Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Why 'leading from behind' is working in Middle East

Since the retirement of President George Herbert Walker Bush, Republicans cannot be trusted on national security issues. Their actions fill our cemeteries and our VA Hospitals, and empty our Treasury.

Three times in recent decades an individual in the Middle East has declared his intent to reestablish the Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire with themselves of course as next caliph. That's when the trouble starts.


Osama bin Laden had that ambition, and founded the terrorist organization al-Qaida. He never took much territory. Instead he launched the most successful terrorist attack in history on Sept. 11, 2001.

Another pretender was Saddam Hussein, dictator of Iraq. Hussein was the most secular of the pretenders, with a Christian as his foreign minister. He never mounted an attack against the United States. Instead he attacked Iran, which had just undergone a revolution and was deemed to be weak. After nine years he figured that Iran wasn't all that weak. Next he attacked and conquered the small state of Kuwait. A coalition put together by Bush defeated him definitively and liberated Kuwait. We attacked Iraq, not the other way around.


After the Gulf War there was the issue of Hussein's program to create atomic weapons. America and Great Britain mounted what amounted to an air war, Operation Desert Fox, ostensibly to destroy Iraq's nuclear capability. In fact, Hussein had abandoned his nuclear program after the Gulf War. But he pretended to have one to maintain his prestige in the region. The U.S. under the leadership of President George Walker Bush and after the 9/11 attack launched the Iraq war. Essentially we were punishing one pretender to the Caliphate, Hussein, for the sins of another pretender to the Caliphate, bin Laden.

Among the many other mistakes of the Iraq War, after we won we disbanded the Iraqi army. Some of that army and others were imprisoned. One of these prisoners was the man we now know as al-Baghdadi. He was released as being no longer a threat. He too created a terrorist organization, the one we now know as ISIL or Daesh. Unlike al-Qaida, Daesh seeks to keep and hold significant amounts of land. Unlike Hussein, they also built a terrorist network.

We spent billions under the George W. Bush administration to train and equip a new Iraqi army. When Daesh invaded Iraq from Syria that new Iraqi army simply fled, leaving behind significant amounts of weaponry to the Daesh enemy. Only the independent Kurdish forces and some Shia militias put up a fight. Under the Obama administration the Iraqi army was reconstituted and, with massive amounts of air support, it decided to fight after all. The land invasion of Iraq by Daesh is gradually being rolled back, without direct American ground troop involvement. On orders from President Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden has been taken out by our Navy Seals and as a result al-Qaida is losing recruits to the Daesh movement.

As Daesh is being gradually rolled back in Iraq they have shifted their emphasis to terrorist raids, al-Qaida-style. But none of their attacks have reached the scale of 9/11. Indeed since 9/11, our gun-toting domestic crazies with no connections to Daesh or al-Qaida have killed about as many of our citizens as Islamic terrorists.

Our tactic of urging Muslim forces to carry the ground battle against Daesh while using the one force that Daesh cannot repel, our ability to attack from the air, frustrates Daesh. They say over and over again that they want to confront our troops on the ground. But under the wise leadership of our president we are not taking the bait. It is truly called "leading from behind."

Gradually, Iraqi regular armed forces and Kurdish Peshmerga are pushing Daesh back and retaking key cities in Iraq while our aerial attacks are killing off Daesh leaders, one by one, 10 in the last month. These tactics avoid American casualties and simultaneously frustrate Daesh, who want to make this a fight between all Muslims on one side and Christians and Jews on the other. It is a smart tactic on our side. Unfortunately some Republican politicians also try to make all Muslims our enemies, thus agreeing with the Daesh position and undercutting our strategy. You can't trust those guys.

John Culleton writes from Eldersburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at