Retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal said a lack of credibility among Iraqi’s leadership led to the Iraqi army’s collapse as ISIS advanced.
McChrystal and Chris Fussell, co-authors of Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, were asked why the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS have been effective in fighting against forces trained by the United States.
“You go back to Vietnam, you go back to other times when we struggled with client elements, if the government isn’t credible with the people, if the soldiers or police are not there for the right reasons, you are never going to get the performance that you really like and it’s not just a problem we have but it is one to pay attention to,” McChrystal said during a discussion at the New America Foundation.
“So when the Iraqi army collapsed in Mosul a year ago, they didn’t do it because they lacked equipment, they didn’t do it because they didn’t have enough soldiers, they did it because the leadership all the way up to the national level wasn’t credible enough with the people to cause the organization to have cohesion, so if you don’t have those basics there you are building on a weak foundation and it just doesn’t work,” he added.
In May, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the United States is “not going to be responsible for securing the security situation inside of Iraq.”
“Our strategy is to support the Iraqi security forces in doing what we will not do for them,” he said. “The United States is prepared to train them, to equip them, and to back them on the battlefield with coalition military air power as they take the fight to ISIL in their own country.”
Fussell, a New America Foundation senior fellow, said it is easy to train great fighters.
“The Taliban has been around for generations. The warrior spirit in Afghanistan has been there forever so it’s no surprise that – it was certainly an awakening for well-trained U.S. soldiers to show up and meet the fighter in Afghanistan who is a 24-year-old in flip flops that can sprint up and down a mountain in 3 minutes,” he said.
“That’s sort of eye-opening. Now, we are well beyond that, everybody understands that there are dramatic threats around the world that look radically different, but I think the surprise of the capability at the individual level lasted maybe a year or so and now everybody just gets it — there are good fighters everywhere in the world that there’s a cause to fight for.”
McChrystal said the U.S. is struggling with “information operations” in the Middle East.
“It’s easier for the opposition because they are running against the incumbent. We are in many cases allied with regimes that exist and therefore when we are the incumbent you’ve got a record people can criticize and there’s probably a hundred years now of history that a lot of the groups in there can point out and go, ‘this is not going well.’ It has not been providing political, social or economic opportunity for the people and there’s enough truth in that that it makes it wait,” McChrystal said.
“The degree to which we are painted with that same brush, either painted with the brush of being allied with regimes that lack credibility or we are viewed as colonialists or imperialists or just a superpower – that makes us vulnerable,” he added.
McChrystal, the former head of Joint Special Operations Command, noted that the U.S. has many assets, including a strong economy.
“We’ve got an extraordinary set of values that are largely respected around the world, we’ve got a strong economy which people would like to be a part of,” he said.
Despite its assets, McChrystal argued the U.S. lacks a “grand narrative” in the war on terrorism.
“I don’t think we have a large grand narrative that talks about what it is we are trying to do and where we are trying to do. There have been some efforts made,” he said.
“I’m not going to say people haven’t been trying but I don’t think we’ve succeeded in creating a large information strategy message, narrative, that says, ‘this is the direction we are going, this is what the United States stands for.’ We’ve been struggling in the region ever since 1947, as you know, as soon as we recognized Israel, that created a schism and then there have been things ever since – right or wrong – it put us in a whole new ballgame.”