The Islamic State continues to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria. The extremist Islamic group, unmatched in its atrocities, has slaughtered hundreds of innocent Christians, Yazidis, Alawites, Shiites, and their more moderate coreligionists. Now, hundreds of thousands of desperate Middle Easterners are fleeing the region, creating a worldwide refugee crisis and possibly spreading terrorists throughout Europe and beyond.
So where did the Islamic State—or ISIS—get the sophisticated equipment and weaponry to cause all of this death, destruction, and displacement? Sadly, much of it was acquired, free of charge, from the United States—a direct result of the Obama administration’s “JV” foreign policy and its incompetent defense strategy, which showered poorly trained allied forces with weapons, vehicles, and materiel without properly ensuring that these valuable assets remain in friendly hands.
The Telegraph recently reported that U.S. military-trained “Division 30″—a collection of supposedly “moderate” rebels fighting against Bashar Assad’s dictatorship in Syria—turned over their weapons to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as soon as they entered the country. Galling, yes, but this hardly would be the worst loss of U.S. equipment to extremists.
In Iraq, when ISIS took Mosul in June 2014, it scored 2,300 Humvees made in America and originally provided to Iraqi security forces. Earlier this spring, its capture of Ramadi came with a lethal bonus: American-made artillery, M1A1 tanks, and various wheeled and tracked vehicles. Exact counts are difficult to obtain.
Today, we’re at war with our own weapons. As Peter Van Buren wrote for Reuters in June:
The Hellfires and AT-4’s, anti-tank weapons, are presumably going to be used to help destroy the American armor in the hands of Islamic State. The United States also is conducting airstrikes to destroy weapons seized by Islamic State.
How did this happen?
In Syria, the administration’s halfhearted effort to destabilize the Assad regime failed to drive out the secular strongman. It did, however, weaken him, creating a power vacuum quickly filled by ISIS and other extreme elements previously kept in check by the dictatorship and so-called moderate forces.
Earlier, in 2011, the Obama administration’s triumphant (so to speak) pull-out of our last combat troops in Iraq created another power vacuum—with the same result. As Heritage Foundation scholar Jim Philips presciently warned then:
[T]he Obama administration’s failure to negotiate an extension of the U.S. military presence … means that the Iraqi government will be in a much weaker position to fight terrorism and prevent the resumption of a sectarian civil war.
Since then, the administration has channeled the bulk of its military aid to the Iraqi government, while giving Kurdish troops in the north—who have proved their mettle against ISIS—less to work with. The administration fears that extensively arming independence-minded Kurds could threaten a unified Iraq further down the road.
Unfortunately, the Iraqi troops are less inclined to die for a shaky government than the Kurds are for their homes and families. Thus, the Iraqis readily abandon U.S.-supplied equipment by the thousands, while the Kurds fight tooth and nail against ISIS with meager supplies.
Aggravating the entire situation is the myopic view of the president, who famously underestimated ISIS and called them the “JV team” in January 2014. Far from being bumbling understudies, they are now the single greatest threat to peace in Iraq, in Syria, and beyond. Their influence stretches east to Pakistan and west across northern Africa. It is scandalous, but somehow unsurprising, then, that more than 50 intelligence analysts have charged Pentagon officials with omitting information and twisting the facts in intelligence reports to paint a sunnier picture of progress against ISIS for the White House and Congress.
The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria underscore the need to have a firm strategy that doesn’t take years to “evolve,” something the White House has been stunningly unable to provide.
It doesn’t look to get better anytime soon. The administration’s ill-advised deal with Iran means that millions more dollars will flow to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, a fact the president himself admits.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that the real JV team isn’t occupying Mosul. It’s occupying the White House.
Originally published in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.