Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Why did Washington refuse to provide air support to the Iraqis?

FP’s Situation Report: Why did Washington refuse to provide air support to the Iraqis?

By Gordon Lubold

Civil war lingers in Iraq and al Qaeda’s comeback in Anbar province raises new questions about whether the U.S. should have left troops there. But FP’s Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson say that argument "obscures what may be the original sin of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq two years ago: Washington’s refusal to provide Baghdad with the F-16s and Apache attack helicopters that could turn the tide in the bloody fight to recapture the key cities. The Iraqi military has surrounded Fallujah with ground troops and armored vehicles, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki indicated Monday that he was prepared to order an all-out assault on the city if tribal fighters there failed to expel the al Qaeda fighters on their own. In a jab at the White House, a senior Iranian military official, Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, said Tehran was prepared to give Baghdad weaponry and military trainers to help in what could be weeks of grinding house-to-house, street-to-street fighting.

"Current and former U.S. officials say that F-16s and Apaches would change the situation on the ground by giving Iraqi commanders the ability to destroy al-Qaeda targets from the air and prevent reinforcements from reaching the cities. Baghdad has spent years pressing Congress and the White House for permission to buy dozens of the aircraft. So far, though, Washington has said no."  More here.

The Hill’s Jeremy Herb reports that at least one Republican lawmaker agrees: "The United States should assist the Iraqi government with limited air power and intelligence operations in its fight against al Qaeda, a Republican lawmaker and Iraq War veteran said Monday. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan in the Air Force, said in a statement Monday that the resurgence of violence in Iraq was a ‘direct result of the Obama administration’s short-sighted policy decisions and hurried withdrawal from the region.’" More here.

A former senior military officer pins the blame on Maliki: "He has not done what’s necessary to win the Anbari Sunnis’ trust and spillover violence from Syria and the resurgent AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] have moved into the fray.  Too early at this point to determine if the Sunni tribes and the distrusted Iraqi security forces can bury the hatchet long enough to evict AQI from the ground they say they are holding." But, the officer told Situation Report: "None of this was inevitable, rather it’s the result of bad choices by folks. While our total pull-out was unwise strategically, Maliki owns most of the responsibility. But I think it’s too soon to say what will happen in al Anbar/Iraq. It’s a mess though."

Jim Miller, the Pentagon’s Policy Chief, told Situation Report Monday that a security agreement with Iraq might have changed things: "Would there have been a different situation had we reached agreement — I think that is possible, but we have to deal with the reality of what we have on the ground," said Miller, who departs the Pentagon this week after about 17 months in the job. "We engaged in the negotiation with Iraq, we didn’t reach an agreement that would allow us to put our forces in in a way that was acceptable to us," he said in a roundtable with reporters.  Miller served within the Pentagon’s policy shop during the withdrawal of forces but became Undersecretary for Policy in May 2012 after forces left in 2011.

Miller said the U.S. has provided Iraq with numerous capabilities, including surveillance, border security, counter-terrorism and "other strike capabilities." Without saying it directly, however, Miller hinted that the current foreign military sales program hindered but is not fully responsible for whatever the U.S. was not able to provide the Iraqis in the years since the U.S. withdrawal. "We will always want to do things more quickly, but we have worked to make our foreign military sales assistance work as rapidly as possible," he said. "On that, we’ve done what’s reasonable."

Meanwhile, veterans of the long Iraq war are feeling the sting of the memory of Anbar province, where more Americans died than any other province in Iraq. USA Today’s Jim Michaels: "…"My heart is aching right now," says Jeremiah Workman, who was awarded the second highest valor award, a Navy Cross, for repeatedly entering a house full of dozens of insurgents in Fallujah to recover the bodies of slain Marines. ‘I think of those Marines and sailors and soldiers that were there and that were lost and that were hurt.’…

"In Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, U.S. officers supported Sunni tribal sheiks in a risky gambit that helped turn one of the most violent Iraqi cities into among the most secure. The 2006 tribal revolt, called the Awakening, spread beyond Ramadi and helped turn the tide of war. Today many of those same tribal leaders are under attack by al-Qaeda and are leading the fight to push militants out of Anbar. American officers forged close bonds with tribal sheiks, fighting together to take back Ramadi one block at a time. ‘The Anbari leaders that are fighting against al-Qaeda today are actually friends of ours,’ said Marc Chretien, a former State Department official who worked with the tribes in Anbar province for several years." Michaels’ whole story here.

