At Friday's Department of Defense press briefing, Brigadier General Thomas Weidley gave it the full Baghdad Bob:
In Ramadi, after a period of relative stability in the tactical situation, Daesh [Isis] executed a complex attack on Iraqi Security Forces today. These forces were able to repel most of these attacks, but some gains were made by Daesh in previously contested areas...
Iraqi Security Forces, as well as federal and local police, continue to control most of the key facilities, infrastructure and lines of communication in the area. Ramadi is a major population center, the provincial capital of Iraq's largest province, and a location where Iraqi Security Forces, police and local tribes have been working together for nearly a year to defend.
Since the beginning of OIR [Operation Inherent Resolve - seriously], the coalition has provided precision air support for the ISF with approximately 420 airstrikes in the Fallujah-Ramadi area. In the past month, we've conducted 165 airstrikes in support of Iraqi Security Forces in Ramadi, which have destroyed operational resources and facilities such as Daesh-controlled buildings, fighting positions, armored and technical vehicles...
Recent efforts by the government of Iraq to enroll Sunni tribes within the popular mobilization forces will provide additional needed combat power to Ramadi ISF commanders. As well, the coalition remains steadfast in support of the government of Iraq within Ramadi...
We firmly believe Daesh is on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria, attempting to hold previous gains... They no longer field large conventional formations; they travel in civilian vehicles, they travel in small numbers, which, again, slows their -- their ability to move in and around the battlespace, and their ability to maneuver is very, very limited at this point...
Again, we see the lack of training and the rush to deploy inexperienced replacements to the battlefield...
Etc. Americans interested in an honest assessment of what's happening are better off skipping the Pentagon briefing and listening to the locals hightailing it outta there:
"Ramadi has fallen," Muhammad Haimour, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Anbar, told AP Sunday. "The city was completely taken. ... The military is fleeing."
Indeed. The Pentagon has an unrivaled comic genius when it comes to naming its operations. General Weidley is Chief of Staff, Joint Task Force for "Operation Inherent Resolve". If one had to name the single quality most obviously lacking in local ground forces, in the "60-nation coalition" and in US strategists, that would be it. Iraqi troops fled their US-supplied government buildings and then, at the edge of town, abandoned their US-supplied Humvees to melt into the local population, hopefully with nothing US-supplied about their person to give them away. The Humvees and the buildings are now in the hands of Isis. That's the great thing about taking on a "60-nation coalition". When you roll over them in nothing flat, the stuff they leave behind is world-beating state-of-the-art.
Almost exactly twelve years ago, I spent two days in Ramadi - one coming, one going. I wandered around the streets, browsed the shops, ate in the cafes, all in the same suit-and-tie get-up you can see me in on stage and telly. And I got the odd surly look but no beheading. Because, in the spring of 2003, the west was still believed to be serious. Now they know we're not.
That's a terrible thing to tell your enemy. And once you do, alll that's left is to boast of the scale of your ineffectualism. As General Weidley assured us:
The coalition has provided precision air support for the ISF with approximately 420 airstrikes in the Fallujah-Ramadi area. In the past month, we've conducted 165 airstrikes in support of Iraqi Security Forces in Ramadi...
That and $4.75'll get you a decaf latte at the CentCom Starbucks.
In America Alone (personally autographed copies of which, etc, etc), there's a passage where I'm on the highway to Ramadi through the western desert, and, over the charred ruin of an Iraqi tank, pondering the words of Sir Basil Liddell Hart - that what matters is to destroy the enemy's will, and, if you're not prepared to do that, destroying his tanks makes no difference. Nor do 420 sorties, nor 420,000 sorties. "Sortie", by the way, is French for exit. Maybe something's getting a little lost in translation here, but it's hard to tell the difference between a sortie strategy and an exit strategy.
And, of course, when you let one enemy know you're not serious, everyone else gets the message, too - from Putin in the Ukraine to Beijing in the South China Seas to Assad bringing his temporarily mothballed chemical weapons up from the basement to every ragtag jihadist militia minded to overrun a US consulate.
