ISIS is united, but U.S. is divided

Published 10:20 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2015

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter unleashed a firestorm when he harshly criticized Iraqi forces for abandoning the Iraqi city of Ramadi to ISIS. Iraqi security forces “showed no will to fight,” he said. “They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force.”

The numbers are stunning (though a Pentagon spokesman volunteered that it’s hard to make precise estimates). Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey reported that 6,000 Iraqi soldiers were beaten by 150 ISIS jihadists. If that’s true, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has got a major internal threat knocking at his doorsteps.

Two publications, VOX World and The Daily Beast, pounced on Carter for making unfair, even inaccurate, criticisms of the ISF, and on President Obama for alleged inadequate air support. The following day, Vice President Joe Biden was on the phone with Iraq’s prime minister reassuring him that the U.S. still had Iraq’s back. Biden thanked al-Abadi for “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces in Ramadi.”

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The “fog of war” is at work here. For example, those close to the battlefront have witnessed something else – conflicting accounts from fighters present during the battle. An Iraqi soldier called their retreat “a life-saving measure (that prevented) a massacre.” But a Kurd soldier present said it was “an extraordinary withdrawal and there was no reason for it.”

Some of the fog lifted as reports came in that ISIS converted “captured U.S. military armored vehicles … into mega bombs” that flattened whole city blocks and leveled multi-storied buildings. ISIS exploded 27 of these horrific devices, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Instead of arriving in the long Toyota pickup caravans that ISIS favors, they entered in old cars, two or three at a time, to escape U.S. air surveillance. And when the offensive came, they used the cover of a sandstorm. ISIS fighters kept tight secrecy until their attack. They are at war, and so are we, with our relentless airstrikes and personnel in Iraq training local forces.

However you slice it — even if we allow that ISIS had “hundreds” of fighters present — ISIS jihadists were outnumbered by thousands of Iraqi soldiers. I am sure the U.S. personnel there were deeply disappointed as well.

For over a year, the Obama Administration has been waging a tactical war against ISIS using strategic airstrikes and training and arming the Iraqi military. Congress, which continues to demand a strategy for defeating or dismantling ISIS, hasn’t moved an inch on legislation that would give authorization to do more.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner is sitting on a bill that would authorize U.S. forces to fight ISIS. President Obama requested this authorization over six months ago, but Boehner refuses to act because the bill bans “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

If Boehner and the Republicans were serious about fighting ISIS, they would immediately provide Obama with the authorization he asks for — and add greater powers later, if they were needed.

And for those Republicans running for president, they have seized the opportunity of ISIS’s victory in Ramadi to criticize Obama as lacking a plan. But those Republicans who insist Obama has no plan appear bereft of their own specific military plan to combat ISIS … beyond vowing to “kill terrorists.”

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia is attempting to shame Congress into action. “I’m shaming them. … But the other news that is shaming them is, (ISIS) is running wild,” Kaine told the Virginian-Pilot. “War powers” is an area where the Constitution gives clear authority to Congress, but Boehner is avoiding Congress’ responsibility.

Instead of acting to put Congress behind U.S. air support in Iraq and Syria, Boehner is playing political games. He dusted off an old ploy that he has used in the past to delay other Obama proposals — demanding the president “start over” and submit a broader authorization. Again, they could begin with what they have, instead of passing the buck.

The Iraqis, stung by Secretary Carter’s recent criticism, have effectively acknowledged their army lacks the discipline to fight ISIS, and turned mostly to Shia militias to retake Ramadi, in the heart of Sunni territory. This is risky, given that Shia Muslims have looted and murdered Sunni Muslim civilians in previous actions.

For now, Obama ordered airstrikes in targets leading to Ramadi, and a top State Department official said the administration is “taking an extremely hard look” in re-evaluating its strategy against ISIS. Meanwhile Congress, as Kaine has repeatedly stated, is largely silent, unless they raise their voices to critique President Obama.

When Congress returns from its brief recess, members will have plenty on their plate. But the time has come to focus on a united strategy to defeat, dismantle and destroy ISIS before it captures more cities, kills more innocent civilian, and wreaks havoc in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News