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How ISIS Catches the United States With Its Pants Down

A new form of asymmetric warfare against the world’s biggest military.

October 9, 2014

Sole of shoe at Highway of Death in Iraq (Christiaan Briggs)

The sense of outright shock towards ISIS in Washington is becoming ever more palpable. While there still is the temptation to deal with the ISIS phenomenon in the usual fashion, making it a political football match between the two parties, shock is rapidly turning ISIS into a bipartisan issue.

On a daily basis, catastrophic news reports are featured on the front pages of newspapers that demonstrate that the United States as a whole has been caught with its pants down. ISIS is, literally, having fun with the world’s largest military by playing a mean game of strip poker with it.

Despicable as ISIS is, it is putting forth a new dimension of asymmetric warfare. The mighty U.S. Air Force – flying high and terrifically well-resourced – is proving impotent against ISIS’s ground game.

The temptation to blame the Obama Administration or the U.S. intelligence services for their lack of foresight may be irrepressible, but it is way off the mark.

Pants down America

At the core, this is the profound failure of an over-resourced and thoughtless U.S. political establishment that has wrongly played the nation’s cards in a militarized style of foreign policy making.

The failure now witnessed in Iraq and Syria therefore is also a strategic failure – and one for which the U.S. military, with its simplistic can-do mindset, bears profound responsibility. This failure is far worse than the Vietnam War (no lessons learned, after all).

What ISIS is bringing to bear can be most straightforwardly described as simply using the avenger style moves of the Old Testament. For example, cutting off water supplies to make a population subservient is as old a tactic as human conflict. So is mass rape and deportation of young women and girls. Nobody needs to attend West Point to see the devastating strategic effects of such moves.

Delusion persists, on bipartisan basis

Even when faced with a torched earth style of enemy, it is still misleadingly argued by many, including those in the Democratic Party camp, that this is the result of Obama withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

One might wish for that to be true, but it isn’t. The original sin, which cast the die for everything that is unfolding in the region now, was the creation of a power vacuum in Iraq. The dismantling of the Iraqi military and the Baath Party must clearly be the most foolish foreign policy decision in modern U.S. history.

That dual move, perpetrated under the aegis of George W. Bush by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, removed the structural backbone from the hellhole that Iraq becomes without such a structure, unsavory though the Baathists and Saddam undeniably were.

In foreign and security policy, the core issue isn’t whether an outfit is likable or not. The core issue is whether or not it is ever advisable for the United States – with all its resources in terms of vast military and intelligence budgets and personnel – to destabilize entire regions.

That was the choice made when Republican amateurs decided “to deal with Saddam.”

Now, these same people – and the same U.S. military that has been executing its campaign – are wondering out loud about the effectiveness of the “new” Iraqi military.

“But we have poured so many resources, especially financial ones, into training the new army, they must become effective at some point,” their pleading goes.

Arguing in that manner is the height of self-delusion. Have they still not learned that “throwing money at it” is the worst of all possible solutions – worse, in fact, than doing nothing?

Anybody who has his or her eyes even half open can tell exactly where much of that money went – into the private pockets of senior Iraqi “military” staff and other officials.

They now own posh residences in Doha and elsewhere in the Gulf region. And, not to be outdone by Russian and Chinese kleptocrats, they have stashed away even more of the hard-earned American taxpayer money that came their way in offshore bank accounts. Bahamas, here we come!

American naiveté aside, the world can see with its own eyes on the TV screens every single day where all the money went that the United States expended on buying the Iraqi “military” all that state-of-the-art equipment. When the under-trained and under-motivated Iraqi “army” met true counter-pressure in former predominately Sunni areas of Iraq, they simple left.

The abandoned equipment went straight into the arsenal of ISIS. The terrorist organization should really pay the U.S. Treasury a licensing fee.

More asymmetry in action

ISIS not only exploits the fact that the United States and its allies can’t put boots on the ground. As for Western nations, the door to that option was closed when George W. Bush created the “alliance of the willing” that drove Iraq into ever deeper morass.

Contrary to American thinking, in a country with no moral core or compass (such as Iraq), no amount of money will bring back any degree of rationality. Like pouring oil onto the fire, it will only fuel further irrationality.

It was also Iraq that created the vacuum in Syria. The United States, discredited and exhausted from a disastrous “war of choice”(!), ended up destabilizing the entire region. The net result of that is that ISIS now has tremendous freedom to move on the ground and prosecute an effective roll-up campaign.

Does anyone seriously think such a vacuum would have come about with Saddam in power? Anybody feel reminded at this stage of the good old adage “Better the devil you know than… ISIS?”

Next stop: Afghanistan

And lest you wonder whether the current crisis in Syria and Iraq is the end of the story, rest assured that it is not. The next “surprise” on this train trip to Hades will occur in Afghanistan. Despite the recent “good” news of a kind of national unity government, the odds are that the situation there will unravel as fast as it has unraveled in Iraq.

The only thing that has held Afghanistan together, if you seriously want to see it as such, was not the presence of American troops, but of American booty. Money flows — officially all the American “reconstruction” funds – are what the various Afghan factions really care about. Noble-sounding interviews in Western media are mere window-dressing.

Washington still has a hard time realizing that its only “achievement” in Afghanistan is that it has fuelled the biggest racket ever perpetrated in any country in the world that has such a low level of economic development.

Stay tuned.


How ISIS practices a new form of asymmetric warfare against the world’s biggest military.

ISIS has caught the US with its pants down.

Despicable as ISIS is, it is putting forth a new dimension of asymmetric warfare.

Meant for the Iraqi military, state-of-the-art military equipment from the US went straight into the arsenal of ISIS.

Washington’s “achievement” in Afghanistan is that it has fueled such a big racket in such an impoverished country.

ISIS uses avenger style moves of the Old Testament to make a population subservient, from cutting off water supplies to rape.

“Throwing money at it” (i.e., the Iraqi military) was the worst of all possible solutions the US could have pursued.