A Muslim army under the leadership of a messianic leader sweeps across the land. Government forces melt away before it. The capital city is threatened, and foreign military assistance is desperately requested.
The assistance arrives tentatively and too late. By the time foreign forces arrive in strength the city has fallen, the inhabitants have been slaughtered, and the head of the commanding general of the defending forces is left on display as a warning to all.
The city is Khartoum. The year is 1885. The foreign power whose assistance is so desperately requested is Great Britain. The head is that of the legendary British general, Charles "China" Gordon. The messianic leader is a self-proclaimed Sudanese prophet, the "Mahdi."
It has been 129 years since we have seen such an event. We may be on the brink of a repetition.
The city will be Baghdad.
We have become accustomed, without perhaps even acknowledging it, to taking our superior military and economic strength for granted. The possibility that we can actually lose a war and experience a military disaster seems remote. Even when we commit a staggering number of strategic blunders, as we did during the occupation of Iraq, our overwhelming military, financial, and logistical advantages allow us to somehow muddle through to victory.
All that may be about to change.
The Obama administration has demonstrated not simply a mind-boggling level of incompetence in regard to foreign policy and national defense but, perhaps even more dangerously, an inability or unwillingness to learn from mistakes. Over and over again this administration has responded to major threats with delay, dithering, and tentative half measures.
Three years ago it was evident to anyone with knowledge of the region that the chaos spreading within Syria was going to destabilize surrounding nations and open the door to extremism. This administration elected to do nothing. Only when ISIS emerged, national boundaries began to vanish and the existence of Iraq as a nation state was threatened did we respond.
Even this response, however, has been tepid and driven by purely political considerations. The limited air campaign currently underway was never recommended by any military authority of consequence. There is, in point of fact, no actual plan to defeat ISIS in place.
The air strikes being conducted are political theater. Their purpose is to allow the president of the United States to deflect criticism and claim that he is doing something. Period. Nothing follows.
The predictable is occurring. This campaign is not destroying or degrading ISIS. In fact, it is not even slowing the expansion of ISIS. While all eyes are focused on the border town of Kobane, ISIS continues to drive forward in the direction of Baghdad. Iraqi cities continue to fall.
In recent days American attack helicopters have been required to take action to push ISIS back from the very doorstep of the Baghdad International Airport. American aircraft have in some cases been called in to airdrop supplies to Iraqi Army units that are all but surrounded by ISIS forces. Iraqi military units have been trapped in their bases as the surrounding countryside has fallen under ISIS control.
This week the city of Hit fell to ISIS. Both Ramadi and Abu Ghraib City are now under assault. Strings of massive car bombings are tearing through the heart of Baghdad. The entire province of Anbar is on the brink of falling completely out of the control of the government in Baghdad.
Things are not stabilizing. Things are not moving in a positive direction. We are not winning. We are losing.
This may all be very inconvenient for the president. It may place him in a difficult position. It may, in fact, drive home the point that his actions in regard to Iraq since taking office have been disastrous. It does not change the fact that it is true.
In 1884 and 1885 it was Prime Minister Gladstone of Great Britain, obsessed with a desire to avoid being drawn into foreign entanglements in the Sudan, who dragged his heels and doomed the defenders of Khartoum to slaughter. This president needs now to decide whether he will stand by and watch another city go under the knife or he will take meaningful action. It is not too late to increase the U.S. military commitment, to put Special Forces on the ground in significant numbers to increase the effectiveness of the Iraqi Army and to ramp up the scale of the air offensive.
The hour is, however, getting late. Time is running out. We can act quickly and avert disaster, or we can watch in horror the fall of Baghdad.