The fall of Ramadi is causing another round of recriminations about what President Barack Obama is or isn’t doing to stop the Islamic State’s march across Iraq.
But if Memorial Day means anything, it should remind us that war exacts a real human cost. It should tell us that there’s no justification for sending thousands of U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq.
Lest we forget, Anbar province is where more Americans were killed than any other province during the last Iraq war. In late 2004, more than 80 died in door-to-door fighting in Fallujah. In 2006, Ramadi was where U.S. officers joined forces with Sunni sheikhs and helped turn the tide of the war.
That should be a lesson: Merely sending in more Marines isn’t a real strategy – a point reinforced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. He made headlines Sunday by calling out the Iraqi military for lacking the “will to fight” in Ramadi, and by pointing out that until it does, the Islamic State cannot be defeated.
While it wasn’t a very diplomatic thing to say, it was the truth. The U.S.-led coalition should continue airstrikes and provide training and weapons, but the assistance will matter little unless the Iraqi government can rally Shiite and Sunni factions and its military can fight as a united army. (Perhaps to prove Carter wrong, pro-government forces have regrouped and launched a major offensive to retake Ramadi, a good start.)
Still, there’s no easy way to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq – not to mention in Syria, which is in the middle of a full-fledged civil war.
That, however, doesn’t excuse the irresponsible silence from Congress since the president asked in February for formal authorization to wage war against the Islamic State.
Instead, debate in the Washington, D.C., bubble has focused on the last Iraq war – whether knowing what we know now about the absence of weapons of mass destruction, then-President George W. Bush still should have ordered the invasion in March 2003. His brother, potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, completely flubbed that hypothetical question, handing his competitors a club to beat him up.
It’s all very interesting for political junkies, but it’s not very valuable for the decisions facing lawmakers now.
When Congress returns next week from its Memorial Day recess, it ought to do its constitutional duty and ask tough questions but ultimately approve a war-powers resolution that rules out ground troops except in very limited circumstances such as rescuing pilots.
For the Republican presidential wannabes now in Congress, that’s the least they can do to show they’re even qualified to be commander in chief.