Remember the Rocky Horror Picture Show from 1975? Then Let’s do the “Time Warp” Together!

My intention was to write about how the Intelligence Community (IC) might go about restoring its confidence and creditability with the American people, but that seemed tone deaf given the events of early June:

  • Boko Haram kidnapping 200 Nigerian school girls
  • A friendly fire incident in Afghanistan that killed five US Army soldiers with a B1 Lancer doing “close” air support from 30,000 feet
  • 10,000 children from Central America overwhelming DHS Immigration and Border Patrol resources in the Southwest
  • The myriad of issues associated with the exchange of five high ranking Al Qaeda detainees (aka the Al Qaeda War Cabinet) for Sargent Berghadl

As I was trying to determine what might connect these events and put them into a broader context, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Jihadists exploded across the Syrian border into Iraq threatening the continued existence of Iraq as a sovereign state.  So if I don’t start talking about events in Iraq I am not sure why I would expect any of you to keep reading.

The rapid advance of the ISIS Militia towards Baghdad seemed like a time warp bringing me back to 1975 ( )  where the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) predictably came across the border in strength three years after the departure of US combat forces to topple the corrupt Theiu Government in Saigon.  In the background to the fall of Saigon,  Brezhnev ‘s Soviet Union was deploying a new generation of highly accurate ICBMS while OKEAN 75 was showing the world the firepower and global reach of the Soviet Navy.  At home Gerald Ford was viewed as an “accidental President” who could not get the country’s economy going, while in the Senate the Church Committee was investigating IC abuses which included warrantless surveillance on American citizens.  Based on this I was bracing for a pell-mell evacuation of the 5,000 residents of the $750 million dollar US embassy in Baghdad complete with an iconic photo a Marine helicopter taking people off the roof.  I snapped back to the present though when I realized unlike Vietnam, Iraq is an artificial country, Russia is at best a regional power today, and Baghdad was not likely to fall to ISIS since Iraq’s Shia Mullahs called the faithful to arms and Iran forcefully inserted itself in defense of the al ’Malaki government. Moreover, ISIS seems only capable of capturing and controlling the Sunni region of Iraq.

There has naturally been some rumblings that IC was not aware of ISIS and the threat it presented, but I knew this wasn’t true.  The first time I had heard of ISIS was last February when DIA Director Mike Flynn in his global threat assessment for Congress described ISIS, what its strategic aims are, and why they were a concern to the IC.  More recently journalists David Ignatius and Siobhan Gorman have reported on IC efforts to work with intelligence services in the region to learn more about ISIS in advance of their breakout from Syria.  The criticism that has stuck is that nobody expected the Iraqi Army to cut and run in the face of the ISIS Militia.  Really?!?!  They must have seen a different Iraqi Army than the one on the battlefield during Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom!

Since the fall of Mosul (circa 8 June) there has been a daily onslaught of punditry about whether it was a strategic mistake for the US to militarily involve itself in Iraq or whether our 2011 pull out of military forces was a strategic mistake.  It seems “mistake” is a description running through American involvement in Iraq since the end of Desert Storm combat operations in February 1991.

  • A battle field armistice  that allowed Saddam’s Sunni regime to crush Shia militants in southern Iraq with helicopter gunships
  • The inability to weaken the Saddam’s grip on Iraq through sanctions and “no fly zones” enforcement
  • A flawed intelligence assessment that Saddam had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify Iraqi Freedom to take out Saddam and his regime
  • A presidential “mission accomplished” assertion for Iraqi Freedom from the flight deck of USS Abraham Lincoln
  • No phase IV plan for reconstructing Iraq post Iraqi Freedom coupled with the disastrous “de Bathification” policy that opened the door for Al Qaeda In Iraq (AQI) which has morphed into ISIS
  • Dithering over whether stabilization, counter terrorism, or counterinsurgency operations (COIN) was the best strategy for Iraq
  • Not being able to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Maliki government for keeping a residual US military force in Iraq
  • Never understanding that Iraq is not a political entity but a geographic enclave of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish regions that is an artifact of Sykes-Picot and has existed as a nation state only since 1920 until now because of the British Mandate followed by oppressive strongmen regimes in Baghdad

Beyond this record of mistakes there is also a strong case that the window for American direct involvement with Iraq’s future has closed.  The expansion of ISIS into Iraq has laid bare the realities of sectarian hostilities that dominate modern day Mesopotamia that outsiders cannot really impact. If there is to be stability in the region known today as Iraq it would seem that Sunni Saudi Arabia (by the way who is funding ISIS?) and Shite Iran would be its broker.   If events today are a harbinger of a larger more intense holy war between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam it will not be lost on the Shite Mullahs in Tehran that Pakistan brings nuclear weapons to the Sunni’s side.

