US military kills Islamic State’s ‘Minister of Information’

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Long War Journal, by Bill Roggio, Sept. 16, 2016:

The US military announced today that it killed the Islamic State’s “Minister of Information” and central shura member in an airstrike near Raqqah, the jihadist group’s capital in Syria, ten days ago. Wa’il Adil Hasan Salman al-Fayad, the information minister who was also known as Dr. Wa’il, is the second top Islamic State leader killed by the US in the last three weeks.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook announced Dr. Wa’il’s death in a statement released by the Department of Defense . Wa’il was the target of “a precision strike.” The Islamic State has not officially announced the death of Wa’il.

“He operated as the Minister of Information for the terror organization and was a prominent member of its Senior Shura Council – ISIL’s leadership group,” Cook stated, using the outdated acronym ISIL to describe the Islamic State.

As information minister, “Wa’il oversaw ISIL’s production of terrorist propaganda videos showing torture and executions.” The Islamic State’s brutal execution videos, which include beheadings, burning people alive, drownings and crucifixions, have played a key role in recruiting violent fighters across the globe.

Wa’il was also a “close associate” of Abu Muhammad al Adnani, the Islamic State’s top spokesman who also served as the group’s external operations chief and a senior recruiter.

Adnani was killed just nine days before Wa’il. Adnani was one of the Islamic State’s most prominent leaders. He announced the establishment of the caliphate and formation of the Islamic State in 2014, and has been at the forefront in calling for sectarian attacks inside of Iraq and Syria as well as attacks against the West.

The Islamic State announced Adnani’s death on Aug. 30, and said he was killed along with other fighters while directing military operations in the Syrian town of Al Bab. The US military confirmed Adnani’s death 14 days after the Islamic State announced he was killed. [See LWJ reports, Islamic State says senior official killed in Aleppo province and US confirms it killed Islamic State’s spokesman and external operations chief.]

The US military has targeted and killed several key Islamic State leaders over the past several months as the jihadist group has lost key terrain in both Iraq and Syria. Abu Omar al Shishani is one of the most important Islamic State commanders who have been killed by the US since it began launching airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014. He was an ethnic Chechen from Georgia whom the US claimed was the group’s overall military commander. The US killed Shishani in an airstrike near Mosul in July 2016.

Another important Islamic State leader who was killed by the US was Abu Wahib, the notorious military commander who was responsible for overrunning much of Anbar province in 2014. Abu Wahib waged jihad with al Qaeda during the US occupation and escaped from an Iraqi prison in 2012 to rejoin the fight. The US killed him in an airstrike in May 2016.

The US military has also scored successful kills against the Islamic State’s leadership outside of Iraq and Syria. The most prominent leader killed by the US outside of Iraq and Syria was Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Islamic State’s emir for Khorasan province, or Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former mid-level commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Khan was killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar in July 2016.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

Tehran Visit Showcases Role of Iranian-Backed Militias in Iraq

ali-akbar-velayati-and-kabi-in-tehranSheikh Akram al Kabi just completed a high-profile visit to Iran, in which he pledged loyalty not to his native Iraq but to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

CounterJihad, Sept. 9, 2016:

The Long War Journal has an excellent piece on the recent visit to Tehran of Iraqi militia leader Akram al Kabi, of the Harakat al Nujaba militia.

Militia officials frequently travel to Iran, but the publicity surrounding Kabi’s visit is unprecedented. This indicates the rising clout of the Iraqi cleric among the political elite in Tehran.

Kabi boldly proclaimed his allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, as well as the concept of velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, which is the political and theological basis of the Islamic Republic as established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Kabi echoed Tehran’s propaganda claims, and boasted about targeting American forces during the Second Gulf War. He reiterated his commitment to the “Axis of Resistance,” an alliance of state and non-state actors led by Iran. Kabi vowed that the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the umbrella organization of Iraqi paramilitary groups that includes Iranian-backed groups such as Nujaba, would participate in the anticipated operation to lay siege to Mosul, which has been held by the Islamic State since 2014. Following Mosul, Kabi called for Iraqi militias to shift resources to Syria and chase the Islamic State into the strongholds of Deir ez-Zour and Raqqah. He also threatened to target Turkish forces stationed near Mosul.

The role of velayat-e faqih in Iran’s control of regional militia forces cannot be overstated.  The core theory of the Iranian revolution, it holds that only a specialized class of Shi’ite clerics can properly manage human affairs through government.  Loyalty is thus not properly given to either the elected officials of the semi-modern states of the region, nor to the tribal leaders who are often the real powers in much of the Middle East.  Rather, both the state and the tribe should be subordinated to properly trained religious leaders.  What constitutes a “properly trained” religious leader?  One trained in Iran’s elite schools, of course, preferably holding at least the rank of Ayatollah.

This does not bar the existence of elected governments, to be sure.  Iran has one itself.  However, every aspect of the elected government is placed under the “guardianship” of some cleric or body of clerics.  Iran’s “Guardian Council,” made up of such clerics, determined who was even allowed to stand for office in the last round of elections.  They dismissed 99% of the proposed candidates from the moderate and reformist parties, requiring that those parties recruit cleric-approved hardliner candidates even to participate in the elections.  Thus, while there was still an election, and the ‘moderate and reformist’ parties did fairly well, actual power became even more concentrated among those hand-picked by the clerical leadership.

Kabi, a US-designated foreign terrorist, will be participating in the attack on Islamic State (ISIS) positions near Mosul.  The United States is deploying nearly five thousand troops in the same assault.  Kurdish forces will also be participating.  The aftermath of the battle against ISIS in Mosul will thus be nearly as contentious as the actual battle itself, as Iran, the Kurds, the Turks, and the United States all scramble to try to sort out what the final disposition of the highly-contested and strategic city happens to be.  As the Long War Journal points out, Kabi is vociferously opposed to the United States’ interests, and describes his militia (here labeled “PMF,” an acronym that means “popular mobilization forces”) as a counterweight to American ambitions in Iraq:

During the meeting with Rezai, Kabi claimed that the PMF’s participation in the Mosul operation would foil a U.S. plan to build permanent military bases there. He claimed that the U.S. opposes PMF participation in Mosul because it intends to build such a base. Kabi touted the Iraqi Prime Minister’s decision to deploy PMF forces to Mosul.

Iran clearly intends to use these forces to limit America’s ability to shape the final outcome.  Khamenei’s loyalists are not in any sense swayed to rethink their relationship to the United States, neither by the so-called “Iran deal” nor by the fact that the Obama administration’s policies are supporting Iran’s own ambitions in Iraq and Syria.  They still regard the United States as the enemy, and are acting accordingly.

Also see:

Newt Gingrich: 9/11 anniversary — 15 years of strategic defeat, dishonesty and humiliation

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Fox News, by Newt Gingrich, Sept. 9, 2016:

“I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat.” — That was Winston Churchill’s description of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s surrender to Hitler in the Munich Agreement of 1938.

Yet Churchill’s words also apply to where the United States is today.

Our men and women in uniform have been heroic.

Many have signed up to serve again even after being wounded.

Our tactical units remain the best in the world.

Our intelligence officers and diplomats have risked their lives in service to the country.

The problem is not with the sincerity, the courage, the energy or the effort of individual Americans.

The problem has been the approach of a bipartisan Washington political elite that has squandered 15 years, thousands of lives, many thousands wounded, and trillions of dollars with no coherent strategy, no honest assessment of the challenge, and no willingness to learn from failure and develop new strategies and new institutions.

Since September 11, 2001, we have moved from righteous anger and clarity of purpose against the forces of terrorism in the immediate aftermath of the attacks to now sending $1,700,000,000 in cash to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

We have watched our efforts in Iraq collapse while our efforts in Afghanistan decay.

We have seen the Middle East grow more violent, more chaotic, and more ungovernable despite 15 years of American and allied effort.

Fifteen years ago this week, terrorists killed 2,977 Americans in the worst surprise attack on our homeland since Pearl Harbor, 70 years earlier. In fact, 574 more Americans were killed on 9/11 than on December 7, 1941.

It was a huge, tragic, and deeply emotional shock. And yet the 9/11 attack was not the beginning of our war with Islamic supremacism.

By 2001, we had been at war with the Iranian dictatorship (still to this day listed by the State Department as the leading state sponsor of terrorism) for 32 years, when Iranians seized the American embassy in Tehran. Mark Bowden described the event appropriately in the title of his book, “Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam.”

From an American perspective, that war had continued in Lebanon in the 1980s and in Saudi Arabia, East Africa and Yemen in the 1990s.

In 2001, the terrorist war came to American soil with shocking results.

American anger was vivid and deep. President Bush reacted with powerful, clear, morally defining words.

In his address to the Joint Session of Congress, just nine days after the 9/11 attack, President Bush asserted “on September 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country.”

President Bush described a huge goal. “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated,” he said.

President Bush described the scale of the challenge, saying, “Americans are asking: How will we fight and win this war? We will direct every resource at our command–every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war– to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.”

Bush went on to warn that “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have seen. …Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

President Bush wisely warned that “the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows.”

Four months later, in his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush described North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an “Axis of Evil”.

Bush warned that “the United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” The Congress applauded.

And that was the high water mark of the response to 9/11.

Just this week, North Korea had its fifth nuclear test. Last week North Korea launched three missiles in direct violation of United Nations Resolutions.

