Iraqi troops retaking the city of Ramadi gives the White House a much-needed, highly-visible victory in its war against ISIS and undercuts the pervasive narrative that President Obama doesn’t have the right strategy to defeat the terror group.
When the city, located roughly 70 miles from Baghdad, fell to ISIS in May, it was a major setback for the administration’s efforts to contain and repel the jihadists as well as to Iraq’s military, still struggling to get back on its feet after months of humiliating defeats in 2014.
Related: Is Obama’s Strategy Working? New Analysis Shows ISIS Losing Ground
The stereotype of Iraqi forces as the Keystone Cops was lifted, at least for the time being, when they raised the country’s flag atop the government compound in the center of the city, with the U.S. Defense Department rushing to offer praise.
"We congratulate the Iraqi Security Forces for their continued success against ISIL in Ramadi,” Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S-led military coalition, said in a statement. "The clearance of the government center is a significant accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work by the Iraqi Army, the Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police, and tribal fighters.”
Earlier this month Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Iraqi progress in retaking the city had been "disappointingly slow” and offered Baghdad the use of Apache attack helicopters to speed things up, an offer the government ultimately declined
Still, the picture In Ramadi steadily improved over the last two weeks, as Baghdad’s forces, backed by American fighter jets and bombers, fought their way to the heart of the city.
Related: Running Out of Patience, Obama Rebuffs Attacks on His ISIS Strategy
The timing of the win comes on the heels of a study by IHS Jane’s Conflict Monitor team that estimated ISIS has lost hundreds of miles of territory inside Iraq and Syria. But while military officials in Washington and Baghdad may be celebrating for the moment, it’s unclear whether the victory will prove too little, too late to change the public’s mind about Obama’s anti-ISIS effort.
Despite an aggressive public relations campaign by the president, a new CNN/ORC poll found that 40 percent of American believe terrorists have the upper hand in the war on terror and a whopping 74 percent are dissatisfied with U.S. progress against ISIS, which has dominated the news cycle ever since its agents carried out the carnage in Paris last month.
Success in Ramadi could very well be overlooked by a public fatigued from more than 12 years of conflict in Iraq and have heard similar progress reports in the past, only to see them wiped out, rekindling the debate about deploying a massive amount of U.S. ground troops into Iraq and Syria.
Related: America’s Top General Says We’re Not Ready to Defeat ISIS
Republicans running for president have routinely bashed Obama’s strategy for destroying ISIS, though few have offered concrete details about what they would do differently. They are likely to be pressed on whether the win in Ramadi means the president has had the right strategy all along.
The president also should not assume the good news is going to be spread around the water cooler since much of the country’s focus has been on the security situation in Syria.
Russia’s involvement in that country, the resulting migrant crisis that sparked a major fight on Capitol Hill and the ongoing civil war have kept the international community rapt, especially as the U.S. works to kick start a new peace process.