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Pipe dreams in combating ISIS

By Daniel Longenecker
web posted October 6, 2014

Parody of ‘Little Miss Muffet'

Little Islamists

Sit in sandbag nests,

Killing the Kurds and Jews.

Along came some Fighters

Who air struck their snipers,

Degrading them—oh, wahoo!

As satirized in the above rhyme, the United States Government has unrealistically high hopes for its current strategy to combat the terrorist organization ISIS, or the Islamic State. But why does it matter what the U.S. chooses for its policy in the Middle East? Does it really affect the Homeland in more ways than airport security? When considered in light of the past, the present, and the future, the political consequences of the United State's rhetoric and response look dismal.

With twelve years of experience in the Middle East fighting Islamic terrorism, the U.S. has a treasure trove of experiences to draw upon when creating new terrorism policy. Among many, one event in Iraq in 2005, known as the Anbar Awakening, played an important role in the eventual success of the Americans in the Anbar Province. The Anbar Awakening occurred when certain tribal leaders, sheikhs, decided to trust the American Marines to protect them from the brutal terrorists, largely because they saw the Americans fighting and dying to defend them and their families. The actions of those sheikhs sparked a movement of trust which expanded across the entire province and threw out the terrorists (explored here). But how do the Americans plan to win the locals' sympathy with 500-pound bombs? I am not sure.

ISIS fightersAlso, the current governmental display of non-commitment and weakness will only harden ISIS's resolve to persevere. Since several of President Obama's top officials presently disagree on whether or not the United States is at war with the Islamic State, the terrorist militants would reasonably feel encouraged. In fact, instead of disabling ISIS, the US's air campaign is causing a shift in terrorist strategy. ISIS has adopted a tried and true insurgent tactic: blend in with the population. Evidence suggests that in the airstrike areas, ISIS has begun to avoid large fighter gatherings, weapons depots, and even some of their own armored vehicles (Wood). As much as one might wish that the Islamic State would not implement its threats, history and common sense say exactly the opposite; ISIS is here to stay.

Furthermore, Obama's "perpetual war" has no decisive plan to win in the foreseeable future (in the words of Marjorie Cohn). Indeed, the traditional goal of war—winning—seems to fade into the background of the President's strategy with vague, "degrade and ultimately destroy" rhetoric lacking finality (Marsden). But even if the strategy works perfectly, how would it all conclude? America would defeat ISIS, but leave the local inhabitants shell-shocked and bitter—ripe to form another insurrection. If the primarily Shiite Iraqi government, which the U.S. aids, crushes the primarily Sunni ISIS in northern Iraq, ‘winning' would only increase sectarian hatred and deepen current wounds. Even Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi hopes that the airstrikes "don't lead to the rise of another terrorist element instead of ISIS", as Gregg Botelho writes.

Successfully combating terrorism takes copious amounts of labor, technology and money, not to mention the loss of human life. But in my experience as an American living in the Middle East for the past twelve years, I believe that the U.S. has lost sight of an important point—the humanity of the Arabs and the critical need for support of the local population in any peaceful solution. Just like in the West, Arabs cultivate and place importance on trust and relationships; without local support, or at least neutrality, terrorists cannot flourish. The past example of the Anbar awakening, though, required tangible peace and security for the indigenous population before they decided to trust the United States. With this fact seeming to be a non-player in the creation of current U.S. policy, prospects for a peaceful conclusion to the war look bleak. ESR

This is Daniel Longenecker's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2014






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