The situation in Iraq and Syria continues to deteriorate and no one seems to know just how to best fight them. Terrorist non-state actors are a tricky specimen for actual states to confront. So instead of waging a halfhearted campaign against ISIL why not just let them have their cake and eat it too. Then, right after the dust settles the US-led coalition can wage a proper war in the only way they know how. The porous borders, taking and retaking of cities on top of a civil war are just too confusing for a traditional army to fight.
The current strategy of airstrikes and arming rebels is only dragging out the fight leading to more civilian casualties. Not to mention the fact that there is clear dissension within the region regarding how best to deal with ISIL. So with the US performing 770 out of 900 airstrikes and its coalition mostly for show what does the US have to lose, besides a little prestige, in slowing their roll and letting this play out?
Turkey wants to give Assad the ax first before tackling ISIL. Iran is the only country in the area sending ground troops. Then others just want to contain ISIL as there is no long term solution to this particular problem, and all can agree that airstrikes are not enough. The departure of Chuck Hagel and a revolving policy in the area should demonstrate that we don’t quite know how to handle ISIL. They’re a new breed that hasn’t come after the US the way al-Qaeda did 13 years ago nor are their goals what we’ve come to expect of terrorists.
What good is the US really doing by continuing to involve itself in a region that is not its number one fan, with a short term approach that doesn’t address the core problems and no exit strategy? Here’s what it would look like if the US backtracked and allowed ISIL to form borders and consolidate gained territory for its caliphate. First it would end some of the regional violence and fighting outside of the war waged by the Syrian army. And then many different options are possible from there. The region could further turn against ISIL as it imposes strict Sharia law. This would also put ISIL’s internal stability and prowess to the test as many doubt their ability to even mint their own money. The Middle East might find some much needed common ground in the absence of the US’ money and military might as well.
Needless to say this is likely more problematic than beneficial. However, considering current events and the lack of a long term strategy and an inability to tackle the core issues that breed extremist movements, questioning US involvement is not without merit. Abandoning the fight would send the wrong message to both terrorists and the region about US commitment and sincerity. Not to mention it would be quite the gamble allowing ISIL to consolidate its power as it just might succeed making it all the more difficult to defeat.
While this idea would be ignored right out of the Situation Room as well as a career killer, the current strategy is utterly inadequate and doomed for failure. Obama must choose whether to fully engage in this fight and commit to the “degrade and destroy” strategy or not. If he doesn’t engage then he has the chance to regroup and attack ISIL with the full force of the US military instead of what will likely be a long process of containment. And the US public probably doesn’t have the same level of patience they did during the Cold War.