Mosul: Where Obama’s last gambit could ruin Trump

Martin Jay
Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay
Mosul: Where Obama’s last gambit could ruin Trump
Here’s why the bombing has to stop and what US journalists are not telling you: hundreds are dying in Mosul, not at the hands of ISIS, but through a failed military strategy which no one, it seems, has the guts to tell President Trump cannot achieve its objectives.

Does Trump actually really know what he is doing in Mosul or is he wildly deluded? There is a military solution to killing ISIS there, but who will be the one to present it to him?

Hugh Hewitt is a card. The pro-Trump American radio host recently told the BBC a disturbing anecdote about the US president. Apparently, Hewitt interviewed him before the US elections, and Trump told him, “Obama created ISIS.” Hewitt tried to help the (then) Presidential candidate out with his messaging: “Surely you mean Obama allowed the vacuum to develop in the Middle East which created ISIS?” to which Trump defiantly replies: “No, I mean Obama actually created ISIS.”

This, perhaps, would have been disturbing enough. But immediately after the interview, days later, Hewitt amiably noted that Trump had told other US media that, “Obama had created the vacuum,” which allowed ISIS to flourish. Even as a staunch Trump supporter, Hewitt is stunned by how both misinformed the US president is, but more how easily his thoughts can be changed by just merely talking to anyone who has the nerve to challenge him.

Is this what we are witnessing in the Middle East? Is Trump surrounded by yes-men, none of whom will question the rationale behind some of his more ludicrous decisions? Take Mosul, for example. Doesn’t Trump’s Lebanese Middle East adviser – pro-Saudi academic Walid Phares – have the guts to tell the President that the bombing is counter-productive in that the high number of civilian deaths will sow the seeds for more insurgency in that part of the world for him and the Iraqi PM?

Anybody knows that in Syria and Iraq, the more civilians who get killed by bombing which targets Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), the greater the numbers of young men in those families sign up to the terrorist group. It’s a vicious circle. And someone needs to tell Trump. It’s almost as though Trump has told his people, “I wanna kill ISIS and I don’t want to hear any facts from anyone....just do it."

The strategy in Mosul though is fundamentally flawed. As Trump slips more US soldiers into Syria, which is not getting the press coverage it deserves, what we see in Mosul in neighboring Iraq is a Mission Impossible being played out. US journalists have been very slow to report on the colossal death count of civilians – who are trapped in Mosul as they cannot escape because they are being shot at by snipers from ISIS, but also by Iraqi forces. The same Iraqi troops which, months earlier, were being trained by the US, one might add.

The issue is body bags. Neither Prime Minister Abadi nor Trump can afford them. Even Iraqi army body bags will be enough to dampen Trumps plans to swell the number of US soldiers as the most loyal call-center journalists in Mosul would have to write about them. And then the game is up. Trump’s strategy seems to be to kill ISIS – but at any cost, not at the expense of one single US soldier. And so almost the same number of lives is lost in carpet bombing Mosul in one week than in the whole of the Aleppo campaign next door in Syria. 

But Western media pounded time and time again the Russians for their campaign in Aleppo, so why aren’t they doing the same in Mosul? Simply, it isn’t just the rank hypocrisy of most Western journalists stuck in a cold war mindset. It’s also that they are not left with much else to report on, finally. In the end, the grotesque horror stories of entire families being wiped out in one air raid ultimately became the only thing to write about – as no one wants to report on what is really happening in Mosul, which is a humanitarian disaster being crafted by poor military strategy, fake news, and powerful leaders driven by their political lust to create the news stories which portray them as contenders.

And this Dante's Inferno is probably scaring Trump’s advisers. What else, other than poor reporting on the ground, could explain him telling journalists and US senators just recently that US soldiers in Mosul are “fighting like never before in Iraq.” But there isn’t a shred of evidence to show even one US soldier firing a single round at an ISIS fighter. Even CNN, hardly a bastion of journalistic credibility, struggled to demystify Trump’s “upbeat” comment. “It wasn't clear what fighting Trump was referring to in his remarks, which appeared unscripted. The US combat mission in Iraq ended in 2010, and American troops are now in the country primarily to advise and assist Iraqi forces."

If Western media, even American giants, can’t work out what the US president is talking about, then what we are probably witnessing is dire delusion from Trump who is desperate to score a foreign policy victory to compensate for a failure of domestic policy pledges amounting to a handful of dust.

What is harder for both Western journalists to report on in Mosul and perhaps more difficult for Trump’s advisers to fathom is that the more innocent lives which are blithely lost in the chaos of Mosul’s carnage, the greater the fight will be in Raqqa and other places – as a real threat of more volunteers both locally and internationally emerges. What the Americans are doing in Mosul is not destroying a terrorist cell, but only helping build the auspices of a newer stronger one for the next US administration.

What is being played out in Mosul is part of both Obama’s and Trump’s grand experimenting which is unprecedented. In previous battles in Iraq which saw the downfall of ISIS – Fallujah and Ramadi – Iraq’s Iranian-trained Shiite militias were called in to do the gruesome close combat fighting.

But not so in Mosul. For the first time, much hope and great kudos were given to the training of a special anti-terror unit, as well as Iraqi police, to go into what is the greatest Islamic extremist stronghold – where Saddam Hussein had his greatest support – and do the killing which is required. Close up.

Unfortunately, as Mark Almond, an Oxford University professor told RT recently, these Iraqi units are not trained nor equipped to do the kind of fighting which is required of them in the narrow alleyways and souks of the old part of Mosul. Consequently, their role is largely one of manning mortars and heavy artillery and stepping back from basic infantry work.

The bombing has to stop, and the US “advisers” need to start to advise the Iraqi commanders as to how to go about creating a second front to the old city as well as sending in troops to fight. It’s either that or Trump and Abadi bite the bullet and call in the Shiite militias to go into the killing zone. The fact these Shia Iraqis are Iranian-trained might be something journalists might omit from their copy, hoping to win points from US generals there eager to take them to the real story.

But there’s another agenda in Mosul, which is more basic. Business. Trump’s newly improved relations with Prime Minister Abadi is not just about bringing Iraq back into the US fold, denying Iran the geopolitical credence. Trump’s cabal in Washington want to make money in Iraq and, according to a recent investigation by left-wing polemicist and academic Nafeez Ahmed, who dabbles in long-hand investigative journalism, there is a blueprint which the US president has agreed to, which essentially gives Western Iraq its autonomy. US firms close to Trump naturally get all the resources and big deals. Nice work if you can get it.

In the meantime, for those who care about ISIS or even about those poor people in Mosul being saved from being human cannon fodder for the profit of powerful elites, we can only pray for a miracle that an “adviser” is having trouble sleeping at night in Washington and approaches Trump candidly. Perhaps the Lebanese.

Failing that, someone could always arrange another sycophantic interview with Hugh Hewitt.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.