Joe Biden’s Awkward ’Mission Accomplished’ Moment In The Fight Against ISIS

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Vice President Joe Biden might be regretting an April speech he made in Washington D.C. as he scrambles to smooth over the relationship with Iraqi leaders after coalition forces suffered a key setback in the fight against Islamic State terrorists.

According to the White House, Biden spoke with Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi of Iraq on Monday after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter asserted that the Iraqi leaders lacked the will to fight ISIS.

“What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter said on Sunday. “They were not outnumbered, but in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. And yet they failed to fight.”

Carter’s comments followed recent setbacks in the region, as Islamic State terrorists took the Iraqi city of Ramadi, Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra and key border locations between Iraq and Syria.

According to the White House, Biden acknowledged “the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces” during the call with the Iraqi Prime Minister and pledged support for their mission to defeat ISIS.

During an April speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Biden claimed that an newly united Iraq was successfully pushing back against the gains made by the Islamic State.

“ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed. Thousands of ISIL fighters have been removed from the battlefield. Their ability to mass and maneuver has been greatly degraded,” he boasted during his speech, reminding them that late last summer, “ISIL was on the offensive everywhere in Iraq.”

Biden even went as far to say that ISIS militants were becoming demoralized, as they faced the military might of President Obama’s coalition forces drawn up to combat the growing threat.

“Reports of demoralization within ISIL ranks are rife, and some ISIL fighters refusing to fight; foreign fighters being killed by ISIL because they want to return home,” Biden said.

Although Biden cautioned that he didn’t want to “paint an overly rosy picture” he asserted that “ISIL’s aura of invincibility has been pierced, and that’s important.”

He made his comments just days before al-Abadi visited the United States for a series of meetings about combating ISIS. The prime minister was hailed by both Biden and Obama who praised Iraqis for working to combat the ongoing threat.

By May, however, it was clear that the administration had been overly optimistic in its assessment of the situation. Last week, White House communications staff spent most of his time in the daily briefings asserting that Obama’s strategy was the right one and the sudden success of Islamic State terrorists was part of the normal “ebbs and flows” of the fight.

Obama also insisted personally in an interview last week that “I don’t think we’re losing” in the fight against ISIS, calling the recent gains made by the terrorist organization “a tactical setback.”

The administration worked quickly to combat the notion that the United States was failing its mission to inspire Iraqi forces to combat the growing terrorist threat.

Biden has struggled with credibility in the arena of foreign policy, especially since former Defense Secretary Robert Gates asserted that the Vice President had been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

On Saturday, Biden was golfing with Obama at the private golf course TPC Potomac, a much fancier departure from the president’s usual golf outings while he is in Washington D.C.

By Tuesday, however, Obama was rewarded with headlines announcing a new offensive from the Iraqi government set to combat ISIS after Carter accused Iraqi leaders of lacking the will to fight. Al-Abadi predicted in an interview with the BBC that Ramadi might be recaptured “within days.”

That might push back the feeling that the Iraqi’s are outmatched by ISIS for the time being, but it’s too late to combat the notion that Biden’s optimistic speech might have been pre-mature.

“How do you justify a statement like that given what’s transpired this week? And why should people have confidence in the President’s strategy — particularly, as you just said, it’s not under any sort of new review — when statements like that are undermined within weeks?” asked Wall Street Journal reporter Carol Lee last week.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest assured her that what appeared to be an successful ISIS offensive was merely temporary, citing Obama’s comments in October about the fight against ISIS.

“As with any military effort, there will be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback,” he said.