Ramadi and Strategy

JCS Chairman Martin Dempsey said last week that losing Ramadi to the Daesh would be unimportant from a strategic perspective; it would have only symbolic importance.

I have a couple of thoughts about that. First, symbolism in a war has vast importance, to the morale of the defenders and to the morale of the attackers. Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo had no strategic importance whatsoever, but it was critically important: the symbolism of the raid—”we can hit you wherever we wish, whenever we wish”—had immediate impact on Japan’s strategic thinking and on American and Australian military and civilian morale, even though the raid did trivial physical damage.

So it is with Ramadi, especially for an Iraqi army that presently has no heart and little willingness to stand and fight, much less attack and fight. Tikrit, after all, was recaptured, to the extent it has been, by Iraqi militias and American bombing; the army itself played only a supporting role. Ramadi’s loss would simply add to the army’s mindset that it would only lose any encounter with Daesh. Ramadi’s loss also would add fuel to the ongoing conflict between Sunni Iraq and Shia Iraq. Symbolism matters in Iraq, too, and symbolic importance is…important.

Second, Doolittle’s raid came within the framework of an actual strategic plan for wresting the Pacific and its island nations back from Japan, driving Japan from the Asian mainland, and ultimately defeating Japan. In the present case, it’s entirely possible that Ramadi has no strategic importance, but this administration has no coherent strategy against which to measure Ramadi’s importance.

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