David French published an essay this week on a true mystery in the history of journalism. It all has to do with the pronouncement which took place one week ago, on December 9th. We were all fairly busy, I’m sure, what with the Alabama Senate race winding to a tumultuous close and Christmas fast approaching. But on that day, Haider al-Abadi, the Prime Minister of Iraq, declared victory in the war on ISIS. But in order for you to know about it you’d have to do some serious digging. It barely rated a mention on CNN and unless you had a Google news alert set up for that search term it probably didn’t pop up very prominently in any of your RSS feeds.
French is quick to point out that the larger “idea” of ISIS isn’t gone. Far from it, as we saw with the recent Fumblewear Bomber escapades and other “inspired” attacks around the globe. But ISIS wasn’t supposed to be simply an idea. They were a caliphate, and one which was devastatingly successful for a time. French describes the significant difference.
The victory isn’t confined to Iraq. American-allied forces control ISIS’s former capital in Syria, and the world’s largest jihadist army is gone. Bands of insurgents still prowl the countryside, and ISIS cells exist across the world, but the war against the “caliphate” is over. It’s been won.
It was exactly three years ago that the Middle East was in crisis. The ISIS blitzkrieg had brought Iraq to its knees. Jihadists controlled immense sections of Iraq and Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi spoke from Mosul’s Great Mosque, declared himself “Caliph Ibrahim,” and called on Muslims across the world to join him in his jihad.
They answered his call by the thousands. They flocked to Syria and Iraq from North Africa, Europe, and Asia. Britain was rocked by reports that more of its Muslim residents had joined ISIS than joined the British military. ISIS initiated genocide. It threatened the Kurds. It threatened Baghdad. Americans old enough to remember the fall of Saigon began to wonder: Was history repeating itself?
Given all that, why the virtual media silence on the subject? And before it sounds like I’m deflecting all of the blame elsewhere, why didn’t I write anything about it? The story wasn’t even covered here at Hot Air. As French clearly points out, this wasn’t solely an American victory. Our allies (and even some of our adversaries) were instrumental in crushing the poisonous dreams of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but American arms, air support and advisory resources were a key part of it. And in the end, this combined effort managed to completely destroy the caliphate which had, by any definition you’d care to use, conquered vast portions of Syria and Iraq, established an army, taken over cities, began coining their own money and engaging in international trade. (Granted, that last bit was mostly on the black market, but still…) There were, by most classical definitions, a country, complete with their own flag, borders and all the other trappings.
But we won! As David described it, the caliphate is a smoking ruin. We collectively defeated what was arguably one of the most dangerous and evil regimes seen on the face of the planet since World War 2. Shouldn’t there have been a parade in Times Square or something? Why did the news land mostly with a thud, greeted by a collective yawn and shuffling of feet? French has a couple of theories, so please read the following brief portion from his piece.
He first points out that President Trump gives the media plenty of excuses to ignore the story as he wages his own war on the press. Also, we’re wary of “Mission Accomplished” moments, as anyone who was around for the Bush 43 presidency can well recall. But are the rest of us to blame as well?
But part of the blame still rests with us. Let’s be honest: Panic and fear make for a better story than victory and peace. I hear all the time from friends who ask me to “write more about good news.” Yet I write about good news all the time, and those pieces are often among my least-read articles. Perhaps I’m simply bad at writing about good things. Or perhaps the public has less appetite for the positive.
Either way, it’s time for this to change. Americans died in the fight against ISIS. They restored American military victory in Iraq, preserving the gains of the men and women who fought there years before. In the process, they defeated one of the most vicious and evil enemies our nation has ever faced. They helped retake cities and liberate the oppressed. They won a war. It’s a victory worth a celebration.
Perhaps that’s one element of it. We all know the maxim, most likely first coined by New York Magazine in the 1980s, about, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Our own site was littered with articles covering horror stories every time ISIS took another city, burned another Christian to death in a cage or threatened to actually capture Baghdad. It was horrible news, but it was News. And now the wicked witch is dead, at least in terms of being able to field an army and enslave large civilian populations. We should be celebrating that. And shame on us (and most particularly on me) for not doing so.
Addendum (Ed): I’d dispute the premise of French’s criticism. Abadi may have declared the war won, but that doesn’t make it so. There was a lot of talk about declaring victory in Iraq between 2009-11 when we had “defeated” al-Qaeda in Iraq, and it returned less than three years later as ISIS and took control of western Iraq and Syria.
Let’s assess today’s status quo. The Iraqi army — boosted by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias and Kurdish forces — managed to push ISIS out of Mosul and Tal Afar, major accomplishments about which we did write. The Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias then took control of minor towns along the border as ISIS fled in primarily Sunni territory, after which Abadi declared victory. However, no one has yet captured or killed ISIS’ political and military leadership, and a significant number of its forces have disappeared into the desert. That puts us back into the status quo ante of 2011, in which AQI-ISIS sustained itself as a mobile insurgency force outside of cities and towns, rebuilding its strength and biding its time.
And just like in 2011, we are left with primarily Shi’ite military forces holding positions in primarily Sunni areas. Nouri al-Maliki stabbed the Sunnis in the back after our precipitous withdrawal in 2011, effectively pouring gasoline on the sectarian split and leaving the door wide open for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to build his ISIS army. Perhaps Abadi learned a lesson from that, but until (a) Abadi brings Sunnis into a power-sharing arrangement and (b) al-Baghdadi and the rest of ISIS leadership is captured and killed, the war has not been won.
Perhaps a mention of Abadi’s declaration would have been worth this commentary at the time; I’ll grant French that point. But it was a political statement that doesn’t reflect the circumstances in Iraq any more than similar declarations in Iraq and the US in 2011 did.