In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
“We will raise the flag of Allah over the White House” an Islamic State fighter declared. The practicality of this statement is irrelevant. The intent is what matters.
The Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL) has a grand strategy and it follows a clear pathway: take advantage of American inaction in Syria and manipulate the civil war there; exploit the dissatisfaction of Sunnis in Iraq and begin to carve out an “Islamic state”; push towards the capital of Iraq and Kurdistan while consolidating power in land it occupies; drive south into Saudi Arabia and Jordan; exterminate the Jews in Israel; and activate its numerous sympathizers and cells in the West.
Let us compare this to current American grand strategy in the Middle East: become angry at two regimes that don’t fit some contrived notion of politics and government after abandoning them (Egypt and Iraq); alienate its two most important allies in the region (Turkey and Israel); and refuse repeated requests and ignore countless warnings about the rise of an Islamic extremist super-state. The United States had warnings of this since 2013, when the Islamic State could have been stopped before it began if the U.S. has provided more assistance to those fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad. It could have been further stopped by using military intervention to assist the Iraqi government. Both of these would have been low cost in all respects.
However, in an attempt to create the worst foreign policy in the history of the Republic, the Obama administration is engaged in pinprick strikes at select tactical targets. It appears that the goal is to completely resurrect the bombing strategy of the Johnson administration in the Vietnam War, and then lower it a couple of notches.
Two things need to be made perfectly clear. First, the United States was not caught off guard by the Islamic State. The rise of jihadism in Syria was well documented before the Islamic State raised its first flag. The attempt by some in the current administration to blame the American intelligence community and claim that they were surprised is duplicity in its worst form. This is the kind of duplicity that seeks to protect one’s own incompetent decision-making.
Second, the Islamic State is no longer a terrorist group; it has transformed itself into an insurgency. The group uses terrorist tactics to form a state, jumping far ahead of al-Qaida. Three other Islamic extremist groups that have pledged to kill Christians, Jews, Hindus and non-extremist Muslims have carved out territories: the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas. None of these, as evil as they all are, is as malevolent as the Islamic State.
A policy to counter the Islamic State should be an unqualified decision for both realists and liberals. The rise of the Islamic State in Syria and its invasion of Iraq is counter to United States national interests and American core values. The creation of an extremist super-state that seeks to counter American interests in the region makes this an easy call for realists. The genocide, rape and enslavement of Yazidis and Christians should make every Wilsonian tremble with righteous indignation.
What is our current excuse? We are not pleased with the exact composition of the regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and hope to use this as leverage. We are unhappy that the Shiite majority did not make better civil society decisions along Jeffersonian lines towards the Sunni minority. But you can’t leave a regime in a lurch as the Obama administration did, force it into the arms of the Iranians and then get upset when it doesn’t take your advice. We are far from innocent bystanders: the Islamic State is using captured American military equipment that our Kurdish allies can’t stand against.
Our unwillingness to stop the Islamic State allowed this to happen. We own this decision. The fate of tens of thousands of innocent civilians is at stake. America was outraged when pro-allied propaganda claimed that “the Hun” was bayonetting babies in Belgium during the World War I. We have confirmed the murder, rape, torture and expulsion of thousands of Syrian Orthodox Christians, Chaldean Catholic Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Turkmen and Muslims who refuse the Islamic State’s extremism. It has destroyed the reputed tomb of the prophet Jonah and burned or vandalized countless Christian churches.
One year ago, during the summer of 2013, there were many plans and predictions for all of this. There were concrete proposals to stop this cancer from growing and to establish safe havens. The unwillingness to act has caused the greatest instability in the region in decades. Was the Obama administration so fearful that the Bush administration would receive credit for a concrete plan that it chose to actively do everything in the opposite? Was worshiping at the altar of leading from behind of so great a value that human life was irrelevant?
There is still time to act and create a strategy to rectify this situation. Further, if we act now, we can avoid the use of large numbers of American ground troops. We have allies in the Iraqi government, the Kurds and the Free Syrian army. Our allies in the region are wondering if this is the last gasp of American credibility there.
Here’s what a real plan would entail. The United States will pledge that it will not allow one inch of Kurdish territory to fall to the Islamic State. (Remember the Kurds? The Kurds who sided with the United States during the Saddam years and beyond?) The U.S. will protect the 50,000 Yazidi refugees in the Sinjar mountains. It will then push the Islamic State back, mile by mile to the Syrian border, while finally funding and supporting the Free Syrian army and its allies. It will engage in systemic annihilation of the Islamic State, including its assets, cells and training camps. It will make the Islamic State a footnote in history that reads: “In the second decade of the 21st century, stability in the Middle East was briefly cast aside by a group of genocidal maniacs devoted to death and mayhem who took on the inflated name of the Islamic State. They were ultimately stopped by forces supported by the United States in the early 21st century, granting America the enduring gratitude of the many people who were saved.”