Certainly I am concerned by an ISIS inspired Sunni “caliphate” stretching from northern Syria through what is currently northwestern Iraq to Kurdistan that would be the failed state haven Afghanistan was for Al Qaeda’s training and planning of terrorist acts of mass effects.  More pragmatically, however, I see the Sunni and Shia Jihadists spending more effort killing each other in the name of Mohammad than visiting terrorism on the West.

. . . . and if there is an irrepressible urge to deploy US military forces, I would urge the White House to consider sending activated Army National Guard units to the Mexican border to halt the flow of children, as well as others, who are walking into the United States by the thousands!

That’s what I think; what do you think?

7 comments on “Remember the Rocky Horror Picture Show from 1975? Then Let’s do the “Time Warp” Together!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Joe: One cannot continue to blame the IC for the policy incompetencies of this administration. There have been so many niave decisions made in the past seven years it is pathetic. Or…were these mistaken decisions not really mistakes but intentional? Don Rowan, PhD

  2. joemaz says:

    Don thanks for the comment!

    The mistakes I outline actually cover four administrations going back to 1991 and include two Republican and two Democratic administrations. Only the WMD NIE used to justify Iraqi Freedom can be laid on the IC’s doorstep – – – but its poor analysis of limited intelligence has had dire consequences now for over a decade.

    In this blog I make an effort to say ISIS spreading to Iraq is not an intel failure since DIA (and I suspect CentCom, SoCom, CIA, and maybe State) knew about ISIS and its threat at least in February when LTG Flynn briefed the Congress in open session about ISIS

    As last month’s blog (The New Normal and DIA) shows, I am not reluctant to be critical of the IC, but I make a concerted effort to ensure when I am critical of the community that it is not gratuitous and that there is a constructive purpose


  3. Bob Gourley says:

    Joe I absolutely appreciate your context on this and all other IC related topics. Please keep the posts coming.

  4. mazzajm1 says:

    Bob I value your feedback and encouragement! Thanks shipmate joemaz

  5. Hawk says:

    The problem is that we are becoming serial invaders of Iraq much like the British have become serial invaders of Afghanistan. We need to recognize that any nation building project is a 50 year process – think Japan, South Korea and Germany. We have an absurdly good record of developing democracies, when we stick with it. We need to admit that democratic Middle East is in our long term best interest. Just like Qaeda, ISIS will eventually come looking for us. We may not be interested in war, but war is sure interested in us.

    The other issue is that most of the countries of the ‘third world’ really don’t exist except in the minds of their rulers and the United Nations. The breakup of these nations, such as what happened in Yugoslavia is necessary, and despite a painful short term costs, will ultimately lead to a more stable world. As the viability of the states comes apart, we will see more events like Yugoslavian war leading up to a series of stable and peaceful nations. Iraq is going through a similar situation, and if we are willing to guide it, can lead to a similar outcome.

  6. mazzajm1 says:

    Hawk my apologies for not responding sooner. I believe our success in building strong economically vibrant democracies in Japan and Germany gave the US a false sense that we could do this at any place or time of our choosing. Of course, South Vietnam, Iran, and virtually all the countries in Central America should have chastened our hubris for capitalistic based democracy nation building.

    ISIS and Iran aside the real problem for building a stable Iraq let alone one based on democracy and free enterprise is that Iraq has only existed as a political entity since the British Mandate of 1923 and has spent virtually all of its short history as either a colony or ruled by an autocratic strong man – – – – not exactly a good candidate for participatory democracy.

    The irony here to me is that part of the rational for Iraqi Freedom was to create a secular stable Iraq to moderate Iranian Shia extremism in the region and now the US is looking to Iran to stabilize Sunni Extremist in Iraq. All this tells me how little we knew about the region known as Iraq when chose to take Saddam out and how we have learned about it since


    • Hawk says:

      Your response says more about politics in the United States, particularly about one political faction, than it does about Vietnam or Iraq or Central America. Germany, Japan and Korea were fortunate that their nation building existed in an era when there was a bi-partisan consensus about foreign policy. The U.S. war weary after the Korean War, but our leaders were mature and had some sense of strategic planning. It took time, especially for South Korea, before military dictatorships gave way to a democratic society.

      As to your comments about Iraq, precisely my point as stated in the second paragraph. Our main mistake in Iraq was to follow the top-down United Nations model of national creation, where the ‘international community’ defines the boundaries of a nation, instead of the bottom-up model, described in our Declaration of Independence. Governments (and nations) exist from the consent of the governed. Legitimacy of a government comes from it citizens, not the international community.

      We have ceded the middle east to a Russian-Iranian axis. Instead of the peace we crave, will only generate a war that we will get dragged into.

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