We now know that while deceiving the Congress and the American people, the Obama Administration has sent $1,700,000,000 to what even the State Department says is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, the Iranian dictatorship.

Iraq, at great cost in American lives, wounds and money, has degenerated into a mess dominated by Iran and by ISIS.

How did we go from brave words to defeat, dishonesty, and humiliation?

Tragically, after heroic leadership in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (who can forget President Bush in New York standing next to the fireman and promising that the people who attacked New York would hear from all of us?) and after delivering exactly the right words to Congress, the Bush administration failed to plan for how big, how hard, and how long the fight with Islamic supremacists would be.

Almost immediately, the lawyers began imposing rules and regulations.

It was decided not to declare war even though President Bush had described 9/11 “as an act of war” in his congressional address.

The State Department began pushing back against an honest, clear statement of who was attacking us.

The Defense Department was very cautious about distorting the military establishment with an aggressive focus on learning how to defeat Islamic supremacists.

The initial Afghanistan campaign was brilliant, lean, decisive, and gave us an exaggerated sense of how powerful we were and how weak our enemies were. However, the campaign was understaffed and under resourced. We did not invest the military power to completely destroy the Taliban.

President Bush had warned that “you are with us or you are against us,” but the State Department rapidly began to offer an alternative in which you could be a little with us and a little against us.

Pakistan was with us in providing a logistics system to sustain our forces in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan was against us in providing an enormous sanctuary for the Taliban in the northwest region. Instead of thinking through the cost of a campaign to wipe out the Taliban sanctuary, we limped along in exactly the kind of indecisive guerrilla war we had waged in Vietnam. Today the Taliban has regained momentum and, the minute we leave, Afghanistan is likely to fall back into Islamist dictatorship.

Our efforts to create a modern Afghanistan were crippled by a State Department bureaucracy that was clearly unwilling to cut through red tape and learn to be effective. This pattern of systemic incompetence would be repeated in Iraq because the Bush Administration was simply unwilling to reform the State Department. Failure abroad was more acceptable than a bitter bureaucratic fight in Washington.

Once the Iraq campaign began, resources were drained from Afghanistan and the military was stretched almost to the breaking point. The unwillingness to build a genuine wartime military began to cost us lives and wounded warriors as we found ourselves unable to field and sustain the combat power that was needed. Jake Tapper’s book “The Outpost” details the tragic costs of an American military which is overextended and tries to accomplish more than it is resourced to achieve.

The Iraq campaign might have been a brilliant success if Ambassador Bremer had not changed the mission in mid-war.

The American military knew it could defeat Saddam Hussein very rapidly but it also knew that it then had to rebuild the Iraqi system and let Iraqis run their own country. It would have taken four times as many troops to actually occupy and police Iraq.

Bremer seemed to think he was supposed to profoundly change Iraq and he set about to do so with little coordination with the American military and little understanding of how deep the internal hatred and potential violence among Iraqis was.

Instead of a brief campaign Americans have been sucked into endless conflict.

As an example of the dishonesty in the title of this paper, it is simply a lie to say we don’t have boots on the ground in Iraq. At last count there were more than 4,400 American troops in Iraq, not counting temporary forces rotating in and out.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have failed to define the scale of the threat, the determination of our enemies, and the very real dangers we face.

Since the bipartisan establishment can’t even define the threat, it certainly can’t define a strategy for success.

As our enemies grow stronger and smarter, we slide from defeat to humiliation.

As our enemies watch us accept humiliation, they grow bolder and more daring.

There is a remarkable parallelism to Iranian ships crowding our navy and Russian planes crowding our air force.

None of this is a surprise.

I have posted here a paper from 2002 and 2003 warning that we had lost our way.

We have eight weeks before an historic election.

We need a robust, courageous, and honest debate about where we are and what we need to do — 15 years after 9/11.

Newt Gingrich, a Republican, was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is the author of the new novel “Duplicity” and co-author, with his wife Callista Gingrich, of “Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future” (Center Street, May 17, 2016).

Also see:

Why Aleppo Matters: Syrian Army Just Broke Islamist Stronghold

syria-guide-mapDaily Caller, by Saagar Enjeti, Sept 8, 2016:

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is tightening the noose around the jihadi stronghold city of Aleppo, possibly his greatest victory in the Syrian civil war.

Assad’s move in Aleppo could reverse all the gains a jihadi-led coalition made last month when it broke the regime’s siege. Aleppo has become a focal point of the broader Syrian opposition and involves almost every major player except the U.S. “Pro-regime forces reinstated the siege of Eastern Aleppo City” Sept. 4, the Institute for the Study of War noted Wednesday, explaining that, “new advances demonstrated the critical role played by Russia.”

Russia is pounding opposition-held areas of Aleppo in daily airstrikes. Iran just dispatched its favorite general to help coordinate the ground offensive, and earlier this month Hezbollah sent thousands of fresh troops to fight alongside the Assad regime. The Syrian regime even flouted the international community Wednesday when it likely dropped chlorine gas on civilians.

The only realistic chance of an end to hostilities in Aleppo is a potential deal between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reports indicate that Obama was considering signing a deal with Putin for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo, in exchange for military cooperation between the two countries. After months of haranguing over the details, the deal is now unlikely to come to fruition amid continued tensions between the two countries.

Syrian rebel opposition held positions inside Aleppo for nearly five years, but are unlikely to overcome Assad, Iran, and overwhelming Russian firepower. A rebel coalition led by al-Qaida-linked elements broke a government siege of Aleppo in early August, but the effort likely exhausted the military supplies of the groups. The reinstitution of a siege will deprive the group of supplies, and allow the regime and its allies to revert back to the original strategy of attrition warfare.

Despite a devastating five years of civil war, 300,000 civilians remain inside Aleppo. One humanitarian activist told Al Jazeera there are now only two bakeries in Aleppo to serve the remaining 300,000 customers.

Assad, Iran, and Russia have undertaken a concerted campaign to make the rebel position as untenable as possible, by bombing hospitals and cutting off any access to humanitarian assistance. The regime and its allies have tried to bomb as many hospitals as possible within Aleppo to cut off Rebel access to healthcare.

Cutting access to healthcare and food also makes life as miserable as possible for civilians living under rebel occupation.

The Assad regime’s strategy is to maintain control over as much of the civilian populace as possible to ensure perception of legitimacy in the eyes of the world, and bargain with the rebel opposition for peace from a position of strength.

“It is a shame that the world in the 21st century is watching an 8,000-year-old city destroyed on the heads of its inhabitants and bombed with 200 air raids and dozens of barrel bombs daily without doing anything,” President of the Opposition Council Anas Alabdah told The Daily Beast.

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Erik Prince: Clinton’s ‘Foreign Policy Record Is a Disaster,’ Trump Is ‘Willing to Take a Different Direction’

Getty Images

Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Sept. 8, 2016:

Retired Navy SEAL and former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince thought it was “shocking indeed that Matt Lauer asked any question that wasn’t pre-scripted from the Clinton team” during Wednesday night’s national security forum.

“I think perhaps the lies, the distortions have reached a tipping point, that the rest of the media is saying, we can’t be this dishonest all the time on these matters, we have to do something right,” Prince told Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow on Thursday’s Breitbart News Daily on SiriusXM.

He thought Trump was stronger on content during the forum, because “Hillary doesn’t have anything to be strong on, content-wise.”

“Her foreign policy record is a disaster, whether it’s being part of pulling out of Iraq, basically when the war had been won and the country had been stabilized, all that blood and treasure and effort, literally thrown down the drain by the Obama Administration,” Prince said.

“And then her leading a cavalry charge into Libya, to cause what was a cooperating state on counter-terrorism, they’d given up their nuclear weapons, and she turned it into an Islamic fascist kinda hell-hole that is still melting down – a transit point for millions of refugees a year, thousands of which drowned, people being beheaded, Coptic Christians being murdered, the list of terribles. So she has no record to go on,” he pronounced.

Prince agreed with a caller that Trump could do more with Hillary Clinton’s sale of American uranium reserves to Russia, calling the story “an under-explored question, certainly by the mainstream media.”

Clinton Cash does an excellent job of covering it. Unfortunately, enough of America hasn’t seen it yet,” he said. “To elaborate, due to a significant donation into the Clinton Foundation, the State Department ended up approving the sale of a company that owns 20% of the uranium in the United States, certainly a strategic fuel stock for us here, for nuclear energy production, and of course for nuclear weapons, if necessary. It’s now in the hands of a Russian state enterprise.”

Marlow asked for Prince’s take on Donald Trump’s often-repeated call for “taking the oil” after an operation such as the Iraq War. During the Wednesday night forum, Trump more specifically called for seizing oil production before the Islamic State could take it.

“The caliphate, ISIS, operates with legitimacy in their minds because they control land,” Prince noted. “That land they control holds oil. They sell that oil, they sell it off – oddly enough, by truck, to Erdogan’s son, the ruler of Turkey, so that even the Erdogan family is in on the criminal enterprise of it all. But when he says ‘take the oil,’ if friendly forces occupy that territory, that oil is no longer available to the enemy for sale.”

He said that holding land even allows ISIS to run its own science programs, since they have “taken over the University of Mosul, their science department, and they are using it as a weapons lab for doing research on weapons that will evade detection in the West.”

