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Assessing U.S. Military Strategy In The Middle East

As the offensive to retake Mosul continues, Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with military analyst  Andrew Bacevich about the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Interview Highlights: Andrew Bacevich

On the offensive to retake Mosul

“Back in Cold War days, the Soviet military used to have a concept the he called ‘correlation of forces,’ that was a relative, aggregated strength. It’s a crude measure but maybe useful in this circumstance. And it seems to me that the correlation of forces is now pretty clearly turned against ISIS. And that doesn’t tell us when Mosul is going to fall — it’s very difficult I think from our removed to make judgement like that, whether it’s gonna be two weeks from now or eight weeks from now. But I think that it’s pretty clear that the war is turning against ISIS — they’re losing territory. I haven’t read anything about how their own recruitment is going these days, but it’s hard for me to imagine that there’s much enthusiasm among alienated youth to go sign up to the ISIS cause at this particular moment. I think the war is going about as well as we might expect at the current moment.”

On defeating ISIS

“I expect that some time within the next year we will see the fall of ISIS, and that particular entity. It does not follow that the circumstances that led to the creation, the emergence of ISIS, that those somehow gonna be remedied. Remember that, ISIS came into existence as a successor organization to al-Qaida in Iraq, and through successful U.S. counterterrorism efforts, ISIS in Iraq was dismantled, and one could call that a victory — it was a victory. But it was a victory that then simply paved the way for ISIS. So we need to defeat ISIS, I believe that ISIS will ultimately be defeated. But to imagine that somehow this will mark some kind of decisive outcome, a determinative outcome, I think is an illusion.”


On a future offensive to re-take Raqqa, Syria

“On the one hand, since ISIS views Raqqa as its de facto capital, then bringing in about the destruction of ISIS would seem to require liberating Raqqa. But I also was somewhat taken aback by Secretary Carter’s comment, echoed I believe by the three-star U.S. Army general who’s presiding over the Iraq campaign from a U.S. point of view. Because that seemed to imply willingness to deepen direct U.S. military involvement in what is in fact a complicated Syrian civil war. You had since that President Obama, now a lame duck, has been somewhat reluctant to see the U.S. dive deeper, in a military sense, into that conflict. Secretary Carter’s remark, presumably — inconsistent with what the president wants — seemed to suggest that we’re gonna get in deeper. And I personally would see that as a troubling development.”

On Obama’s foreign policy

“It’s mixed — there’s no doubt about that. We must credit the president for not repeating the egregious, reckless errors of his predecessor, George W. Bush — particularly initiating the utterly unnecessary Iraq War back in 2003. After President Obama’s own so-called surge in Afghanistan, back in 2010, the president seems to have concluded that invading and occupying countries using U.S. forces is not a very good idea. So he then shifted to different methods — special operations forces, drone attacks, air attacks, working through proxies — that at least to have the benefit of reducing U.S. casualties and also frankly reducing the fiscal costs of continuing this war. What the president hasn’t done, in adopting these new methods, is come up with a more effective way to apply U.S. military power.”


Andrew Bacevich, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University’s Pardee School of International Studies.

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An Iraqi forces T-72 tank is stationed near the village of Sin al-Dhuban, south of Mosul, on Oct. 27, 2016, during an operation to retake the main hub city from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)
An Iraqi forces T-72 tank is stationed near the village of Sin al-Dhuban, south of Mosul, on Oct. 27, 2016, during an operation to retake the main hub city from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)

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