Remember Baghdad Bob?
During the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, or “Baghdad Bob,” kept us laughing by repeatedly declaring that the Iraqi Army was humiliating the Americans everywhere:
Allah will roast their stomachs in hell at the hands of Iraqis. … They’re coming to surrender or be burned in their tanks.
In reality, the U.S. was defeating Saddam Hussein’s army with little difficulty.
Twelve years later, it looks as if Baghdad Bob has a new gig: U.S. secretary of Defense. The Pentagon has certainly begun to sound like him: Obama’s airstrikes are working! The Islamic State (not that they ever dare call it by the name it calls itself) is losing! Victory is at hand! Watch for some lieutenant colonel at the next Pentagon briefing to assure us that Allah will soon roast ISIL’s stomachs in hell.
Meanwhile, mainstream media — always eager to portray Barack Obama positively — has been announcing the Islamic State’s imminent demise since late in 2014:
— A CNN headline asked in November 2014: “Has ISIS peaked? Terror group suffers setbacks in Iraq.”
— The Atlantic announced in January 2015: “ISIS Is Losing Its Greatest Weapon: Momentum: Evidence suggests that the Islamic State’s power has been declining for months.”
— CNN followed a few weeks later with “For ISIS, tough times as it seeks to regroup.”
— The New York Times announced on February 4, 2015, that “ISIS Is Losing in Iraq.”
Speculation about the Islamic State being on its heels came from the Pentagon on April 13, 2015:
ISIL is no longer the dominant force in roughly 25 to 30% of the populated areas of Iraqi territory where it once had complete freedom of movement.
On April 15, Vox buttressed this claim with its own report: “ISIS is losing.”
Just two days after the Pentagon’s announcement, however, everyone had egg on their faces. The Islamic State placed the key city of Ramadi, just seventy miles from Baghdad, under siege, demonstrating all the characteristics of a confident, advancing force rather than a shattered, retreating one.
Then, on April 22, came definitive confirmation.
The map the Pentagon had used to illustrate its claim that the Islamic State had lost 25 to 30 percent of its territory was inaccurate and misleading, leaving out or obscuring information that made it appear as if the U.S. airstrikes had not been successful. The map showed territory that the Islamic State controlled in April 2015, and territory it had lost since August 2014 when the airstrikes started. However, the map did not show territory that the Islamic State had gained between August 2014 and April 2015. It left out all of western Syria, where the Islamic State had made significant gains.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren insisted that the omission was besides the point:
ISIL’s own doctrine says it must gain and hold territory. This map shows they are not achieving their stated goals.
However, he acknowledged that the map was “not meant to be a detailed tactical map,” but simply “a graphic used to explain the overall situation.”
All of this deception was intended to shore up the commander-in-chief. The Obama administration has been striking the Islamic State from the air and claiming great success. But airstrikes alone have never won a war, and Obama has chosen to rely on Kurdish and other forces supported by the U.S. only from the air to roll back the territory that the Islamic State controls.
That reliance was foredoomed.
In September 2014, the New York Times reported:
[Obama] said he envisioned the Free Syrian Army’s providing the ground presence needed to confront ISIS in Syria.
Obama told Chuck Todd of NBC:
We have a Free Syrian Army and a moderate opposition that we have steadily been working with that we have vetted. They have been on the defensive, not just from ISIL, but also from the Assad regime. And what — you know, if you recall, at the West Point speech that I gave, I said, we need to put more resources into the moderate opposition.
Obama’s plan contained two chief problems. First: the Free Syrian Army was a closer ally of the Islamic State than of the United States. The “moderate opposition” to which Obama wanted to devote more resources was not actually opposing the Islamic State at all. For example, the Dawood Brigade — a group aligned with the Free Syrian Army — originally captured James Foley, one of the American hostages beheaded by the Islamic State. When the Dawood Brigade pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, Foley fell into their hands. Also, two months before Obama stated that he was depending upon the Free Syrian Army, several Free Syrian Army brigades pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Bassel Idriss, the commander of an anti-Assad force aligned with the Free Syrian Army, declared the following the day after Obama’s statement:
We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in … Qalamoun. … Our battle is with the Assad regime, and it is on Syrian lands only.
A Free Syrian Army fighter who joined the Islamic State and then labored to get others to follow suit observed in November 2014:
Isis now is like a magnet that attracts large numbers of Muslims.
But there is nothing to be concerned about: Obama tells us the Islamic State is not Islamic, and Baghdad Bob over at the Pentagon tells us they’re losing. They would never lie to us, would they?