Victory in Raqqa Requires Strong Follow-Up

Jewish Light Editorial

Buried beneath other news developments in recent days — from sexual harassment in Hollywood to protesting football players to the alleged disrespect shown to the mother of a fallen soldier — is a piece of good news that deserves more attention. Raqqa, the self-described capital of the Islamic State “caliphate,” has been liberated from the fanatical terrorist group by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

A regional director of the United Nations’ food-assistance program describes the military victory to be a real game-changer for humanitarian efforts in Syria. And it is just as significant from the military and geopolitical viewpoints as well.

ISIS took control of Raqqa from Syria four years ago and declared it to be the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate, which at its peak was the size of Portugal—some 4,000 square miles and occupied by 6,000 ISIS fighters.

At the end of the Obama administration and the beginning of the Trump administration, military leaders indicated they intended to wrest control of Raqqa as well as the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS.  Now, these victories are welcome, though they have come with a tragic cost. Scenes from the liberated cities look as bad as the bombed-out cities of Germany in the aftermath of World War II.

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What lessons, if any, has the United States and its ever-changing list of  “allies” learned from its interventions in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the volatile region?  

The Raqqa victory brought no dramatic surrender ceremony aboard a battleship, as when Japan was defeated in World War II.  There will be no ticker-tape parade down Broadway to honor the brave Kurdish forces who did the heavy lifting in liberating the city.

Indeed, Iraq has moved against the Kurds in its northern autonomous region to recapture the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and it appears that the dream of an independent Kurdistan will again be thwarted.

It appears the United States and its allies are skilled when it comes to overthrowing dictators, but they are incredibly incompetent after early victories.  When Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were driven from power, Iraq and Libya descended into total chaos.  The United States and its allies seem to have accepted that they must remain entrenched in these violent places to help prevent a return to power of terrorists and tyrants.

The liberation of Mosul and Raqqa are welcome developments in the war-torn Middle East, but this is no time to pop open bottles of champagne.  Instead, the victories need to be followed by a comprehensive and transparent policy on when and how U.S. forces should be deployed around the world.