Iraqi soldiers fire at paper targets during the opening of the Anbar Operation Center's shooting range in Ramadi, Iraq, September 10, 2011

commentary

(War on the Rocks)

September 14, 2015

Vietnam Teaches Us That Iraq Needs More Than U.S. Combat Advisers

Iraqi soldiers fire at paper targets during the opening of the Anbar Operation Center's shooting range in Ramadi, Iraq, September 10, 2011

Photo by Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo/U.S. Army/CC BY 2.0

by David E. Johnson

The campaign against the Islamic State seems stalled, with no meaningful progress in sight. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, in an interview with Stars and Stripes on the eve of his retirement from the Army, was characteristically blunt, noting that the war is “kind of a stalemate.” He also stated that the United States “could defeat the Islamic State with its own ground forces,” but that such an approach “is not the long-term solution to the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As I have written at War on the Rocks and elsewhere, I agree with Odierno that U.S. ground forces can defeat the Islamic State. However, I disagree his contention that “the U.S. cannot solve this problem for the region.” I think that the Islamic State must be defeated as a necessary precondition before Iraqis and others in the region can be expected to provide for their own internal security in the future. Unfortunately, the resilience of the Islamic State thus far — as well as its continued reign of terror — has shown that those in the region cannot defeat it.

The remainder of this commentary is available at warontherocks.com.


David Johnson is a senior historian at the RAND Corporation and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. From June 2012 until July 2014, he established and directed the inaugural Chief of Staff of the Army Strategic Studies Group. He is a retired U.S. Army Colonel with a Ph.D. in history from Duke University. He is the author of numerous books and articles on military strategy.

This commentary originally appeared on War on the Rocks on September 14, 2015. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.