“You have to take away any legitimacy that the caliphate has by owning or controlling land. They cannot have a state,” he urged. “Doing so will cut off a major part of their money supply. They would still get money, like al-Qaeda does, via some high-net-worth radical Islamist donors, and there’s other ways to deal with that, but you have to take away the legitimacy of the caliphate, by denying them sanctuary anywhere. That’s going to take them from conventional-sized units that can go from battalions, up to even brigade size, thousands of people, down to at least operating at no more than two- to four-man terror cells.”

“It was interesting in the forum last night, Hillary saying ‘I will never use U.S. ground troops,’ and she’s going to try to phone it in from the air – clearly a strategy that hasn’t been working for the last two and a half years, because ISIS is still very active, and still ever as deadly,” Prince said.

“Whether you use U.S. ground forces, whether you use local Arab forces, or whether you use contracted forces, it’s not that difficult to assemble a force – a few thousand people, we’re not talking tens of thousands. If you give it to the conventional military, they will insist on tens of thousands, just because they move with a much, much larger logistics footprint,” he said. “If you think about, what was the most effective response the U.S. has had to terrorism, I would say it was the first 12 months after 9/11, where you had a few case officers, a handful of special operations officers, supported by capable air and agency air, and it literally turned the Taliban back in a matter of weeks.”

“The U.S. military’s war plan, going back to 9/11, was basically bombs, missile raid, and a ranger raid for the first six months. They didn’t want to put any significant boots on the ground until the following April, of 2002, and this is while their headquarters, the Pentagon, was still smoking under attack,” Prince recalled. “A light, unconventional, again contracted or indigenous force, ought to roll up and destroy any conventional pockets of ISIS, in the entire Iraq/Syria theater.”

“You have to negotiate a deal with what Syria looks like, post-ISIS, with Putin,” he continued. “You know, the Alawites, the Assad family are from the Alawite tribe, that’s a Shia minority. He can’t leave, because if he does, the Alawites will be slaughtered. A Shia minority being in charge in Syria is almost like the untouchables running India – it just doesn’t happen. So it’s been that way for 40 years, and you have to separate them, because those two are in a blood feud, and unless they have a very clear boundary, they’re going to continue to fight.”

“You have to basically have the Russians and Assad be willing to shrink the footprint of what Assad’s going to run, and I would take eastern Syria, western Iraq, and put it into a greater Sunni country, call it Sunnistan,” he proposed. “Give the Kurds, who have been our most steadfast allies, fighting against Daesh and radicalism there, give them their own homeland. With that, you could actually have a homeland for Christians, because Christianity’s been in the Middle East for longer than Islam, for the past 2,000 years. And they have largely been run out of Dodge by continued attacks and violence.”

On the matter of giving Christians a homeland, Prince said there will be a conference called “In Defense of Christians” in Washington this very weekend.

He talked about how the maps of modern Iraq and Syria were drawn by the Sykes-Picot treaty in 1916, and that old world has “gone away.” He advised drawing a new map along “tribal and religious lines,” and then allowing good borders to make good neighbors.

Prince said the persecution of Christians draws relatively little media coverage in the United States because “when you have very few people who believe anymore here, who are in those positions of writing, it’s easy for them to ignore.”

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Christians find themselves in a “war of tribal extinction, where you have ISIS rolling into a village, lining everyone up, and asking them what they believe. You’ve even seen other cases of that in Somalia, or Nigeria, or wherever, where radical Islamist terrorists are lining up people and murdering them, if they can’t recite lines from the Koran.”

Prince predicted Trump would “have his hands full” if he became Commander-in-Chief.

“He’s gonna have a military bureaucracy that needs massive reform,” he said. “When you throw hundreds of billions of dollars onto an organization, year after year after year, it creates a lot of bad habits, it creates a lot of fat. It makes for a very heavy triathlete that’s going to have a hard time bobbing, and moving, and flexing, and moving quickly to fight non-state actors.”

Prince said of Hillary Clinton’s position, “There’s no there there.”

“To announce that you’re never going to use ground troops is wrong. It means basically to ISIS saying, yes, we can sit back and tear away at these Americans, because they’re afraid to commit their people to come and get us,” he said. “Her position is untenable. It’s just saying well, we’re going to get our Arab allies to do more.”

“There’s no there there,” he repeated. “You’re not going to trust the Turks. The Turks’ main interest is in destroying the Kurds. Remember, Turkey was a major transit point – and still is – for ISIS fighters and weapons, et cetera. It’s a mess that someone’s going to have to go clean out.”

“You’re not going to get Saudi Arabia to send troops,” he continued. “They’re being destroyed left, right, and center along their southern border in Yemen. Jordan is pretty much tapped out. And so there’s not a lot of other real military capability in the Middle East.”

He recalled the CIA’s use of indigenous forces after 9/11, “led by CIA officers, supported by American air power,” and suggested Trump tap the same kind of intelligence teams to conduct a similar strategy against the Islamic State on the ground, combining “cash, authority, and a real will to fight.”

“DOD can support that, but it must be an Agency-led effort,” Prince specified. “If I were in the Trump Administration, I would say that the Pentagon does not have a leading role to play, battling non-state actors. It should be an intelligence function. The Pentagon, as Mr. Trump laid out, needs to beef up its conventional military capabilities, which have been eroded and chewed up, trying to fight basically guys with pickup trucks, with our first-rate, very expensive military equipment.”

Instead, he advised using “other guys in pickup trucks” to combat these non-state irregular forces, adding “a few elements of technology to give your side the advantage.”

“You focus on going cheap,” Prince said. “This is the Long War. This is not an invasion of Grenada that’s going to be done in five days. This is a long, drawn-out, long and slow-burning fight, and you have to provision and plan to fight the enemy, to be able to outlastthem. When the Pentagon gets involved, and you start rolling blocks of 10,000 people in, it comes at an enormous cost. That’s why we’re still spending $44 billion a year in Afghanistan, and right now the Taliban controls more land in Afghanistan then they did on 9/11, 15 years ago.”

“To go at this the same way it’s been done is the definition of insanity, because we keep going around and around in circles,” he said of Hillary Clinton’s counter-terrorist agenda. “Again, the most effective time the U.S. had against terrorism was about the first year, post-9/11, and the more the Pentagon got involved, and the more battalions of lawyers and bureaucrats got involved, everything slowed down, and all progress stopped.”

In response to a caller who had military experience in Iraq, Prince talked about the restrictive rules of engagement and burdensome force-protection policies imposed on U.S. troops, pronouncing them too cumbersome for dealing with a vicious irregular enemy.

He cited legendary military theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s idea that military courage comes in two forms: the individual courage of the soldier, which the U.S. has a “surplus” of, thanks to our “fantastic soldiers, NCOs, and junior officers.”

“The other kind of courage it takes are senior leaders that are willing to commit their people to action, with an uncertain outcome,” he said. “I think that’s what we’ve suffered from. We’ve built up this massive barrier mentality when we’re trying to engage with the enemy, and it prevents effective action.”

For example, he said that “if you’re fighting in Afghanistan, you have to call a U.S. lawyer sitting in an air-conditioned office in Qatar, at some U.S. Air Force base, to get permission to drop a bomb.”

“That’s wrong. That is a non-serious way to fight a war,” he declared.

“To me, that’s disqualifying for Hillary, because that’s what she would default to,” Prince said. “I think Mr. Trump is willing to take a different direction. He’s listening to some different voices on this, and who knows what that would look like, but I have way more confidence in Mr. Trump doing the right thing than Hillary.”

LISTEN:

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Also see:

Audacity: Clinton Claims ISIS ‘Praying to Allah’ to Elect Trump

screen-shot-2015-12-18-at-4-52-50-pm-2Let’s review again how ISIS came to be, and whose fault that is.

CountrJihad, Sept. 8, 2016:

Failed Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on Israeli television and told the audience that terrorists belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS) were ‘praying to Allah‘ to elect her opponent.  It was a particularly audacious claim to make given her own personal responsibility for the fact that the Islamic State exists at all.

Hillary Clinton suggested in a television interview in Israel, broadcast on Thursday, that the Islamic State is “rooting forDonald Trump’s victory” and that terrorists are praying, “Please, Allah, make Trump president of America.”

Speaking with Israel’s Channel 2,  Mrs. Clinton said that by singling out Muslims during his campaign,  Mr. Trump had played into the hands of extremists and helped their recruitment efforts, in effect “giving aid and comfort to their evil ambitions.”

Giving aid and comfort to the enemy is, of course, a line lifted from the definition of treason in the United States Constitution.  She chose these words, so let us give her the benefit of them.  Let us review who has given more aid, and more comfort, to the Islamic State.

The Islamic State grew out of the union of al Qaeda in Iraq and former members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist intelligence and military services.  Al Qaeda in Iraq was founded by one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Zarqawi came to Iraq to fight Americans, having led his own terrorist organization abroad before joining the Iraq War.  By the time of Zarqawi’s death at the hands of the United States military, many of his allies had been captured and detained in the U.S.-run Camp Bucca.  Due to an unfortunate error in judgment, the leadership at Bucca housed Islamist radicals in the same units as Saddam’s own former military professionals.

