23 September 2019
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Mattis blasts ‘indifferent’ Biden for bungling Iraq: ‘The enemy gets a vote’

Tuesday, 03 September 2019 23:26

Jim Mattis, the former Marine Corps general and Pentagon chief, has lashed 2020 Democratic front-runner Joe Biden for fueling the rise of ISIS by insisting on the total withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq.

 "You may want a war over. You may declare it over. You may even try to walk away from it. But the bottom line is the enemy gets a vote, as we say in the military, and we simply have got to understand that terrorism is going to be an ambient threat," he said in an NPR interview.

As vice president, Biden was tasked by President Barack Obama with overseeing Iraq policy. In his new book, Mattis, 68, argues that Biden, 76, was "indifferent" to the consequences of complete withdrawal - consequences that included "tens of thousands of casualties, plus untold misery for millions of innocents," as well as the kidnapping and beheading of westerners, and horrific terrorist attacks across the world.

"He wanted our forces out of Iraq," Mattis writes in Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. ”Whatever path led there fastest, he favored. He exuded the confidence of a man whose mind was made up, perhaps even indifferent to considering the consequences were he judging the situation incorrectly."

Biden had voted in 2002 to authorizemilitary action in Iraq, after opposing the Gulf war in 1990. Obama, who had denounced the Iraq invasion while an Illinois state senator, had campaigned in 2008 on withdrawal.

The U.S. pulled out its forces from Iraq in 2011, despite warnings from Mattis that this would be folly. At the time, Mattis was head of Central Command, overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama sent forces back to Iraq in 2014 after the Islamic State seized parts of the country.

"All this was predicted — and preventable," Mattis writes in his book, which goes on sale Tuesday.

He also criticized Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan, saying he was given “contradictory objectives,” and President Trump’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria, which led to Mattis’ resignation.

In the NPR interview, Mattis appeared to take direct aim at the mentality displayed by Biden in Iraq: "You may want a war over. You may declare it over. You may even try to walk away from it. But the bottom line is the enemy gets a vote, as we say in the military."

He added that "terrorism was going to be an ambient threat" for the foreseeable future and suggested that correcting the mistakes of 2011 would take many years. "We're going to have to work with allies against ISIS and we're going to have to keep up the fight. I'd like to have a more positive message. But the fact is that's a reality we're going to face for our time," he said.

"We're going to have to work with allies against ISIS and we're going to have to keep up the fight. I'd like to have a more positive message. But the fact is that's a reality we're going to face for our time."

As previously reported by the Washington Examiner, the former Marine general writes extensively in his new book about Biden's role in creating the conditions for the rise of ISIS.

In a chapter entitled "Snatching Defeat From The Jaws of Victory," Mattis explains about how he wanted the U.S. to keep at least a small force in Iraq rather than pull out completely but "beginning with President Bush and continuing through the Obama administration, the White House was set on a total troop withdrawal, for political reasons. I argued strongly that any vacuum left in our wake would be filled by Sunni terrorists and Iran."

By 2010 the U.S.-led coalition had “at last succeeded in establishing a fragile stability” in Iraq, largely as a result of former President George W. Bush's troop surge of 2007. The Obama administration was dealing with Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who had built close ties with Iran during his years opposing Saddam Hussein, who presided over a Sunni-dominated Iraq.

“The National Security staff in the White House believed that Maliki offered a continuity that, in their minds, would facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” Mattis writes. During a Biden visit to Iraq in August 2010, when he formally ended the U.S. combat mission in the country, Mattis strenuously disagreed with the Obama administration's assessment of Maliki, telling Biden: "Prime Minister Maliki is highly untrustworthy, Mr. Vice President. He’s devious when he talks to us.”

Mattis continued: “He looks at our ambassadors and military advisers as impediments to his anti-Sunni agenda. He wants to purge or marginalize Sunnis and Kurds from the government.” Mattis said Sunni leaders across the region had warned against continued U.S. backing of Maliki.

By his account, Mattis told Biden that withdrawing U.S. troops prematurely would be akin to suddenly pulling the training wheels off a bicycle. “We should slowly inch the wheels up, allowing the Iraqis to wobble but not crash as they slowly pedaled down the path to self-sufficiency,” he said. “If we pulled out too early, I noted, we would have to bring our troops back in.”

The general’s assessment was ignored by Biden. The vice president, Mattis argues, was not listening to the counsel of a 40-year Marine who had long experience of war, terrorism, and insurgencies, and knew the cost of politics taking precedence over strategic thinking.

“Vice President Biden and his assistants listened politely," he writes. "But as we spoke, I sensed I was making no headway in convincing the administration officials not to support Maliki. It was like talking to people who lived in wooden houses but saw no need for a fire department."

“I liked the Vice President,” Mattis writes, despite Biden's odd jibe to the general: “Know why you’re at CENTCOM? Because no one else was dumb enough to take the job.” In reality, commanding CENTCOM, based at Tampa, Florida, was a position coveted by many four-star officers and was often a springboard to even greater things.

“I found [Biden] an admirable and amiable man," writes Mattis . "But he was past the point where he was willing to entertain a ‘good idea.’ He didn’t want to hear more; he wanted our forces out of Iraq. Whatever path led there fastest, he favored. “He exuded the confidence of a man whose mind was made up, perhaps even indifferent to considering the consequences were he judging the situation incorrectly.”

Biden reassured Mattis that Maliki would not eject all American troops from Iraq. “Maliki wants us to stick around, because he does not see a future in Iraq otherwise,” Biden promised. “I’ll bet you my vice presidency.”

But Biden was wrong, and remained vice president.

“In October 2011, Prime Minister Maliki and President Obama agreed that all U.S. forces would leave at the end of the year,” Mattis recounts. Biden's top national security adviser later said: "[Biden] is the guy who oversaw the drawdown, in effect, on the political side, of U.S. forces from 150,000 to virtually zero." Robert Gates, Pentagon chief under Bush and Obama, wrote in his 2014 memoir that Biden had "’been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

What Mattis warned of largely came to pass. Maliki, no longer constrained by the U.S., pushed a sectarian Shiite agenda and cracked down brutally on Sunnis, who made up 15-20% of the country and were often among the most educated and skilled. “Iraq slipped back into escalating violence. It was like watching a car wreck in slow motion,” Mattis writes. A Sunni revolt against the Maliki government and an ineffective Iraqi Army created a vacuum that allowed Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had largely been defeated, to reconstitute in 2014, morphing into Islamic State, or ISIS.

“It would take many years and tens of thousands of casualties, plus untold misery for millions of innocents, to break ISIS’s geographic hold,” Mattis writes. “All of this was predicted — and preventable.”

On the 2020 campaign trail, Biden has been highlighting his role in Iraq, while neglecting to mention the rise of ISIS which, by the account of Mattis, was a direct result of his mishandling of how to deal with Maliki. “I was responsible for getting 150,000 combat troops out of Iraq — my son was one of them,” he said on the Democratic debate stage in June.

Mattis was fired by Obama in December 2012 without even a phone call informing him his military career was over. Instrumental in the decision was Tom Donilon, Obama's National Security Adviser. Donilon was a longtime Biden confidant whose brother Mike was a counselor to the then-vice president and whose wife Catherine Russell was chief of staff to Jill Biden, then second lady.

Source: Washington Examiner

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