King Abdullah II of Jordan went on record on Sunday saying that the rise of Islamis State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) is a Muslim problem and that they should be the ones who take the responsibility to act. He said that it is a “War within Islam” and that it comes down to a moral issue between what Islam stands for and what ISIS portends it to be. This comes during Abdullah’s visit to Washington in hopes that a more holistic strategic approach can be determined by the parties involved, especially since, as Abdullah stated, this is a Muslim problem, therefore the US should not be leading the coalition.
We have heard a lot about the brutality of ISIS and the atrocities that they are committing under the guise of jihad. However, what ISIS isn’t doing is equally important moving forward, especially for the United States and its interests. The US strategy should be altered for three important reasons: 1.) ISIS has not gone on record saying that the US is its target (beheadings have been used for retribution of the bombings and to terrify/discourage Western intervention) and 2.) ISIS has is not amorphous like al-Qaeda; they have a solid structure not unlike a conventional army 3.) The propaganda emanating from ISIS’ capable media arm has not used the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to recruit.
The first reason is in stark contrast to al-Qaeda, who has repeatedly threatened to attack the evil United States. This is a clear message that ISIS does not want to necessarily attack the United States directly or bring us into the war fully. It would rather it be viewed as an asymmetrical target that would take years to topple, which would mean an unattractive engagement for the war-weary United States. Its preeminent goal is to topple the regimes in the region to establish a governable territory with a singular vision of Islam (extreme Salafism). As such, it seems that US could take a much different approach in its strategy of leading the coalition. If Arab nations, especially the most capable in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan (and regional power Turkey) develop a Muslim solution to a Muslim issue, it could be much more effective in the long term ideological approach.
The second reason that must be looked at in strategic development is understanding the enemy that we are fighting. Air strikes and drone strikes have been arguably effective in fighting the Global War on Terror (GWOT). However, strategies such as those were designed to seek out enemies dispersed in a variety of locales that would either be too expensive or risky for a conventional force to attack or located in sovereign territories such as tribal Pakistan. ISIS is a much more conventional armed force who are amorphous only in the sense that they hide operations under the protective guise of innocent civilians. Thus, a strategy of “taking out the leadership” as we have had against al-Qaeda will be less effective, especially since they are hiding amongst innocents.
The final reason to overhaul the current strategy is that ISIS has not used the Israeli/Palestinian conflict overtly to recruit members and has not posed a threat to the Jewish state, at least for now. Many Arabs, including King Abdullah in his statements, view ISIS as a secondary issue to Israel and that if it was solved, it would go a long way in stemming radical Islam and bringing stability to the region. Nevertheless, it seems that ISIS has been hesitant to provoke the Jewish state, especially knowing the capability of its military. Perhaps there is a plan to deal with them in the future, but for now, it seems that ISIS’ main goal is to establish dominance in the region before it tackles other issues and not bring another powerful enemy. This goes back to the ideological battle and why Muslims must be at the forefront of this strategy, not the US.
In any case, it seems that while ISIS advancements have been slowed for the moment, the issue is going to be how to dissolve the caliphate altogether. As HUMINT on the ground in Iraq has indicated, it seems that many people under IS rule are disillusioned with its governing tactics. Additionally, it seems that Iraqi forces have made some headway in the past weeks, hopefully showing that security forces are getting their act together. Couple this with an Iraqi government that seems more willing to work with its people and you have the recipe of an ideological movement that could eventually abnegate radical jihadists from power. Nevertheless, the US needs to be willing to relinquish its control and provide the necessary support to the main players in the region in developing a military, security and ideological approach solving ISIS problem. Perhaps then, we can start to see stability and prosperity for the people of the Middle East.