All of that might have come to nothing, though, if Iraq had remained the stable state it was in 2009 (when Bucca was closed) or 2010 (when the last detainees, relocated to Camp Cropper, were turned over to Iraq).  At that time, the Obama administration viewed bringing the war in Iraq to a close as one of their greatest legacies.  Here is Vice President Joe Biden saying just that in 2010:

However, the Secretary of State at that time was Hillary Clinton.  It was her job to negotiate an arrangement with the Iraqi government that would do two things:  allow a stabilizing US military presence to remain in Iraq, and allow the US Department of State the freedom of movement it would need to step up as guarantors of the peace.  The peace, you see, had been purchased not only by the US military’s victory on the battlefields, but also by its patient negotiation with militants formerly aligned with al Qaeda in Iraq.  These tribes, mostly but not exclusively Sunni, had rejected the terrorism of al Qaeda in Iraq in return for promises of fair treatment from the Iraqi central government.  This included jobs, assistance for communities recovering from the war, and many other things that the government promised to provide in return for the support of these former enemies.  The United States helped to negotiate all these agreements, and promised to see that they would be kept faithfully.

Instead, the Secretary of State failed to produce either a new Status of Forces agreement that would permit US troops to remain in Iraq, or an agreement that would allow State Department personnel to move about the country safely to observe whether agreements were being kept.  In the wake of the precipitous withdrawal of US forces, Prime Minister Maliki moved to arrest Sunni leaders in government, and broke all his promises to the tribes.

The result was that the western part of Iraq once again became fertile ground for an Islamist insurgency.  ISIS swept western Iraq because of the failures of Hillary Clinton and her boss, President Barack Obama.

But that is only half the story.  ISIS also exists in Syria.  How is it that the United States allowed it to survive there?  Lee Smith, at Tablet magazine, points out that letting Syria fester was the intentional policy of the Obama administration — in order to cosy up to Iran.

Obama’s inaction in Syria is not simply part of the hangover from the failed American war in Iraq, or of the president’s personal psychology. There is something entirely practical at stake here, too—namely, the Iran deal. The explanation is, in fact, a simple one: U.S. intervention in Syria against Assad would have made the Iran deal impossible. In fact, U.S. support for Iran’s continuing presence in Syria was a precondition of the deal, according to no less an authority than the president himself. In a December press conference, Obama spoke of “respecting” Iranian “equities” in Syria—which, translated into plain English, means leaving Assad alone in order to keep the Iranians happy.

The connection between Syria and the Iran deal was not particularly hard to spot for anyone in the administration…. The reason that so many journalists and opinion-makers of good conscience cannot make the connection between the Iran deal and the Syrian war is because the truth is too awful. The president’s policy is not simply a matter of a lack of vision or political will. The money Iran received through the JCPOA, as well as the $1.7 billion paid in ransom for American hostages, has helped fund Iran’s war in Syria—which the president proclaimed to be Iran’s business and not ours.

The Iran deal was signed after Hillary Clinton had stepped down as Secretary of State, and important parts of it were negotiated by her successor, John F. Kerry.  However, she herself claims to have had a key role in initiating this deal.  She cannot escape the consequences of that role.

If Hillary Clinton had successfully negotiated a Status of Forces agreement with Iraq, a stabilizing force would have prevented Iraq from falling apart.  If she had at least succeeded in negotiating freedom of movement for State Department observers, the Iraqi government’s betrayal of its promises to the tribes in western Iraq might not have festered so long as to make even ISIS seem attractive by comparison.  Nor can she dodge responsibility for the American inaction in the war in Syria in which ISIS initially flourished.  She herself says that she brokered the deal that made that inaction necessary from the perspective of the Obama administration.

It is true that President Obama himself bears much of the responsibility for this, perhaps even more than failed Former Secretary Clinton.  Guilt, however, has this property:  it can be divided without being lessened.  Aid and comfort?  The Islamic State would have had little enough if this woman had done her job.

Also see:

“What A Mess!” – Pentagon At War With CIA In Syria

20160906_syriaZero Hedge, by Tyler Durden, Sept. 6, 2016:

What a mess! In the crazy Syrian war, US-backed and armed groups are fighting other US-backed rebel groups. How can this be?

It is so because the Obama White House had stirred up war in Syria but then lost control of the process.When the US has a strong president, he can usually keep the military and intelligence agencies on a tight leash.

But the Obama administration has had a weak secretary of defense and a bunch of lady strategists who are the worst military commanders since Louis XV, who put his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, in charge of French military forces during the Seven Year’s War. The French were routed by the Prussians. France’s foe, Frederick the Great of Prussia, named one of his dogs, ‘la Pompadour.’

As a result, the two arms of offensive US strategic power, the Pentagon and CIA, went separate ways in Syria. Growing competition between the US military and militarized CIA broke into the open in Syria.

Fed up with the astounding incompetence of the White House, the US military launched and supported its own rebel groups in Syria, while CIA did the same.

Fighting soon after erupted in Syria and Iraq between the US-backed groups. US Special Forces joined the fighting in Syria, Iraq and most lately, Libya.

The well-publicized atrocities, like mass murders and decapitations, greatly embarrassed Washington, making it harder to portray their jihadi wildmen as liberators. The only thing exceptional about US policy in Syria was its astounding incompetence.

Few can keep track of the 1,000 groups of jihadis that keep changing their names and shifting alliances. Throw in Turkomans, Yzidis, Armenians, Nestorians, Druze, Circassians, Alawis, Assyrians and Palestinians. Oh yes, and the Alevis.

Meanwhile, ISIS was inflicting mayhem on Syria and Iraq. But who really is ISIS? A few thousand twenty-something hooligans with little knowledge of Islam but a burning desire to dynamite the existing order and a sharp media sense. The leadership of these turbaned anarchists appears to have formed in US prison camps in Afghanistan.

The US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey armed and financed ISIS as a weapon to unleash on Syria, which was an ally of Iran that refused to take orders from the Western powers. The west bears heavy responsibility for the deaths of 450,000 Syrians, at least half the nation of 23 million becoming refugees, and destruction of this once lovely country.

At some point, ISIS shook off its western tutors and literally ran amok. But the US has not yet made a concerted attempt to crush ISIS because of its continuing usefulness in Syria and in the US, where ISIS has become the favorite whipping boy of politicians.

Next come the Kurds, an ancient Indo-European stateless people spread across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They have been denied a national state by the western powers since WWI. Kurdish rebels in Iraq have been armed and financed by Israel since the 1970’s.

When America’s Arab jihadists proved militarily feeble, the US turned to the Kurds, who are renowned fighters, arming and financing the Kurdish Syrian YPG which is part of the well-known PKK rebel group that fights Turkey.

I covered the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in eastern Anatolia in the 1980’s in which some 40,000 died.

Turkey is now again battling a rising wave of Kurdish attacks that caused the Turks to probe into northern Syria to prevent a link-up of advancing Kurdish rebel forces.

So, Turkey, a key American ally, is now battling CIA-backed Kurdish groups in Syria. Eighty percent of Turks believe the recent failed coup in Turkey was mounted by the US – not the White House, but by the Pentagon which has always been joined at the hip to Turkey’s military.

This major Turkish-Kurdish crisis was perfectly predictable, but the obtuse junior warriors of the Obama administration failed to grasp this point.

Now the Russians have entered the fray in an effort to prevent their ally, Bashar Assad, from being overthrow by western powers. Also perfectly predictable. Russia claimed to be bombing ISIS but in fact is targeting US-backed groups. Washington is outraged that the wicked Russians are doing in the Mideast what the US has done for decades.

The US and Russia now both claim to have killed a senior ISIS commander in an air strike. Their warplanes are dodging one another, creating a perfect scenario for a head-on clash at a time when neocons in the US are agitating for war with Russia.

Does anyone think poor, demolished Syria is worth the price? Hatred for the US is now seething in Turkey and across the Mideast. Hundreds of millions of US tax dollars have been wasted in this cruel, pointless war.

Time for the US to stop stirring this witch’s brew.

*  *  *

And if that didn’t 1) drive you crazy, and/or 2) confuse you, here is UK’s Channel 4 to explain in pictures…

Islamic State: From nation-state to terror group

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group's capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

 , August 31, 2016:

Battlefield successes against the Islamic State could force the group to shift away from nation-state status to a less visible terror threat, the commander of the U.S. Central Command said this week.

Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who took over the lead war-fighting command in March, told reporters at the Pentagon the ultraviolent jihadi group’s capabilities have been greatly degraded and dismantled in Iraq and Syria, including significant loss of territory it once controlled. Recent military operations have cut off key supply lines and routes used by foreign fighters.

“As you look across the full battle space, you see that [Islamic State] is under more pressure now than at any other time in the campaign,” Gen. Votel said Tuesday. “We are causing the enemy to have to look in multiple directions and they are struggling to respond under this pressure.”

The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, remains a threat and is adapting to the attacks on its strongholds and the loss of territory. Also, external operations outside Iraq and Syria also are a concern, the general added.

In Iraq, Iraqi government forces are on track to retake the key northern city of Mosul by the end of the year or sooner, while the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria also may soon fall, Gen. Votel said.

“Certainly in both Iraq and Syria, in a lot of locations, we are continuing to target their leadership or continuing to target their revenue-generation sources in both Mosul and northern Iraq and certainly in Syria, so I think we continue to keep them on the horns of a dilemma here,” he said.

