For the past few weeks, ISIS has captured United States and global attention — and for good reason. The terrorist organization has wormed its way into our minds and augmented our worst fears by directly ordering its members to kill civilians and soldiers in the U.S. and in ally countries. As such, it incontrovertibly poses a threat to the homeland.
We have long faced threats from radical militants who pervert one of the world’s greatest religions. Yes, undoubtedly we have been proactive in targeting such threats, but in the past, we have often addressed such threats by ravaging the Middle East with ground troops and an unambiguous agenda. President Obama’s recent, detailed announcement to vanquish the ISIS threat with a clear, defined strategy of airstrikes, diplomatic alliances and support for Iraqi and ally ground forces is a mature and coherent action plan.
In his plan to obliterate ISIS, President Obama needs to address and consider a few points. Firstly, we cannot, nor should we, do it alone. The coalition already formed against ISIS is not an insubstantial one; thus far, more than 60 countries have joined in the effort against ISIS. Although the U.S. is the primary leader of the coalition, it is imperative that all member countries strive to contribute as much as they can. The U.S. itself should not bear the brunt of the financial and military costs that often fall on it.
On a related level, it is important that the coalition countries cooperate fully with each other and endeavor to set apart their differences for the sake of eradicating ISIS. In particular, the U.S. and its Western allies should attempt to facilitate collaboration with and between Iraq and Syria. Undoubtedly, the West has had its share of disputes with Iraq and Syria, and Iraq and Syria too have had a somewhat tumultuous relationship, what with Syria’s support of terrorists in Iraq. However, ISIS is a common enemy that threatens both Arab countries and the West. As such, the West should appropriate sufficient assistance for carrying out strikes in Syria and providing weapons and funding in Iraq.
Secondly, President Obama must work with the other coalition members to strangle ISIS’ funding. ISIS is a unique target not only because of its military acuity and overt brutality, but also because of its broad swath of resources, and particularly, its inordinate wealth (estimated around $2 billion). The Islamic State controls more territory than al-Qaeda ever had, and consequently has access to substantial pools of money that enable it to finance its terrorist objections. Key to annihilating the Islamic State is to dry up the black market for the oil that ISIS has been smuggling across the Middle East. By targeting the Islamic State’s illicit oil sources, the global counter-coalition can have a forceful impact on disrupting ISIS’ financing, as well as its mobility and assistance of the communities under its rule.
Finally, we should bear in mind that ISIS does not represent a temporary problem; rather, it represents a cancer that, although it likely originated in regional instability and dissatisfaction with governing leaders in the Middle East, has no doubt spread and grown in its malignance. As such, we should consider our approach to ISIS and its associates cautiously and carefully. The Islamic State is only a part of a network of militant groups who share a desire to undermine the U.S. and its allies. We cannot take a back seat in this issue, but neither can we strive to engage with ISIS in a protracted war, as we have in the past. Our airstrikes have to be strategic, intentional and accurate. Above all, we must target ISIS’ key leaders and erode the organization limb by limb, level by level, region by region in an expeditious, but calculated manner.
As 9/11 and countless other incidents since then have demonstrated, these radicals will stop at nothing to prove their point. The conflict with ISIS is not a clash of civilizations, nor of enemy countries. The conflict is one group against the world, and everyone has the moral responsibility to set aside their differences and unite in obliterating a common enemy, for the sake of the homeland and well-being of millions of innocent people. Although the War on Terror may remain an enduring issue for decades to come, we can take the right steps in undermining the strength of ISIS in numbers and resources by galvanizing global support and acting together with clear objectives and a strong will. ISIS is powerful, but it is not omnipotent; armed with our ideals and global alliance as our major weapons, we can and should defeat ISIS.
Contact Veronica Anorve at vanorve ‘at’ stanford.edu.
Earlier this summer, the United States began acting essentially unilaterally in Iraq to combat the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) and halt its persecution of the Iraq’s religious minorities. While we did coordinate with the Kurdish peshmerga (who have borne the brunt of the ground war thus far) as well as the failing state of Iraq itself, only warplanes stamped with the letters USAF roared through the skies over northern Iraq.
