The recapturing of Ramadi by Iraqi forces constitutes a significant victory in the war against ISIS. Without follow-up, military and political, however, that significance will soon enough evaporate.
The Iraqi flag is flying once again in the provincial capital 60 miles from Baghdad that was overrun by the Islamic State seven months ago. Iraqi forces collapsed like an umbrella in the wind at that time, but, backed by American air strikes, they prevailed in a hard fought series of pitched battles with ISIS.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces have now pushed ISIS out of four cities and reportedly reclaimed about 40 percent of the territory lost to ISIS in recent months. This won't please perennially unhappy Republican presidential candidates, but this is cause for optimism.
Optimism of the cautious variety, however. ISIS took Ramadi before and will certainly try to do so again. It still controls Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, which the Iraqi army abandoned without a fight.
The Ramadi victory came in part because the 3,500 U.S. troops sent by President Obama not only successfully rebuilt the Iraqi army but involved Sunni tribal fighters in the battle. Their willingness to fight along with the Iraqi army, which is dominated by Shiites, is of real import.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the majority Shiite government led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Maliki focused upon settling old scores with the Sunnis. Everyone saw this coming except the Bush White House. The grievances of Sunnis opened the door for ISIS, and the Iraqi army allowed it to walk right in.
The Sunni-Shiite alliance in Ramadi, and the presence of moderate Prime Minister Haider Abadi, a Shiite who visited the city Tuesday, offers hope for more military victories. However, ISIS won't be defeated militarily — victory will ultimately mean winning the hearts and minds of those who see ISIS as a vehicle to elevate their standing in a poor and corrupt land. That entails major political and cultural changes that the US cannot bring about with air strikes or Ted Cruz's carpet-bombing.