Two key setbacks for the Islamic State took place in northern Syria at the towns of Manbij and Jarabulus, forcing Islamic State forces to retreat quickly from those areas. The retreats took place despite calls by Islamic State leaders for the fighters to “fight to the death,” Gen. Votel said, adding that the group is being forced to choose to fortify other locations.

Once Mosul and Raqqa are taken, Gen. Votel said, the Islamic State could evolve away from being a nation-state and revert to being a more of covert terrorist organization without a geographic base.

“And so we should expect that as we come out of the big operations like Mosul and Raqqa and others here, that they will continue to adapt and we will continue to deal with the next evolution of ISIL, whether they become more of a terrorist organization and return to more of their terrorist-like roots,” he said, adding that U.S. and allied forces are anticipating a long fight against whatever emerges after the shift.

“I know I’m giving the impression that when we finish with Mosul or Raqqa that we’re done. We’re not. We will continue to deal with them,” he said.

***

NATO News: Aug. 30, 2016. CentralCom Commander, Gen. Votel Briefs Reporters at the Pentagon.

Also see:

How Donald Trump could fix Middle East

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks onstage during a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, U.S., August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks onstage during a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, U.S., August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Asia Times, by  David P. Goldman, Aug. 22, 2016:

The first step to finding a solution is to know that there’s a problem. Donald Trump understands that the Washington foreign-policy establishment caused the whole Middle Eastern mess. I will review the problem and speculate about what a Trump administration might do about it.

For the thousand years before 2007, when the Bush administration hand-picked Nouri al-Maliki to head Iraq’s first Shia-dominated government, Sunni Muslims had ruled Iraq. Maliki was vetted both by the CIA and by the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

With Iraq in the hands of an Iranian ally, the Sunnis–disarmed and marginalized by the dismissal of the Iraqi army–were caught between pro-Iranian regimes in both Iraq and Syria. Maliki, as Ken Silverstein reports in the New Republic, ran one of history’s most corrupt regimes, demanding among other things a 45% cut in foreign investment in Iraq. The Sunnis had no state to protect them, and it was a matter of simple logic that a Sunni leader eventually would propose a new state including the Sunni regions of Syria as well as Iraq. Sadly, the mantle of Sunni statehood fell on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who projected not only an Islamic State but a new Caliphate as well. America had a dozen opportunities to preempt this but failed to do so.

From a fascinating defector’s account in the Foreign Policy website, we learn that the region’s jihadists debated the merits of remaining non-state actors on the al-Qaeda model versus attempting to form a state prior to the launch of ISIS. The defector reports a 2013 meeting in which al-Baghdadi demanded the allegiance of al-Qaeda (that is, al-Nusra Front) fighters in Syria:

Baghdadi also spoke about the creation of an Islamic state in Syria. It was important, he said, because Muslims needed to have a dawla, or state. Baghdadi wanted Muslims to have their own territory, from where they could work and eventually conquer the world….The participants differed greatly about the idea of creating a state in Syria. Throughout its existence, al-Qaeda had worked in the shadows as a non-state actor. It did not openly control any territory, instead committed acts of violence from undisclosed locations. Remaining a clandestine organization had a huge advantage: It was very difficult for the enemy to find, attack, or destroy them. But by creating a state, the jihadi leaders argued during the meeting, it would be extremely easy for the enemy to find and attack them….

Despite the hesitation of many, Baghdadi persisted. Creating and running a state was of paramount importance to him. Up to this point, jihadis ran around without controlling their own territory. Baghdadi argued for borders, a citizenry, institutions, and a functioning bureaucracy. Abu Ahmad summed up Baghdadi’s pitch: “If such an Islamic state could survive its initial phase, it was there to stay forever.”

Baghdadi prevailed, however, not only because he persuaded the al-Qaeda ragtag of his project, but because he won over a large number of officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army. America had the opportunity to “de-Ba’athify” the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army after the 2003 invasion, the way it de-Nazified the German Army after World War II. Instead, it hung them out to dry. Gen. Petraeus’ “surge” policy of 2007-2008 bought the Sunni’s temporary forbearance with hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts, but set the stage for a future Sunni insurgency, as I warned in 2010.

Trump is right to accuse the Bush administration of creating the mess, and also right to blame Obama for withdrawing American forces in 2011. Once the mess was made, the worst possible response was to do nothing about it (except, of course, to covertly arm “moderate Syrian rebels” with weapons from Libyan stockpiles, most of which found their way to al-Qaeda or ISIS).

Now the region is a self-perpetuating war of each against all. Iraq’s Shia militias, which replaced the feckless Iraqi army in fighting ISIS, are in reorganization under Iranian command on the model of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Kurds are fighting both ISIS and the Syrian government. ISIS is attacking both the Kurds, who field the most effective force opposing them in Syria, as well as the Turks, who are trying to limit the power of the Kurds. Saudi Arabia and Qatar continue to support the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria, which means in effect funding either ISIS or the al-Nusra Front.

Russia, meanwhile, is flying bombing missions in Syria from Iranian air bases. Apart from its inclination to bedevil the floundering United States, Russia has a dog in the fight: as a number of foreign officials who have spoken with the Russian president have told me, Putin has told anyone who asks that he backs the Iranian Shi’ites because all of Russia’s Muslims are Sunni. Russia fears that a jihadist regime in Iraq or Syria would metastasize into a strategic threat to Russia. That is just what al-Baghdadi had in mind, as the Foreign Policy defector story made clear:

Baghdadi had another persuasive argument: A state would offer a home to Muslims from all over the world. Because al-Qaeda had always lurked in the shadows, it was difficult for ordinary Muslims to sign up. But an Islamic state, Baghdadi argued, could attract thousands, even millions, of like-minded jihadis. It would be a magnet.

What Trump might do

What’s needed is a deal, and a deal-maker. I have no information about Trump’s thinking other than news reports, but here is a rough sketch of what he might do:

Read the rest

Also see:

Zawahiri says jihadists should prepare for guerrilla war in Iraq

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn,  August 26, 2016

ZawahiriAs Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the third episode of Ayman al Zawahiri’s “Brief Messages to a Victorious Ummah” series on Aug. 25. The latest installment is subtitled “Fear Allah in Iraq.” The al Qaeda leader clearly expects the Islamic State to continue to lose ground, arguing that the Sunnis of Iraq should “reorganize themselves” for a “protracted guerrilla war to defeat the neo-Safavid [Iranian]-Crusader occupation of their regions as they did before.”

Zawahiri critiques the Islamic State’s approach to waging jihad in Iraq in his brief message, which is just over four minutes long. His arguments further highlight how al Qaeda and the Islamic State have evolved very different strategies for waging jihad. Whereas al Qaeda wants to be viewed as a popular revolutionary force, serving the interests of Muslims, the Islamic State deliberately markets itself as a top-down authoritarian regime that seeks to overtly impose its will on the populace. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State share the same long-term goal, as they both want to resurrect an Islamic caliphate. But they diverge on the steps that should be taken to achieve this goal.

Al Qaeda’s senior leaders think that the Islamic State’s methodology for waging jihad alienates the Muslim population and therefore makes it easier for the Sunni jihadists’ enemies to defeat them.

Zawahiri lays out a way forward for the jihadists in Iraq should the Islamic State’s caliphate continue to crumble.

Zawahiri says the jihadists in Iraq “must review their prior experiences to save them from the mistakes that led to their separation” from the Muslim community. These mistakes caused the jihadists to fall into “the abyss of extremism” and “takfir” (the practice of declaring other Muslims to be nonbelievers). They are also guilty of the “spilling forbidden [Muslim] blood,” Zawahiri says, and this path only serves the “proxies of America.”

In a telling passage, Zawahiri calls on “our brethren, the heroes of Islam, the mujahideen of the Levant” to assist “their brethren in Iraq in reorganizing themselves.”

Zawahiri famously sought to keep Al Nusrah Front in Syria, which was recently rebranded as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or Conquest of the Levant Front), separate from Baghdadi’s Islamic State. Zawahiri ruled that Baghdadi’s organization should be confined to Iraq, but the Islamic State refused to comply with his order.

Zawahiri now says the “battle is one,” with the Levant being “an extension of Iraq” and Iraq serving as “the depth of the Levant.”

That is, Zawahiri wants the jihadists in Iraq to follow the same strategy employed by al Qaeda in Syria. Under Zawahiri’s guidance, the group formerly known as Al Nusrah deeply embedded itself within the anti-Assad opposition and cultivated roots within the Syrian society.

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership publicly approved of Al Nusrah Front’s recent rebranding as JFS. This rebranding was spun as a clear “break” between Al Nusrah and al Qaeda. But Zawahiri’s own deputy, Abu Khayr al Masri, blessed the move shortly beforehand.

There is no hint in Zawahiri’s message that he feels betrayed by the jihadists in Syria. On the contrary, he wants the jihadists in Iraq to follow their model. When Zawahiri asks the “mujahideen of the Levant” to help their “brethren” in Iraq, he is clearly referring to JFS and others who have been following al Qaeda’s strategy.

