I stole the headline from this Defense One piece by Barry Posen, although maybe I should have filed it under Required Reading. You might want to grab a second or third cup of coffee before you read this one — and you might want to spike it, too.
Prepared? Here you go:
The most important fact revealed by ISIS’s victory is that the “Iraqi Army” no longer exists. This is a different observation from that of Secretary of Defense Carter, who avers that they lost the will to fight. Some people did lose the will to fight in Ramadi. But, we should ask a more fundamental question. Ramadi was under siege for months. How is it that few if any reinforcements were sent to defend a city deemed critical to the defense of Baghdad itself? Public sources reported some fourteen divisions in the Iraqi Army in 2014. Between three and five were destroyed in Mosul, leaving nine. At most one was defending Ramadi. Where were the rest? Indeed, where are they now? How is it that Shiite militias must be called upon to liberate Ramadi? If the Iraqi Army has evaporated, or perhaps more accurately deteriorated into a collection of local militias and palace guards, then the U.S.“re-training” mission in Iraq is vastly more difficult than we have been led to believe. Having claimed to build an Iraqi Army, which seems not to exist, and which one doubts ever really existed, the U.S. military is now trying to build another one, from the ground up. Why will things turn out better this time?
The Bush Administration should have known before going in, and eventually to its credit did slowly learn, that building an effective Arab army from scratch was going to be a difficult and lengthy mission. Saddam’s army proved mostly effective against the Iranians, but dissolved under Coalition attack in 1991, and never fully recovered.
But then came the unintended consequence of the first Gulf War, one which became apparent after 2003.
Saddam learned that an Arab military cannot and will not fight effectively against a well-trained and well-lead western opponent. At least not in a “fair” fight where both sides line up on a clearly demarcated map, and then go at it. Instead, the old Iraqi Army — and Saddam himself — mostly went into hiding in 2003, with hopes of wearing us down and returning to power.
Needless to say, that didn’t work — at least not the second part. Baathism is as dead as the old Iraqi Army, which is as dead as Saddam. The first part however, the wearing us down, worked very well indeed.
But the lesson remains learned that it’s better to hide and live to fight from the shadows another day, than to die in a stand-up fight with a determined opponent. Yesterday, that opponent was us. Today, it’s ISIS.
Our job in Iraq was to help build up a military strong enough to unlearn the lessons of 1991 and 2003. The New Iraqi Army didn’t have to be good enough to stand up to another Coalition attack — it just had to be good enough to stave off the Iranians and deal with any local terrorist threats. Saddam managed it; we could have, too — if we’d stuck around long enough to lead the way and lend some backbone when needed.
Six or seven years of halfhearted effort weren’t enough, and we’re not going to finish the job in the next few panicky months.