghdad. It is already entrenched in Fallujah and Ramadi as well as in most of Iraq’s western desert. Its terror campaigns are destabilizing Baghdad and threatening Salahuddin, Tamin and Diyala provinces — the territory between Mosul and Baghdad that it wants to seize next.
While we have been debating whether ISIS fits our definition of a threat, the on-the-ground realities have been passing us by. If ISIS achieves its goal, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran will have a radical, fundamentalist Islamic state on their borders. Iraq will be split in two, Israel threatened and the security of the United States and the rest of the West put at significantly greater risk. The question isn’t whether ISIS is part of al-Qaeda. Rather, the question for the United States and its allies is: Do we keep pretending that the war is over or acknowledge that events in Iraq are rapidly moving in a direction at odds with our security interests? What’s our plan? …
Halting the offensive is Iraq’s nearest-term objective. What is needed is a coordinated air and ground action consisting of both a heavy dose of precisely applied firepower and a sufficiently executed ground defensive. The Iraqis are incapable of such action alone. The firepower will have to be delivered by United States and allied aircraft augmented by Iraqi assets. The Iraqis will also need a small group of advisers to target air support correctly and to help identify or create capable, well-led units that are properly employed and backed by sufficient sustainment capacity. The advisory and support effort must be substantial enough to help the Iraqis conduct an initial defense and then plan and prepare a series of counter-offensive campaigns to regain lost areas. This will be a multi-year effort, but it cannot become a second surge.
In other words, we need to re-engage militarily, and in a significant way — not just with a few drone strikes. Dubik considers the re-introduction of a large American and/or coalition ground force to be impractical, and that’s certainly true in the near term logistically, and in the longer term politically. But Dubik lays out the threat accurately, and that requires some sort of response from the Obama administration.
However, the current national-security team still seems incapable of grasping the threat. That makes McCain’s suggestion all the more valid. We need a national security team that understands that wars end when all sides stop fighting, and not merely when we leave. And that’s a lesson that has even more application in Afghanistan than in Iraq, and the Taliban 5 swap proves that this national security team still hasn’t figured it out.