The al Qaeda master further connects the jihad in Iraq to Syria by pointing out that Iranian-backed “militias and mercenaries” fight in both countries. Zawahiri says this is because Iran and its allies seek to annihilate Sunnis across the Middle East. He claims that Sunnis are being tortured and slaughtered in Iraq under the “pretext” of fighting Baghdadi’s Islamic State, but the supposed real reason for this can be found in the Iran’s expansionist goals. Zawahiri claims that the Iranians and the Americans have reached an “accord” that will allow a Crusader-Iranian-Alawite coalition (meaning an alliance of Western, Iranian and Assad regime forces) to swallow the whole region.

Even as Zawahiri rails against Iran, however, some of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders are stationed inside the country today.

All three episodes of Zawahiri’s “Brief Messages to a Victorious Ummah” series have been released this month. As Sahab has suffered production delays over the past two years, but the current pace of releases indicates that the official media shop for al Qaeda’s senior leadership is able to regularly churn out content once again. In the first episode of the new series, Zawahiri blasted the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In the second, he called on Muslims to support the Afghan Taliban and reject the Islamic State’s upstart presence in Afghanistan.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

The Turkey-Russia-Iran Axis

fr

Dramatic developments alter the strategic balance in the Middle East.

Front Page Magazine, by Kenneth R. Timmerman, Aug. 22, 2016:

A techtonic shift has occurred in the balance of power in the Middle East since the failed Turkish coup of mid-July, and virtually no one in Washington is paying attention to it.

Turkey and Iran are simultaneously moving toward Russia, while Russia is expanding its global military and strategic reach, all to the detriment of the United States and our allies. This will have a major impact across the region, potentially leaving U.S. ally Israel isolated to face a massive hostile alliance armed with nuclear weapons.

Believers in Bible prophecy see this new alignment as a step closer to the alliance mentioned in Ezekiel 37-38, which Israel ultimately defeated on the plains of Megiddo.

Today’s Israel, however, is doing its best to soften the blow by patching up relations with Turkey and through cooperation with Russia.

Here are some of the moves and countermoves that have been taking place in recent weeks on a giant three-dimensional chessboard with multiple players and opponents.

Russia-Turkey: It now appears that Russian intelligence tipped off Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan just hours before the planned coup against his regime. When the coup plotters got wind of the Russian communications with Erdogan loyalists at the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), they moved up the coup from the dead of night to 9 PM, when the streets were packed.

For Erdogan, the Russian warning came just in the nick of time, allowing him to flee his hotel in Marmaris minutes before twenty-five special forces troops loyal to the coup-plotters roped down from the roof of his hotel to seize him.

With streets in Istanbul full of people, Erdogan’s text and video messages calling on supporters to oppose the coup had maximum impact.

After purging the military and government of suspected enemies, Erdogan’s first foreign trip was to Russia, where on August 8 he thanked Putin for his help. “The Moscow-Ankara friendship axis will be restored,” he proclaimed.

Two days later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted NATO for its “evasive fashion” of responding to Turkish requests for military technology transfers, and opened the door to joint military production with Russia.

Cavosoglu accused NATO of considering Turkey and Russia “to be second class countries,” and pointed out that Turkey was the only NATO country that was refusing to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has also been in talks with Turkey to base Russian warplanes at the NATO air base in Incirlik, Turkey, where some 2400 U.S. personnel have been quarantined since the failed July 15 coup attempt as Turkey continues to demand that the U.S. extradite alleged coup-plotter Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

These talks have alarmed the Pentagon, which on Thursday reportedly ordered the emergency evacuation to Romania of the estimated 50-70 nuclear B-61 “dial-a-yield” gravity bombs stockpiled at the base.

If confirmed, the nuclear withdrawal from Turkey constitutes a major strategic setback for the United States, with Russia poised to replace the United States as Turkey’s main military partner after 60 years of NATO cooperation.

Russia-Iran: The warming of the Russia-Turkey relationship comes as Russia simultaneously is making advances in Iran.

The two countries have a long and often troubled history. The 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty, which ended long-standing tsarist concessions in Iran, also included a mutual defense pact. Triggered briefly during World War II, the Soviets seized the opportunity to foment a Communist coup in Iranian Azerbaijan in 1948 and only withdrew after President Truman threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Successive Iranian regimes remained suspicious of Soviet intentions for the rest of the Cold War.

In recent years, Iran and Russia have joined together to evade international sanctions, with Russian banks clearing payments for Iranian oil purchases and serving as a conduit for Iranian government purchases abroad.

Last week, the specter of the 1921 defense treaty suddenly came alive when the Russia and Iran announced they had signed a new military agreement to allow Russian jets to use the Nojeh airbase in western Iran for attacks on Syrian rebels.

This is the first time that the Islamic regime in Iran has allowed a foreign power to use Iranian territory as a base for offensive military operations against another country in the region, and the move lead to tensions in the Iranian parliament.

For Russia, the move dramatically reduced flight times for the Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers it had been flying against ISIS targets in Syria from Mozdok airbase in Ossetia, 2000 km away. Iran’s Nojeh air base, outside Hamadan, is less than 900 km from the war zone.

The shorter flight times also meant shorter warning for the Syrian rebels. Russian media reports have alleged that the United States has been providing “satellite surveillance data” to the Syrian rebels of the Russian bombing runs, allowing them to disperse “suspiciously too often” before the heavy bombers arrived on target from Mozdok.

The shorter distance cuts the flight time – and thus the warning time – by 60%, according to former Pentagon official Stephen D. Bryen. “The flight from Iran is between 30 to 45 minutes tops. If, therefore, the US is warning the rebels of impending Russian air strikes, the time to get the message to them and to actually be able to move their forces out of harms way, is far less and maybe too short for finding effective cover,” Bryen wrote in a recent blogpost.

Conclusion: Russia is on the verge of realizing a multi-generational dream of reaching the “warm waters” of the Persian Gulf through Iran.

Iran-Iraq: Adding to these dramatic developments was the announcement last week by a U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Chris Garver, that Iran now controls a military force of 100,000 armed fighters in neighboring Iraq. While the United States has allowed this Iranian expansion under the pretext Iran was helping in the fight against ISIS, clearly Iran can use this massive organized force to exercise its control over Iraq as well.

While none of these events was directly caused by the United States, clearly the lack of U.S. leadership emboldened our enemies, whose leaders have a much clearer strategic vision than ours of where they want the region to go.

Meanwhile, the Russian government continues to pursue the massive ten-year, $650 billion military modernization program that Putin announced in December 2010, despite reduced oil revenues. Those plans include eight new nuclear submarines, 600 new fighter jets, 1000 helicopters, as well as new tanks and other ground equipment.

Most of the new equipment is based on new designs incorporating advanced technologies, not existing weapons systems.

Just this week, U.S. intelligence officials reported ongoing construction of “dozens’ of underground nuclear command bunkers in Moscow and around the country apparently for use in the event of a nuclear wear. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, called Russia’s evolving doctrine on the first use of nuclear weapons “alarming.”

All of this does not mean that the United States and Russia are headed toward a direct confrontation. The more likely consequence, given the sweeping Russian powerplay with Turkey and Iran, is that the United States will simply abandon the region to Putin’s Russia and his Turkish and Iranian allies.

The consequence of that abandon will undoubtedly motivate Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Iran.

Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Obama plays golf. Both leaders will leave ashes in their wake.

Also see:

Trump Counter-Terror Speech: What’s Right; What Needs Work

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (Photo: video screenshot)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (Photo: video screenshot)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, Aug. 16, 2016:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump outlined his proposed counter-terrorism strategy yesterday. He laid out an impressive ideology-based strategy that includes uplifting Muslim reformers; however, he also vindicated decades of Islamist propaganda by emphasizing his opinion that the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil from its people, which would have required a long-term military occupation to protect it.

What Was Right

The parts of the speech about waging an ideological war on radical Islam were a breath of fresh air.

Criticizing of the past two administrations for not identifying the enemy is not an inconsequential squabbling over semantics. It’s an organizing principle. It is necessary for distinguishing friend from foe and waging the war of ideas. Confronting this ideology should be enthusiastically received by liberals/progressives and conservatives alike.

Trump explained, “Just as we won the Cold War, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of Radical Islam.”

“My administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith. Our administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East and will amplify their voices. This includes speaking out against the horrible practice of honor killings…” he continued.

When it comes to outlining the radical Islamic beliefs that we must confront, Trump knocked it out of the park, saying:

“A Trump Administration will establish a clear principle that will govern all decisions pertaining to immigration: We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people. In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test of the threats we face today.

“In addition to screening out all members of sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles—or who believe that sharia law should supplant American law.

“Those who do not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country.”

He also called for deporting non-citizens who preach hatred, teaching our values and patriotism to newcomers and wisely talked about why assimilation is an “expression of compassion,” rather than “an act of hostility.”

Casting aside his ridiculous and offensive idea of a ban on all Muslims from entering the U.S., he instead advocated “extreme” ideological vetting based around American values.

Dr. Daniel Pipes has some recommendations on a vetting process can separate Islamists from Muslims we should embrace showing that this process is possible by using background checks, link analysis of what groups potential immigrants have associated with and questioning.

What Needs Work

Although this may be coming at a later date, Trump did not provide details of his counter-terrorism strategy except for his plan to halt inappropriate immigration. Trump pledged to uplift moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, something that is extremely necessary, yet did not mention embracing the Iranian opposition.