Recently, that has changed. Now, not only have we expanded the war into Syria — where ISIL’s strongholds lie amidst the ruins of that war-torn nation — we have created a coalition of other air-only allies: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the UAE, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and, most recently, our special friend, the U.K. While our European allies thus far have only committed to prosecuting the war over Iraq, the Arab states in our coalition have had fewer qualms about striking into Syria alongside us.
Due to this expansion and coalition-building, it looks like we have, once again, laid the groundwork for a long war trying to “solve” what Cards Against Humanity deems “the complex geopolitical quagmire that is the Middle East.”
As this war grows and continues, it will remain important to consider what brought us there in the first place — why we have, for the third time in our still-short lifetimes, gotten involved in an extended war in the Middle East: a sense of responsibility to defend persecuted minority groups in a state we only recently invaded. Continuing to use that motivation could cause us trouble in the future, but in this war, our initial stated mission is set in stone. That mission is the job we have “hired” ourselves and our allies for, and that job must be our first priority.
The expansion of our coalition’s airstrike zone to include territory nominally belonging to Syria simultaneously comes as promising and worrying news on that front.
Without going after ISIL in former Syrian territory, winning any conflict with them would be practically impossible. The capital and heart of ISIL’s legitimately evil caliphate, Raqqa, lies within territory ruled by Syria’s legitimately evil dictator, Bashar al-Assad, only a few years ago. The initial germ that became the plague of ISIL used the current Syrian Civil War as a way to grow and arm itself, morphing it into the blitzkrieging juggernaut that tore across Iraq this summer. Were ISIL forced back into the position of struggling jihadist group by an Iraq-only campaign, it’s almost certain that it could use its territory in Syria to rebuild and regroup before taking on Iraq, Turkey or any other state ISIL thinks should belong under its thumb. On top of that, the Kurds that have been our on-again, off-again allies in Iraq aren’t the only members of their people — Kurds also live as a minority group in Syria, where the combination of a smaller permanent Kurdish population and the influx of refugees from Iraqi Kurdistan makes them more vulnerable to ISIL.
But at the same time, the decision to start bombing targets in Syria puts us at the top of a very slippery slope, with the Syrian Civil War at the bottom. It will take much more than the bombing of a few oil fields and foxholes to destroy ISIL, and in our attempts to achieve that destruction, we have to be more conscious of how to prevent the fight from spawning the next Big Jihadist Threat in the Middle East. As such, somebody’s boots better be on the ground, and ideally, that somebody should be a person who lives in the Middle East. While the Kurds in Iraq have the reputation of freedom fighters in Washington, the Kurds in Syria have a more checkered standing that gives our military leaders pause. This may mean that, in order to really beat ISIL, we may have to cultivate a closer relationship with the Syrian rebel groups that have been fighting ISIL and Assad’s regime since the Arab Spring sprung a few months before most current seniors got accepted into Stanford. But once we have become dependent on those rebel groups, will the same compelling urge to protect that brought us to this point in the first place also bring us directly into the Syrian Civil War?
There’s no doubt that Assad needs to fall for Syria to move forward as a nation, but despite his evil ways, we need to remember that Assad, as of now, is not our problem. We’ve proven in the past that we don’t know how to replace ruthless Ba’athist dictators (i.e. Saddam Hussein) without creating more enemies and more problems for ourselves, so realistically, the Syrian rebels may be helped more by our absence from their fight than our presence in it.
Should it prove inescapably necessary to remove Assad to destroy ISIL, then — and only then — would it make sense for us and our coalition to actively pursue his destruction. But in the meantime, we need to keep focused on our initial mission in this fight: removing the evil of ISIL from the Earth. If we lose that focus, then all our efforts thus far will likely have been in vain.
Contact Johnathan Bowes at jbowes ‘at Stanford.edu.