How many ISIS number twos does the US have to kill?
In the latest drone strike success claimed by US armed forces, Haji Mutazz, the alleged number two in the Islamic State (ISIS), was killed while travelling in a car near Mosul in Iraq.
The August 18th strike was immediately hailed in the US media as a major strategic victory, a triumph of the use of drones and another sign that US strategy in Iraq and Syria was, somehow, “on the right track”.
Throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe the reaction was very different: It was one loud yawn.
A yawn, it should be acknowledged, that was echoed by large numbers of sensible Americans who, as usual, found no expression in the unanimous cheering section and echo chamber that the mainstream media have become.
There is no doubt that Mutazz was killed. There is no doubt that he did hold a significant tactical command position in ISIS in Iraq. Why then, the yawn?
It is not because decapitation theory, when correctly applied against terrorist organisations, does not work. From 2002 through 2006, Saudi security forces repeatedly killed the top leaders of what became al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). To be appointed head of that organisation in those days was not an honour, it was a death warrant, rapidly executed. On at least five occasions the operational head of AQAP was hunted down and killed by Saudi security forces.
The tactic worked. Al-Qaeda, despite its claimed prestige and bravado, got nowhere in the major Muslim country it most coveted to topple and destroy.
Why should a tactic that worked so well for the Saudis have repeatedly failed for US armed forces whenever they have tried it and claimed its success in Iraq repeatedly over the past 12 years since they first invaded and occupied that unhappy country?
The simple reason is that terrorists being hunted down in Saudi Arabia were being hunted down in a prosperous, stable state that has existed for more than 90 years. They were being hunted by an excellent intelligence apparatus operating on its home ground among a population that was overwhelmingly loyal to and appreciated the security and prosperity brought about by their own government.
None of those conditions has applied over the past 12 years in usually, fitfully and not consistently US-occupied Iraq.
US policymakers of the exceptionally reckless, ignorant and incompetent George W. Bush administration truly believed they could wave the magic wand of their “manifest destiny” to remake the Middle East in their own image. With an insouciant arrogance that even the British empire at its worst could hardly have imagined, former interns from the Heritage Foundation even downloaded the traffic code of the US state of Maryland and superimposed it on Baghdad.
The Shia viciously biased anti-Sunni, US-propped-up government of prime minister Nuri al-Maliki made things even worse. No surprise, therefore, that the Shia-dominated, “stable, democratic” government US policymakers in 2003 imagined they could impose on Iraq proved a failed state that collapsed from the moment it was first set up.
In these conditions it does not matter how many “key number twos” the US security establishment kills, or imagines it kills, in Iraq. The numbers are as irrelevant.
In Iraq, the grand strategy of the entire policy of national building was idiotic and doomed to fail in the first place. Therefore, a handful of pinprick tactical hits enormously exaggerated to boost fading morale on the home front is not going to change anything.
Mindlessly positive cheerleading may work in the fairy-tale world of American college football. It has no place among adults in the planning and waging of real war.