If Trump wants to be an ally with Muslim reformers and pro-human rights, his plan for a temporary ban on immigration from unstable countries known for exporting terrorism has to be amended to account for persecuted minorities or reformist Muslims fleeing those countries. For example, immigration for persecuted Coptic Christian from Egypt or a Muslim who is swarmed with death threats for challenging honor killings in Pakistan must fall into a special category.

Interestingly, Trump sees “secular” dictators like Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad, Muammar Qaddafi and Hosni Mubarak as net pluses. In other speeches, he has blasted the pursuit of regime changes and undermining of governments.

Isn’t this a contradiction to promoting Muslim reformers?

Playing Into the Hands of Islamists

In the speech Trump firmly stated his opinion that the United States should have seized Iraqi’s oil production capabilites, which have required an indefinite occupation of the country.

“I was saying this constantly and to whoever would listen: Keep the oil, keep the oil, keep the oil. I said, ‘don’t let someone else get it.’…In the old days, when we won a war, to the victor belonged the spoils,” he said.

For decades, one of the main—and most fruitful—Islamist talking points is that the West, particularly the U.S., is scheming to steal oil from the Muslims and is happy to lie and slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocents to get it.

This breeds relentless hostility to American and the West and favorability towards Islamism. If that propaganda is seen as an undeniable fact (though statements such as these), then it becomes almost impossible for moderate Muslim reformers to succeed.

Those who argue that violent jihad against America is permissible use this very argument.

Until now, when speaking to the masses, Islamists had to block statement after statement from American politicians that America is not after the oil of the Muslims.

Now, jihadis have clips of an American presidential candidate supported by about 41% of the country advocating what they’ve claimed all along—that the U.S. wants to militarily conquer their land and take their resources.

***

Prof. Ryan Mauro, Clarion Project’s national security analyst, appears on “The Thom Hartmann Show,” the #1 progressive radio show, to discuss Donald Trump’s counter-terrorism speech on August 15.

AP Report: Islamic State Used ‘Islam for Dummies’ to Train Recruits

Reuters/Stringer

Reuters/Stringer

Breitbart, by John Hayward, Aug. 18, 2016:

The Associated Press published a report on Monday, compiled from court testimony and interviews with former ISIS fighters, that painted a dim picture of the Islamic State’s recruits. The early waves, in particular, were so clueless that some of them had to order Islam for Dummies from Amazon.com to brush up on the religion.

That juicy little tidbit is, naturally, the basis for the AP’s headline: “Islam For Dummies: IS Recruits Have Poor Grasp of Faith.” However, only two recruits from Britain were that unclear about the concept of jihad. 70 percent of early recruits claimed to have “basic” knowledge of sharia law, while 24 percent described themselves as “intermediate” students of the Islamic legal code, and 5 percent “advanced.” This would suggest only one percent of the people ISIS roped in were largely ignorant of sharia law.

The takeaway from the Associated Press report is not that Islamic State recruits were broadly unfamiliar with Islam — it is that they knew just enough about “moderate Islam” to fall prey to the Islamic State’s appeal.

ISIS radicalizes young Muslims by telling them, in essence, the Islam you get from your parents, and the imam at the mosque you scarcely bother to attend, isn’t the real deal. We are the champions of authentic Islam. Here’s what the moderates don’t want you to hear from the Koran.

This message is mixed with appeals to factional and national solidarity. For example, the AP spoke with a European recruit who “thought he was joining a group to fight President Bashar Assad and help Syrians, not the Islamic State.” He ended up packed into a safe house with other recruits while ISIS imams indoctrinated them.

The Associated Press concludes this means ISIS preys on “religious ignorance, allowing extremists to impose a brand of Islam constructed to suit its goal of maximum territorial expansion and carnage as soon as recruits come under its sway.”

It would be equally valid to describe this as religious curiosity, added to the sense of alienation and frustration that drives so many radicals, violent or otherwise. There seems to be little evidence that would suggest intensive study of Islam halts or reverses the radicalization process — in fact, there is a dismaying shortage of evidence that ISIS recruits can be talked out of radicalization, once it passes a certain point.

The constant refrain from the families of Islamic State recruits and “lone wolf” jihadis is surprise: no one in the family ever seemed to realize just how far gone their ISIS-supporting child was until it was too late. One of the reasons radicalization seems so puzzling and sudden to experts is that such denials are accepted at face value.

Only later do we learn that the jihadi held radical beliefs for much longer than the press was originally led to believe, or the jihadi had a history of run-ins with the law. Alternatively, the families of Western jihadis may be missing important signs of radicalization because they have been taught not to see them, by the media/government that insists terrorism has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.

For example, the AP report quotes ISIS recruit Karim Mohammad-Aggad, who journeyed to the Islamic State in Syria with his brother and a group of friends after an Islamic State recruiter contacted them in Germany, claiming he was bamboozled with “smooth talk” from the recruiter.

“My religious beliefs had nothing to do with my departure. Islam was used to trap me like a wolf,” he said in court, insisting he didn’t “have the knowledge” to answer questions about sharia. A co-defendant gave the same answer, and the Associated Press points out that both Karim and his brother Foued said they had only “basic” knowledge of sharia when they filled out the ISIS entry questionnaire.

Those statements are a very thin reed to hang the “ISIS recruits don’t know anything about Islam” argument upon, especially since Karim’s little brother Foued was one of the monsters who carried out the unspeakable atrocity at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris last November.

Another assertion in the AP report, made by a study from the U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center, is that ISIS recruits who claimed advanced knowledge of sharia were less likely to volunteer for suicide missions.

“If martyrdom is seen as the highest religious calling, then a reasonable expectation would be that the people with the most knowledge about Islamic law (Shariah) would desire to carry out these operations with greater frequency,” said the Combating Terrorism Center report. However, “those with the most religious knowledge within the organization itself are the least likely to volunteer to be suicide bombers.”

That is a difficult assertion to evaluate without knowing a great deal more about the backgrounds of the individuals in question. A very small group, since as the AP noted, only 5 percent of incoming Islamic State fighters claimed to have “advanced” knowledge of sharia on the entry paperwork. Broad conclusions cannot be drawn from the way a tiny fraction of ISIS recruits described themselves. They might not have wanted to go on suicide missions, but they were still willing to fight for the Islamic State.

Also, sharia law does not require suicide bombing. There is an argument among Muslim scholars about whether sharia forbids suicide, or murder, but the Koran repeatedly encourages courageous battle against infidels, with a willingness to kill or die in the effort. It is a mistake to confuse sharia law with the totality of Islamic belief and tradition, as practiced by many different groups across an enormous worldwide population.

“Sharia forbids suicide, so suicide bombers don’t understand sharia” is a variation on the No True Muslim fallacy, a tautology which argues terrorists can’t possibly understand authentic Islam because no one who practices authentic Islam would be a terrorist.

The ultimate ends of such an argument — a reformation of Islam in which violence is expunged from the religion, and assimilation-minded moderates triumph in all of Islam’s many factions — is highly desirable. The question is how to get there, and ignoring or downplaying the importance of Islam in the appeal made by ISIS and other extremist groups is not likely to help either moderate Muslims or secular governments devise an effective strategy for combating the radicals.

History renders a grim verdict on that approach: the Western world has been pushing No True Muslim arguments with all of its might, especially after the 9/11 attacks, and yet ISIS happened. The young Western recruits described in the Associated Press report spent their entire lives in the “Religion of Peace”/”Terrorists are on the Wrong Side of History” era, but they still ended up fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. What they tell courts today, as they fight for reduced sentences, is very different than what they probably would have said when they first arrived in the “caliphate.”

Former CIA case officer Patrick Skinner told the Associated Press that most ISIS recruits are “reaching for a sense of belonging, a sense of notoriety, a sense of excitement,” and he claimed, “religion is an afterthought.” If that’s true, then why is the Islamic State so much more successful than the many other groups that offer disaffected youngsters a sense of belonging, notoriety, and excitement? Falling in with a local gang is easy; abandoning your family, and evading the law enforcement agencies of several nations, to join ISIS in Syria or Iraq is hard.

The Islamic State’s religious appeal may be only one ingredient in the fuel that drives people to make that awful choice, but discounting it as irrelevant is dangerous.

Also see:

America’s Most Dangerous Enemy to Lead Mosul Assault

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CounterJihad, Aug. 13, 2016:

According to The Long War Journal‘s Threat Matrix blog, Qassem Suleimani is going to be heavily involved in the leadership of the upcoming offensive against Islamic State (ISIS) positions in Mosul.

The spokesman of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) announced on August 6 that Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, will play a major role in the upcoming operations to take the city of Mosul from the Islamic State. The spokesman defended the presence of Iranian military advisors in Iraq.

According to translations of his remarks published by IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency, the spokesman called Soleimani “one of the most important military advisors” from the Islamic Republic of Iran. He added that Soleimani and other Iranian advisors are in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and that they provide important consultation.

Soleimani is rumored to have arrived in Iraq last week to prepare for the battle of Mosul with the Iraqi government forces and PMF. An unnamed Iraqi parliamentarian claimed in an Asharq al Awsat article on August 3 that Soleimani arrived without a passport…

Soleimani directs IRGC operations in the Iraqi and Syrian theaters. The IRGC has deployed elite Iraqi and Lebanese proxies to Aleppo this past week to bolster the forces of Bashar al Assad, after rebels succeeded in breaking the siege of eastern Aleppo on August 6.

