‘The [Muqtada al-Sadr Shiite] militiamen left the mosque area to confront the rolling and dismounted troops, not knowing that General Dempsey had put a pair of AC-130 gunships aloft to attack the exposed militiamen with devastating Gatling guns, cannons, and howitzers. ‘By the next day,’ General Dempsey said, ‘they had disappeared.’” So wrote the New York Times on June 26, 2004.
In Karbala, Iraq, that aggressive feint allowed General Dempsey to smash Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia without damaging a revered mosque. But that was in 2004, when Dempsey was a division commander. Today, as chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey is President Obama’s top military adviser.
He has a tough job. After all, Obama’s national-security deliberations show a stunning absence of strategic savvy. Ignoring all the evidence, President Obama remained passive in the face the ISIS threat for over a year as it grew in strength. Today, things have hardly improved. Without placing “eyes and arms” counterparts on the ground, U.S. forces have been unable to restrain covert, maneuverable ISIS formations. From northern Syria to Iraq’s center, ISIS has seized power. And in this realm of death, the Sunni Arab tribes of Iraq’s Anbar and Syria’s Deir ez-Zor provinces are now being slaughtered.
Consider this Washington Post report from August. “Over a three-day period, vengeful fighters shelled, beheaded, crucified, and shot hundreds of members of the Shaitat tribe after they dared to rise up.” That’s a sanitized version. Still, it’s just one of many similar reports. In recent days, hundreds of other Sunnis have been massacred in Anbar.
This shouldn’t concern us only for moral reasons. If the Sunni tribes are defeated, America will have to re-deploy large numbers of ground forces back to Iraq. The Iraqi military is mistrusted by Sunnis and in the short term won’t be able to secure Anbar without assistance. Dempsey understands this, which is why he is now pushing President Obama to deploy U.S. military advisers to support the tribal uprisings. There’s a grand opportunity here. ISIS lacks popular Sunni support. In addition, as I’ve said before, a tribal-partnering strategy would devastate the Islamic State. If we aim to establish a new militia-army to confront ISIS, we’ll find a well of recruits disenchanted by ISIS activities in the realms of ideology, governance, and territory. Propelled by their violent religious psychosis, ISIS leaders have fostered loathing. Dempsey’s strategy would turn that brutality against them.
The benefits of Dempsey’s strategy go further. By proving our worth to the Sunni tribes, America would gain a new ally and the political opportunity to check Iran’s influence in Iraq. We’d also anchor a more positive perception with Sunnis across the Middle East, while rebuilding our shattered credibility with allies and adversaries.
True, a tribal-partnering strategy won’t be easy. But we should have faith in its potential. We won the first great victory over al-Qaeda in Iraq (ISIS’s predecessor) when these same Sunni tribes joined with America in a common cause. By deploying a few hundred American and coalition Special Forces soldiers to aid the Sunni tribes, Obama could build another army to destroy another common enemy. He should do so immediately.
— Tom Rogan, based in Washington, D.C., is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and a contributor to The McLaughlin Group. He holds the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute and tweets @TomRtweets.