In a polarized region and a complicated world, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria presents a unifying threat to a broad array of countries, including the United States. What’s needed to confront its nihilistic vision and genocidal agenda is a global coalition using political, humanitarian, economic, law enforcement and intelligence tools to support military force…
The United States will hold the presidency of the United Nations Security Council in September, and we will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters, including those who have joined ISIS. During the General Assembly session, President Obama will lead a summit meeting of the Security Council to put forward a plan to deal with this collective threat.
In this battle, there is a role for almost every country. Some will provide military assistance, direct and indirect. Some will provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance for the millions who have been displaced and victimized across the region. Others will help restore not just shattered economies but broken trust among neighbors. This effort is underway in Iraq, where other countries have joined us in providing humanitarian aid, military assistance and support for an inclusive government.
“This is a really very different phenomenon,” said Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University specializing in terrorism issues. “It has the kinetic power, the recruiting power, and the finances that, unchecked, are just going to continue to grow.”
With an eye toward the alarming implications, U.S. intelligence officials said they are assessing the group’s vulnerabilities and how to exploit them.
Those vulnerabilities include their self-financing. The Islamic State runs a self-sustaining economy that relies on income from oil piracy and extortion, according to Arab and Western officials. But its financial stability as a de facto state could come under strain as the group has to pay salaries to its growing militant ranks and administer the cities it has overtaken, intelligence officials said.
The group also relies on extortion among the population in its territory, governing through fear. Such tactics could alienate the group’s local Sunni allies.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that the West will be the next target of the jihadists sweeping through Syria and Iraq, unless there is “rapid” action.
“If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month,” he said in remarks quoted on Saturday by Asharq al-Awsat daily and Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya television station.
“Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East,” said the king who was speaking at a welcoming ceremony on Friday for new ambassadors, including a new envoy from Saudi ally the United States.
Such a plan would seek to strengthen partners who are already resisting ISIS: the Kurdish pesh merga, Sunni tribes, moderate forces in Syria, and effective units of Iraq’s security forces. Our partners are the boots on the ground, and the United States should provide them directly with arms, intelligence and other military assistance. This does not, however, mean supporting Iranian military forces, whose presence only exacerbates sectarian tensions that empower ISIS.
We should embed additional United States special forces and advisers with our partners on the ground — not to engage in combat, but to help our partners fight ISIS and direct airstrikes against it. Regional allies should play a key role in this effort. No one is advocating unilateral invasion, occupation or nation-building. This should be more like Afghanistan in 2001, where limited numbers of advisers helped local forces, with airstrikes and military aid, to rout an extremist army.
Still, we must face facts: A comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS would require more troops, assets, resources and time. Such an undertaking should involve Congress. We have consistently advocated revising the Authorization for Use of Military Force that has provided congressional backing for counterterrorism operations since September 2001. Now could be the right time to update this authorization in light of evolving terrorist threats like ISIS. If Mr. Obama provides a coherent strategy and determined leadership, he could win Congress’s support.
Military pressure will limit ISIS’s ability to plan and train fighters. It destroys equipment and kills fighters. Most importantly, it will remove their ability to set the terms of the conflict, because they’d be playing defense rather than offense. [They depend on their] mobility and ability to generate tactical surprise. So if you limit ISIS’s ability to plan and carry out campaigns, that’s a major blow to them…
What I worry about is the presumption that doing this kind of damage is the same as destroying ISIS. We had 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq during the surge, ISIS’s predecessor was far weaker at that time than ISIS is now, and we still didn’t manage to destroy them. You can do a lot of damage – putting an organization like this on its back foot means a lot in terms of their ability to project power, and we can take the pressure off other groups in the region that are fighting them – but that is a far cry from destroying it. People misunderstood our successes in 2008 as a total defeat, and it was not. If our goal is ISIS’s annihilation, that is a much different undertaking than a goal to merely contain ISIS and limit the damage they can do in the short run.
The problems of applying a social justice framework to international crisis are not unlike applying a cold war formulation to, say, welfare reform. It just doesn’t work. After the horror of James Foley’s murder, President Obama said of ISIS: “People like this ultimately fail. They fail because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”
A nice turn of phrase, but is it remotely accurate? Don’t maniacal movements like ISIS end only when good people rise up with the willingness to die to stop them? The President frequently touts his international culture background as proof of his understanding of other cultures. “I say this as the son of a Kenyan whose grandfather was a cook for the British, and as a person who once lived in Indonesia as it emerged from colonialism,” he said in Brussels when addressing the Russia-Ukrainian crisis. But it seems incredibly naïve and American-centric not to grasp that the Islamic fanatics of ISIS are very much about building—building a new world in their vision.
Most troubling, when America and the world are crying out for action and leadership, this homily is a call for inaction cloaked in moral smugness. If ISIS will “ultimately fail,” why the need to do anything? At best, it is what Jonah Goldberg deftly paraphrases as, ““You’re going to lose eventually, so why don’t you give up now.”…
Hillary Clinton correctly observed that “Don’t do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle” for a great nation. Neither is “people like this ultimately fail” a moral framework to prosecute a war against those who seek to destroy our values.
While ripping Obama for having no Islamic State strategy, Republicans are now reviving the inane strategy of supporting the illusory “moderate Syrian opposition.” Those would be the same forces they wanted to support against Assad. The only problem was that there aren’t enough real moderates in Syria to mount a meaningful challenge to the regime. The backbone of the opposition to Assad has always been the Muslim Brotherhood, and the most effective fighters against the regime have always been the jihadists. So we’re back to where we started from: Let’s pretend that there is a viable, moderate, democratic Syrian opposition and that we have sufficient intelligence — in a place where we have sparse intelligence — to vet them so we arm only the good guys; and then let’s arm them, knowing that they have seamlessly allied for years with the anti-American terrorists we are delegating them to fight on our behalf. Perfect.
There is no excuse for a president of the United States to have no strategy against an obvious threat to the United States. But at least with Obama, it is understandable. He is hemmed in by his own ideology and demagoguery. The main challenge in the Middle East is not the Islamic State; it is the fact that the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda forebears have been fueled by Iran, which supports both Sunni and Shiite terrorism as long as it is directed at the United States. There cannot be a coherent strategy against Islamic supremacism unless the state sponsors of terrorism are accounted for, but Obama insists on seeing Iran as a potential ally rather than an incorrigible enemy.
Moreover, the combined jihadist threat is not a regional one merely seeking to capture territory in the Middle East; it is a global one that regards the United States as its primary enemy and that can be defeated only by America and its real allies. This is not a problem we can delegate to the basket-case governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the “moderate” Syrian “rebels.” Yet the Obama Left’s relentless indictment of American self-defensive action in the Middle East has sapped the domestic political support necessary for vigorous military action against our enemies — action that will eventually have to include aggressive American combat operations on the ground.
Obama’s “we-don’t-have-a-strategy” gaffe was so egregious as to distract attention from the fact that he does indeed have a strategy, which has blown up in his face. His strategy is accommodation with Iran at all costs. As I wrote earlier this month, our ISIS problem derives from our Iran problem: Bashar Assad’s ethnic cleansing, which has displaced 4 million Syrians internally and driven 3 million out of the country, was possible because of Iranian backing. The refugee flood in Iraq and Syria gives ISIS an unlimited pool of recruits. Iraqi Sunni support for ISIS, including the participation of some of Saddam Hussein’s best officers, is a response to Iran’s de facto takeover of Iraq…
It may be entirely academic to argue that America should bomb not only ISIS, but also Iran’s nuclear facilities and the bases of its Revolutionary Guards. No Republican candidate I know is willing to argue this in advance of elections. Nonetheless, I repeat what I wrote Aug. 12: “The region’s security will hinge on the ultimate reckoning with Iran.”
On Canada’s Sun TV earlier today, commentator Ezra Levant asked me what Obama will do now. My guess is: very little. The reported Egyptian-UAE attack on Libyan Islamists is a harbinger of the future. Other countries in the region will take matters into their own hands in despair at American paralysis. Russia and China will play much bigger roles. And the new Thirty Year War will grind on indefinitely.