Now Suleimani is under international travel bans arising from  his attempt to lead a set of assassinations against diplomats worldwide.  Nevertheless, he has been allowed to travel freely to Iraq, Syria, and Russia.  In the course of those travels he has served as Iran’s point man in its unconventional warfare.  He has nearly succeeded in making Iran the dominant power in the northern Middle East, quite a feat given that it is managing to convince a more powerful Russia to follow its lead.

Suleimani led the Iranian efforts during the Iraq War, leading many proxy forces that killed some 3,000 Americans.  He was badly injured in Syria last fall, but seems to have recovered well enough to take a leadership position on the ground.  It is ironic to see him in the forefront of an effort that is backed by the United States, but under the Obama administration, such ironies abound.

McCarthy: Obama’s Iraq Policy Did Not Create ISIS

isis militants in RaqqaOur challenge in the Middle East is that sharia supremacism fills all vacuums.

National Review, by Andrew C. McCarthy, Au. 13, 2016:

The early Cold War wisdom that “we must stop politics at the water’s edge” has never been entirely true. In endeavors as human as politics, no such altruistic aspiration ever will be. But Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s adage does reflect a principle critical to effective national security: The United States is imperiled when partisan politics distorts our understanding of the world and the threats it presents.

We’ve been imperiled for a long time now. The most salient reason for that has been the bipartisan, politically correct refusal to acknowledge and confront the Islamic roots of the threat to the West. It has prevented us from grasping not only why jihadists attack us but also that jihadists are merely the militant front line of the broader civilizational challenge posed by sharia supremacism.

Inevitably, when there is a profound threat and an overarching strategic failure to apprehend it, disasters abound; and rather than becoming occasions for reassessment of the flawed bipartisan strategy, those disasters become grist for partisan attacks. From 2004 through 2008, the specious claim was that President Bush’s ouster of Saddam Hussein created terrorism in Iraq. Now it is that President Obama is the “founder of ISIS,” as Donald Trump put it this week.

The point here is not to bash Trump. He is hardly the first to posit some variation of the storyline that Obama’s premature withdrawal of American forces from Iraq led to the “vacuum” in which, we are to believe, the Islamic State spontaneously generated. Indeed, this narrative is repeated on Fox News every ten minutes or so.

The point is to try to understand what we are actually dealing with, how we got to this place, and what the security implications are. There is no denying that American missteps have exacerbated a dangerous threat environment in the Middle East to some degree. It is spurious, though, to suggest that any of these errors, or all of them collectively, caused the catastrophe that has unfolded.

The problem for the United States in this region is Islam — specifically, the revolutionary sharia-supremacist version to which the major players adhere. There is no vacuum. There never has been a vacuum. What we have is a bubbling cauldron of aggressive political Islam with its always attendant jihadist legions.

The question is always: How to contain the innate aggression? The fantasy answers are: (a) let’s convert them to Western democracy, and (b) let’s support the secular democrats. In reality, the region does not want Western democracy — it wants sharia (Islamic law), even if there is disagreement about how much sharia and how quickly it should be imposed. And while there are some secular democrats, there are far, far too few of them to compete with either the sharia-supremacist factions or the dictatorial regimes — they can only fight the latter by aligning with the former. At best, the secularists provide hope for an eventual evolution away from totalitarian sharia culture; for now, however, it is absurd for Beltway Republicans to contend that ISIS emerged because Obama failed to back these “moderates” in Iraq and Syria.

The fact that top Republicans use the term “moderate” rather than “secular democrat” should tell us all we need to know. They realize there are not enough secularists to fight either Bashar Assad or ISIS, much less both of them. For all their justifiable ridiculing of Obama’s lexicon, Republicans invoke “moderates” for the same reason Obama uses terms like “workplace violence” — to obscure unpleasant truths about radical Islam. In this instance, the truth is that the “moderates” they claim Obama should have backed include the Muslim Brotherhood and other anti-Western Islamist factions, including al-Qaeda. Of course, if they told you that, there wouldn’t be much bite in their critique of Obama’s infatuation with the Muslim Brotherhood . . . and you might even start remembering that, during the Bush years, the GOP couldn’t do enough “outreach” to “moderate Islamists.”

The Middle East is aflame because of sharia supremacism and the jihadism that ideology always produces. That was the problem long before there was an ISIS. The Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria, like other Middle Eastern dictatorships, kept sharia supremacism in check by alternatively persecuting Islamist insurgents, turning them against each other, or using them to harass Israel and the West. In Iran, to the contrary, the shah was overthrown by a revolutionary Shiite jihadist movement that he failed to keep in check.

Bush, with what started out as bipartisan support, ousted the Iraqi regime without any discernible plan for dealing with Iran, Syria, and the wider war — delusionally calculating that Iran might actually be helpful because of its supposedly keen interest in Iraqi stability. Iran, of course, went about the business of fueling the terrorist insurgency against American troops. Saddam’s fall unleashed the competing Islamist forces that continue to tear Iraq apart. The thought that we could democratize the culture was fantasy; far from taming sharia supremacism, the government we birthed in Baghdad was converted by the Iran-backed Shiite parties into a mechanism for abusing Sunnis. Naturally, the Sunnis turned to their own sharia supremacists for their defense.

It is fair enough to argue that Obama should not have pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq just as the security situation was badly deteriorating in 2011. But a big part of the reason that Democrats thrashed Republicans in the 2006 midterms, and that Obama was elected in 2008, was mounting American opposition to maintaining our troops there. Critics, moreover, conveniently omit to mention that (a) the agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw our troops on a timeline unrelated to conditions on the ground was made by Bush, not Obama, and that (b) Bush reluctantly made that agreement precisely because Iraqis were demanding that Americans get out of their country.

The war became unpopular in the United States because it seemed unconnected to U.S. security interests: so much sacrifice on behalf of ingrates, while Iran exploited the mayhem to muscle in. There was no public appetite for a long-range U.S. military presence. What would be the point, when Bush had given the increasingly hostile Iraqi government the power to veto U.S. military operations to which it objected, and had agreed that our forces would not use Iraqi territory as a base of operations against Iran, Syria, or any other country? (See 2008 Status of Forces Agreement, articles 4 and 27.) This was not post-war Europe or Japan, where the enemy had been vanquished. Most Americans did not see the point of further risking American lives in order to stop anti-American Shiites and anti-American Sunnis from having at each other, as they’ve been doing to great lethal effect for 14 centuries.

ISIS (now, the Islamic State) got its start as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the primary culprit (along with Iran) in the Iraqi civil war. ISIS thus long predates Obama’s presidency. Furthermore, the oft-repeated GOP talking-point that al-Qaeda in Iraq was defeated by the Bush troop surge is a gross exaggeration. Our jihadist enemies could not be defeated in Iraq, because Iraq was never their sole base of operations. Since we’ve never had a strategy to defeat them globally, we were never going to do more than temporarily tamp them down in Iraq. They were always going to wait us out. They were always going to reemerge, in Iraq and elsewhere.

One of the places in which they regrouped was Syria. That made perfect sense, because Syria — the client of al-Qaeda’s long-time supporter, Iran — was always a waystation for jihadists seeking to fight American and Western forces in Iraq. Meanwhile, there was an internal Syrian uprising against the Assad regime. To be sure, the revolt had some secular components; but it was thoroughly coopted by the Muslim Brotherhood (as analyst Hassan Hassan comprehensively outlined in Foreign Affairs in early 2013).

Notwithstanding the Republicans’ ISIS myopia, it was not the only jihadist presence in Syria — not even close. Al-Qaeda still had a franchise there (al-Nusrah), along with several other tentacles. Importantly, in its rivalry with breakaway ISIS, al-Qaeda has adopted the Muslim Brotherhood approach of ground-up revolution — the antithesis of the Islamic State’s top-down strategy of forcibly expanding its declared caliphate and implementing sharia full-scale.

As Tom Joscelyn perceptively explained in 2015 congressional testimony, al-Qaeda is attempting to spark jihadist uprisings in Muslim-majority countries while appealing to local populations with fundamentalist education initiatives. Like the Brotherhood, al-Qaeda leaders now preach a gradualist implementation of sharia, which is more appealing to most Middle Eastern Muslims than ISIS’s inflexibility and emphasis on sharia’s barbaric hudud penalties (mutilation, stoning, scourging, etc.). Understand: Al-Qaeda is just as anti-American as it has ever been. In Syria, however, its shrewd approach has enabled the network to insinuate itself deeply into the forces that oppose both Assad and ISIS. So has the Brotherhood.

These forces are the “moderates” that Republicans, apparently including Trump, claim Obama failed to support, creating the purported “vacuum” out of which ISIS emerged. The charge is doubly specious because Obama actually did provide these “moderates” with plenty of support. The GOP rap on Obama is that he failed to jump with both feet into the Syria civil war and take the side of “moderates.” But jumping in with both feet, at the urging of Beltway Republicans, is exactly what Obama did on behalf of the “moderates” in Libya. How’d that work out?

Our challenge in the Middle East is that sharia supremacism fills all vacuums. It was this ideology that created ISIS long before President Obama came along. And if ISIS were to disappear tomorrow, sharia supremacism would still be our challenge. It is critical to be an effective political opposition to the Obama Left. But being effective means not letting the political part warp our judgment, especially where national security is concerned.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Here is another good opposing view: