Monday morning, President Obama stated, “We don’t yet have a complete strategy,” with regard to training and equipping Iraqi soldiers. This is not the same as saying we don’t have a strategy at all, as he claimed last year, but the difference is less significant than it appears.
Here’s what the President said Monday morning in context [emphasis added]:
One of the areas where we’re going to have to improve is the speed at which we’re training Iraqi forces. Where we’ve trained Iraqi forces directly and equipped them and we have a training assist posture, they operate effectively. Where we haven’t, morale, lack of equipment, etc. may undermine the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces…
So we’re reviewing a range of plans for how we might do that, essentially accelerating the number of Iraqi forces that are properly trained and equipped and have a focused strategy and good leadership. And when a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people. It’s not…We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis, as well, about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out.
Some Obama-friendly news sites are eager to point out the President was talking about training Iraqi troops, not the whole of his ISIS strategy. That’s true, but it’s also a distinction without a difference. If the President says he’s waiting on a new strategy to fix the old strategy, that’s a clear signal the old one is not working very well.
Recall that the President shared his overall ISIS strategy with the American people back on September 10th in a major address devoted to the topic (an address made necessary by a gaffe the week before, in which he said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”) In his September speech, the President laid out a strategy composed of four-parts. Part two was to “increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.” That’s the thing he said today we “have to improve.” That’s Obama-speak for it’s not working.
So pointing out, pedantically, that Obama was only talking about a problem with 1/4 of his announced strategy doesn’t mean much if the whole plan depends on that 1/4 working. And that’s clearly the case here. No one thinks we can fight ISIS without effective ground troops, which means the President’s statement today is a significant admission that his strategy is not working.
That’s the real statement coming out of today. Do we have a strategy against ISIS? We do. Do we have one that the President or the Pentagon thinks is working well? Not at the moment.