What does Isis on "the defensive" look like? They're now in Afghanistan, and controlling Libyan seaports. Any reason why they should stop there? From today's Daily Mirror:
Terror group Islamic State are using human trafficking gangs to smuggle militant extremist to the west.
The jihadi organisation is utilising the Mediterranean refugee crisis to sneak their fighters into Europe, an investigation has revealed.
Intelligence sources say ISIS are working with the cruel people-smuggling network to hide terrorists, bent on destruction, on boats among stricken refugees.
Experts claim ISIS is also capitalising on the emergency in the region to fund its terrorist activities by taxing people smugglers.
Abdul Basit Haroun, an adviser to the intelligence service of the Libyan government, said he had spoken to boat owners who operate in IS-controlled areas who told him the group takes a 50 per cent cut of their income.
The Mirror and the rest of Fleet Street are tapdancing around the genius of what Isis is doing: They conquer territory, terrorizing the locals, beheading and raping on an industrial scale, and sending millions fleeing - and then, having caused a "humanitarian catastrophe", they turn it into a cash cow. In effect, Isis is now running the humanitarian rescue from Isis. They're simultaneously the Nazis and Schindler - if Schindler's list were full of crack German agents he were smuggling into Britain. Which is a hell of a business model.
Where do these guys want to flee to? Europe.
No problem, says Isis. We'll become co-owners of the human-smuggling racket. It's all upside: we overwhelm EU refugee procedures, ensure that among all the losers in the hold are plenty of the savvier jihad boys - and use the cash to fund expansion in other areas.
Once you start ceding territory, where does it stop? Why should Piraeus prove any more of a fortress than Ramadi? Richard Fernandez writes:
Like the monster in the movie, it's taken "three billion electro-volts of energy and it's still coming on"! Why have none of the previous heavy blows slowed ISIS or any of the affiliated rebel groups down? Why is the jihadi organism inexplicably resistant to leadership disruptions, whether caused by drone strikes or the murderous work of rivals from other factions? How can it stand against the Olympian thunderbolt? This is an important question to answer.
It's resistant because it is not a state.
No it's not made of "solid nuclear material". But unlike a state, headed by an Emperor of Japan or Fuhrer, Islamic militancy has the apparent ability to reconfigure itself on the fly.
There's a lot of truth in that. A state needs territory, but Isis doesn't. Having stolen everything it wants, killed everyone it hates and destroyed everything in sight, it can abandon Ramadi for new killing fields. The Islamic State is less a state than a state of mind.
Then again, most western nations are not states, either - not in the conventional Westphalian sense of coherent entities pursuing state strategy. Unlike Britain, America has chosen to run its global order not through conventional expressions of national interest (the British Empire) but through post-Westphalian institutions - the IPCC for "climate change", the "60-nation coalition" for war. The UN-style post-state model strikes me as all but useless. By comparison Islamic imperialism has come up with a form of post-state transnationalism that's boundlessly flexible, encompassing conventional war, global crime syndicates, and the ability to spontaneously ignite "lone wolves" from Sydney to Copenhagen to Garland, Texas.
Meanwhile, our official no-Islam-to-see-here brings only the certainty of further retreat. Even if one accepts the view that this is a "tiny minority" of "bad apples", absolving Islam of responsibility for the cancer that nests within it ensures that there's nothing left to do but what Liddell Hart tells us is strategically pointless: bomb vehicles and buildings. And, given that western taxpayers paid for those vehicles and buildings, it's even more stupid.
Where's our wit and nimbleness and "ability to reconfigure on the fly"? After 14 years, we've learned nothing. Announcing another 473 bazillion sorties and marveling at how swimmingly the US-funded Iraqi Army Please-Don't-Run-Away-Quite-So-Quickly Program is going is not only a sign that we're losing, but that we don't even know enough to know we're using the wrong metrics.