In an op-ed published Sunday in The Washington Post, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, one-time CIA director and former commander of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, said that Barack Obama’s failures in Iraq could lead to “ISIS 3.0.”
Petraeus implicitly criticized Obama’s policies in the Middle East, saying that American forces “obviously lack the authority, remit and sheer numbers” that they did during the Bush administration.
While acknowledging that U.S. support of Iraqi forces had made some difference in the conflict — most notably successes in the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul — he said the sectarian challenges created could plunge recaptured cities into Islamist violence and give birth to a new, more potent strain of the Islamic State group. He wrote:
“There is no question that the Islamic State will be defeated in Mosul; the real question is what comes afterward. Can the post-Islamic State effort resolve the squabbling likely to arise over numerous issues and bring lasting stability to one of Iraq’s most diverse and challenging provinces? Failure to do so could lead to ISIS 3.0.”
Petraeus recounted his experience leading the 101st Airborne when they came into Mosul during the occupation of Iraq back in 2003. He said that their “first task, once a degree of order had been restored, was to determine how to establish governance.”
That was difficult in a place where sectarian squabbles, numerous militias and decades of built-up acrimony existed. Back then, of course, they had the ability to control this through American occupation forces, whereas Obama has been reluctant to even consider the idea of using American influence to steer political elements within Iraq towards a peaceful solution.
“U.S. forces today obviously lack the authority, remit and sheer numbers of the U.S. elements in Iraq in 2003. They also do not have the mandate that we had in the early days. But the enabling forces that the U.S.-led coalition has provided for Iraqi elements over the past year — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, advisers, logistical elements, and precision strike platforms, in particular — have been instrumental in the successes enjoyed by the Iraqis in Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit, Baiji, Qayyarah and a host of other battle sites.”
However, he wrote that “the most significant challenge in Mosul will not be to defeat the Islamic State; rather, it will be the task we faced there in 2003: to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people”
Petraeus concluded that if and when the Islamic State group is defeated in Iraq, America “will have considerable influence over the resolution of the issues. It will have to exercise that influence.” That’s a not entirely subtle jab at President Obama, who has been relatively content to sit on the sidelines and let the people of Iraq work things out.
Keep in mind that Petraeus is one of the people who knows best the type of challenges that exist in Iraq, and the kind of situation that could foment an insurgency. The fact that he’s talking about the possibility of an Islamic State 3.0 is a deeply disturbing one. It’s also a sign that we need to consider the possibility when we go to the polls this November, lest we get another four years of absent leadership when it comes to terrorism.
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