May 28, 2015

CNAS Press Note: In Iraq, Do More Now or Do Even More Later

By Richard Fontaine

In response to vigorous debate over U.S. strategy in Iraq following ISIS’ conquest of Ramadi, President Richard Fontaine has written a new Press Note arguing that the United States must do more now or even more later.

The full Press Note is below:

U.S. power should focus on containing ISIS’ continued expansion and then rolling back its gains. Failing to step up American efforts now will leave ISIS more entrenched in more places, with momentum on its side, which requires even more American power to stop it. The moment to expand U.S. efforts, still within limits, has arrived.

By some measures – the ability to sell oil, for instance, or engage in command and control – ISIS has no doubt been diminished by the U.S.-led air campaign. But the overall sense left among regional observers is that the current strategy is failing.

The United States will not send great numbers of ground troops into Iraq to battle ISIS directly, limiting the effect of any campaign. But there are at least four steps the United States should take now. 

First, it should speed up the supply of weapons directly to Sunni tribes willing to fight ISIS and to the Kurdish peshmerga, holding out the prospect that arms will flow through Baghdad when the central government establishes a working process for their transfer.

Second, it should push Baghdad to establish a National Guard with Sunni units based in Iraq’s west and encourage it to keep Shia militias out of Sunni-dominated areas. 

Third, it should step up its diplomatic engagement across the board and achieve greater leverage by signaling a long-term American commitment to Iraq. 

Fourth, the United States should relax the restrictions on American troops in Iraq to permit their employment as forward air controllers and embeds in Iraqi units.

Even if all of this is done, the United States may not defeat ISIS anytime soon. But better to increase the odds of success now rather than face even greater challenges in the future.

Mr. Brimley is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org, or call 202-457-9409.

  • Richard Fontaine

    President

    Richard Fontaine is the President of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He served as a Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow at CNAS from 2009-2012 and previously as fo...