Monday, November 23, 2015

Understanding ISIS & Its Demise

Kurdish flag

The Kurds Can Defeat ISIS – Jonathan Spyer

Islamic State does not, like some other manifestations of political Islam in the region, combine vast strategic goals with a certain tactical patience and pragmatism. Rather, existing at the most extreme point of the Sunni Islamist continuum, it is a genuine apocalyptic cult. It has little interest in being left alone to create a model of Islamic governance according to its own lights, as its Western opponents had apparently hoped.

Its slogan is "baqiya wa tatamaddad" (remaining and expanding). The latter is as important an imperative as the former. Islamic State must constantly remain in motion and in kinetic action.

If this action results in Western half-measures and prevarication, then this will exemplify the weakness of the enemy to Islamic State supporters and spur further recruitment and further attacks. And if resolve and pushback are exhibited by the enemy, these, too, can be welcomed as part of the process intended to result in the final apocalyptic battles which are part of the Islamic State eschatology.
Because of this, allowing Islamic State to quietly fester in its Syrian and Iraqi domains is apparently not going to work.

The problem and consequent dilemma for Western policy-makers are that Islamic State is only a symptom, albeit a particularly virulent one, of a much larger malady. Were it not so, the matter of destroying a brutal, ramshackle entity in the badlands of Syria and Iraq would be fairly simple. A Western expeditionary force on the ground could achieve it in a matter of weeks and would presumably be welcomed by a grateful population.
This, however, is unlikely to be attempted, precisely because the real (but rarely stated) problem underlying Islamic State is the popularity and legitimacy of virulently anti-Western Sunni Islamist politics among the Sunni Arab populations of the area.

As the Iraq insurgency and the Syrian and Palestinian examples show, the tendency of popular and street-level Arab politics in the Levant and Iraq is to take the form of violent politicized religion. As a result, any Western force entering Islamic State territory as a liberator would rapidly come to be considered an occupying force and would be the subject of attacks.
Islamic state is part of a larger process whereby Iraq and Syria have collapsed and fragmented into their component parts, and vicious sectarian war among their ruins is taking place. If Western policy- makers conclude that even given the continued existence of this larger process, Islamic State is a particular manifestation that must be wiped out, and if they seriously wish to pursue this policy, how might it be achieved, given the determination to avoid a Western ground invasion for the reasons noted above? The answer is through the effective partnering with reliable local forces, which could be persuaded, bribed or induced to undertake the military task of destroying Islamic State, in cooperation with Western air power.

The obvious candidates to undertake such a task would be the powerful Kurdish military organizations in both Iraq and Syria, presumably with a leavening or decoration of Arab fighters (Sunni Arab tribal forces in Anbar, small Free Syrian Army-associated groups in Syria, and so on) for appearance's sake and for holding the area following the destruction of Islamic State.
The problem here, of course, is that the Kurds, reliable as they are, have little or no motivation for risking the lives of their fighters in the probably thankless task of providing the backbone for a ground assault on Islamic State.

This problem is not insurmountable, but it would require a strategy able to provide sufficient political inducements for the Kurds. This would almost certainly have to include support for Kurdish statehood...
Jonathan Spyer is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
[The Jerusalem Post via Middle East Forum]



How to Beat ISIS - Walter Russell Mead

Running wild through the streets, gunning down the crowds in a night club: This is fantasy violence, video games brought into the real world. ISIS is again the coolest of jihadi brands, the cutting edge of the war against the real. The intent is not so much to terrorize the West as to galvanize the faithful.
The writer is professor of foreign affairs and humanities at Bard College and professor of American foreign policy at Yale University.
(American Interest)

To Defeat ISIS, Create a Sunni State - John Bolton

Recent proposals lack a strategic vision for the Middle East once the Islamic State is actually defeated. Today's reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone. The Islamic State has carved out a new entity, mobilizing Sunni opposition to the Assad regime and the Iran-dominated government of Iraq.

If defeating the Islamic State means restoring to power Assad in Syria and Iran's puppets in Iraq, that outcome is neither feasible nor desirable. Rather than striving to recreate the post-World War I map, Washington should recognize the new geopolitics.

The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state. This "Sunni-stan" could be a bulwark against both Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad. 

Many Sunnis today support the Islamic State as a bulwark against being ruled by Tehran via Baghdad. Telling these Sunni people that their reward for rising against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq will be to put them back in thrall to Assad and his ilk, or to Shiite-dominated Baghdad, will simply intensify their support for the jihadists.
The writer, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN, is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
(New York Times)

Defeating Islamic State - Amitai Etzioni

The U.S. actually won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq easily and quickly. The 2001 overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan was carried out within a few weeks, with minimal American casualties. The 2003 removal of Saddam's regime also was carried out with few casualties and low costs. Both campaigns ended up badly only after the U.S. decided to make stable, democratic, U.S.-friendly regimes out of these nations.

Saddam had 400,000 soldiers; IS has about 40,000. Its seasoned fighters are being killed off and it now relies increasingly on newcomers. If the U.S., France and the UK were to put a force on the ground working with the Kurds, IS would not be much of an opponent. Once IS is defeated, though, the U.S. cannot engage in rebuilding Syria. The other parties in Syria must be left to work out their differences.
The writer is a professor of international relations at George Washington University. 
(Jerusalem Post)

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