And finally, Marines have launched a kickstarter project to retake Fallujah. The Duffel Blog: (satire alert!) "A pair of former Marines have launched a Kickstarter project to raise enough money for them to travel back to Iraq and retake the city of Fallujah in time for the ten-year anniversary of the battle. ‘Hi, I’m Austin Jenkins and this is Joe Wood. We’re Marines, and this is our Kickstarter fund to send us back to Iraq to go fuck some shit up,’ begins the now-famous video pitch featuring the two Iraq War veterans. They are seeking $1300 to fly them one-way from the U.S. to Jordan, where they intend to cross the Iraqi border in order to ‘make it rain.’" More here.

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The Army is taking on its own toxic leaders. NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling: "Top commanders in the U.S. Army have announced publicly that they have a problem: They have too many ‘toxic leaders’ – the kind of bosses who make their employees miserable. Many corporations share a similar problem, but in the Army’s case, destructive leadership can potentially have life or death consequences. So, some Army researchers are wondering if toxic officers have contributed to soldiers’ mental health problems. One of those researchers is Dave Matsuda. In 2010, then-Brig. Gen. Pete Bayer, who was supervising the Army’s drawdown in Iraq, asked Matsuda to study why almost 30 soldiers in Iraq had committed or attempted suicides in the past year. ‘We got to a point where we were exceptionally frustrated by the suicides that were occurring,’ Bayer says. ‘And quite honestly feeling — at least I was — helpless to some degree that otherwise good young men and women were taking their lives.’" More here.

Don’t expect a budget doc until Feb. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber: "The U.S. government is not likely to unveil its 2015 spending plan until late February at the earliest, according to budget experts. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is preparing to send the Pentagon its 2015 "passback guidance" as soon as this week, according to DoD officials and defense observers. The guidance, which includes specific budget and policy marching orders, is one of the final steps before the Obama administration sends its 2015 spending plan to Congress." More here.

Defense News’ "leadership poll" is out this week. About 350 "national security leaders" were polled on what’s important to them and their answer: cyberwarfare. "But while the leaders in national security policy, the military, congressional staffs and the defense industry are united in the seriousness of the cyber threat, agreement on the next greatest threat breaks down clearly along party lines. Terrorism is viewed as the next greatest threat by leaders who identified themselves as Republicans, while climate change was cited by those identifying as Democrats." Check it all out here.

Sanctions have forced Iran into nuclear talks. But European courts say they’re unfair and maybe worse – undemocratic. FP’s Colum Lynch and Jamila Trindle: "The White House and Congress have credited international sanctions with forcing Iran to negotiate a nuclear deal. But the American and European coalition that imposed those measures is now in danger of coming apart, because of widely different notions about what makes sanctions fair. Some of America’s closest allies now want to give blacklisted individuals the right to challenge their designation as international malefactors. It’s a step the United States is fighting at every turn.

During the past 15 years, the United States has successfully mustered international support for targeted sanctions against hundreds of alleged terrorists, nuclear arms proliferators, and other international miscreants. The measures — including travel bans, asset freezes, and trade and financial restrictions — have exacted a high price for terrorists and their financial backers as well as for countries, including Iran and North Korea, that routinely flouted U.N. demands to curtail their nuclear activities." More here.

Is it time for the U.S. to start exporting oil? FP’s Keith Johnson: "Washington, long accustomed to hoarding America’s energy imports, is now starting to debate the once-unthinkable: whether to start exporting crude oil from the United States. The political debate, which kicks off in earnest Tuesday with a speech and paper by Alaska’s Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, shows just how far the U.S. energy revolution has transformed generation-old ideas about energy security and the country’s vulnerability." More here.

According to Business Insider, there are nine reasons why companies won’t hire vets. Here’s one that rings true for Situation Report because we’ve seen it repeatedly: "Your Resume Is Longer Than the CEO of Our Company’s (or Shorter Than a Recent College Graduate’s). A long resume doesn’t impress me at all. Even worse, a resume that has neither definition nor clarity is guaranteed to be placed in the trash. I’m probably going to look at it for six seconds, tops." Transitioning out of the military? Click here for the other eight reasons.

Speaking of jobs: Kristina Wong landed on her feet. Pentagon correspondent Kristina Wong, of late from The Washington Times, has a new gig after the TWT oddly laid her off last month. Wong is now covering the Hill for The Hill. Fishbowl DC’s Patrick Tutwiller: "It was a blue Christmas for former Washington Times defense reporter Kristina Wong. She was one of the unfortunate journos axed during  John Solomon’s re-org last month. But things are looking up in the New Year. Lat Monday she was hired as a staff writer for The Hill covering defense and politics, and today is her first day on the job. She will also be contributing to The Hill‘s defense blog, DefCon Hill (@DefConHill). Kristina is taking over for Carlo Munoz, who left the pub to freelance and do more "boots on the ground stuff," and finish a Master’s degree at Georgetown University." A little bit more, here.