Twice this nation has gone to war with Iraq. We poured at least $21 billion into reconstruction, and billions more into military training and equipment for the Iraqi army. We had a civilian police force training program touted as the "most ambitious" since the Marshall Plan, the U.S. aid program that rescued Europe after World War II.
Three weeks ago, 800 members of the terrorist organization ISIL, plus associated groups, took Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. The Iraqi army units of 30,000 men guarding Mosul panicked. Senior officers threw down their arms, stripped off their gear in the streets and ran. The army followed.
McClatchy newspapers interviewed an Iraqi army private first class by phone from his hometown where he'd had fled. He compared his division's actions with the bravery of U.S. troops he had fought with in Fallujah. It wasn't the way the U.S. trained him.
"I fought side by side with Americans," the private said. "Their military has leaders that tell the soldiers what the plan is, and fight. We don't."
It can be said with certainty that while the Iraqi army had expert training and the best equipment, its collapse was due to poor morale and Iraqi civilian leadership.
Enter ISIL. It has been described by Ryan Crocker, our former ambassador to Iraq, as "al-Qaida on steroids." That gives them too much credit, I believe. Thickheaded on steroids, rather.
Who are they? I turned to published backgrounders by scholars and terrorist experts: Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, and Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
ISIL is a fanatical organization that, until February, was "al-Qaida in Iraq" until al-Qaida kicked them out -- for extremism. ISIL cuts off the hands of thieves. Until recently, ISIL had an automatic execution policy for Muslims who differ with their interpretation of Islam. They literally use crucifixion for some executions.