Obama Is Losing Iraq Just as LBJ Lost Vietnam

tags: LBJ, Iraq, Vietnam, Obama

Max Boot is a leading military historian and foreign-policy analyst.

The Obama White House’s mental synapses must be short-circuiting right now. If the president were a robot (rather than just being a bit robotic), he would by now be repeating over and over: “Does not compute! Does not compute!” Neither of his basic operating assumptions about the anti-ISIS campaign are coming true; in fact, both are being refuted by reality in ways that suggest a fundamental flaw in the underlying mental software.

Assumption No. 1 was that a US air campaign could degrade ISIS and allow its defeat by US allies on the ground. There is no question that the US air campaign has taken a toll. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken just bragged that 10,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since the start of bombing in August. Yet this is hard to square, as Bill Roggio notes at Long War Journal, with previous CIA estimates that ISIS only had 20,000 to 30,000 fighters. If Blinken’s number is right, ISIS should have lost one-half to one-third of its fighters, yet somehow during that time it has actually gained ground in both Iraq and Syria — oh, and estimates of its overall strength have not varied.

This means that either previous CIA estimates were gross underestimates (Roggio believes ISIS had at least 50,000 fighters to begin with) or that it has managed to replenish its losses—or both. Either way, what we are seeing now is what President Lyndon Johnson and Gen. William Westmoreland discovered for themselves in Vietnam: namely that it’s impossible to win a war of attrition against a foe that has a lot more will to fight and suffer losses than you do.

Assumption No. 2 can be summed up as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In both Syria and Iraq, the Obama administration calculated that Iran was the enemy of ISIS — after all, the Iranian regime is Shiite and ISIS is a Sunni organization. Thus the administration has tacitly embraced Iran’s allies — Iraqi Shiite militias and the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad — as the lesser evil in the expectation that they would do for us the dirty work of stopping ISIS. It’s a little hard to square this naïve assumption with the latest news, aptly summed up in a New York Times headline: “Assad’s Forces May Be Aiding ISIS Surge.” There are credible reports that Assad’s air force is making bombing runs in support of an ISIS offensive to capture Aleppo, a major city, from other rebel groups. ...

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