Vice President Joe Biden spent the day on Tuesday scrambling to smooth things over with the Iraqi government, dealing with the fallout of Ashton Carter's remarks.
While the White House stopped short of an apology, Carter's remark that the Iraqi military simply lacks the "will to fight" will likely set the tone of future U.S.-Iraqi diplomatic relations, with Iraqi leaders infuriated by the implications.
For weeks, the Obama administration has tried to sell the effectiveness of our airstrikes against the Islamic State, yet day after day more territory and cities fall --with Ramadi being the breaking point last week.
So why could Ashton Carter tell the simple truth about Iraq that the administration could not?
Carter is a First-rate Military Academic, Surrounded by the World of Politics
Carter's career before becoming the secretary of defense was brilliant and well-respected. He may be a life-long academic and bureaucrat, but he's not a politician beholden to the party or voters.He, more than anyone else on the planet, has the availability at a moment's notice to have every bit of information about our military activities in Iraq at his fingertips -- and he uses this information to make decisions and judgment calls.
The Iraqi military forces defending Ramadi were better equipped, (supposedly) better trained, in greater numbers, and backed by U.S. air support, and yet they still lost.
While a politician sees this kind of loss as a set-back, an academic of Carter's caliber wants to know why and assess blame if necessary to correct the problem.
He brought to the Defense Department a sense of order that the previous secretary of defense lacked, and concludes every meeting with a strategic planning session of what direction their decisions will take them.
This is something the entire American involvement in the Middle East has lacked: honest introspection of where our actions will lead us in the future.
Freedom is Earned, Not Given
If we take anything away from Memorial Day, we should understand the principle that freedom is earned, not given.
This has been one of the policy disasters of the Middle East -- that the U.S. was playing the role of liberator and spreading freedom.Our "allies" in the Iraqi government are over a barrel. On one hand, they want to have blustery rhetoric about how we will only use this as an excuse to "re-invade." On the other hand, they're afraid we won't come to the rescue.
At some point, the president's administration and the American people need to decide how we will proceed. The Pottery Barn rule still applies: we broke it, now we buy it and own it.
The administration has walked a fine line of diplomacy, one of trying to keep all sides on the world stage happy. But Carter's simple truth reduces our actions to a simple question:
We're going to eventually have to deal with the Islamic State, but will we do it with "allies" who won't stand their ground and fight for their own freedom?
Image: U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter