ISIS In The Middle East: Problems, Choices, Consequences

With the monopoly of force comes the strengthening of the institutions that make a state stable and its people safe and diligent. Without this monopoly there can be no reconciliation or peace within a state that has failed. With this in mind I approach the situation in Syria casting a wary eye. At this juncture I see the Assad regime, and the lack of control that they have over large swaths of Syria. This disheartens, and frankly frightens me. When I see the forces at play in these lawless parts of Syria (Al-Qaeda, Free Syrian Army, Islamic State) I again take pause at what it is that should happen in Syria. But alas with the American engagement in the situation not only in Syria, but Iraq as well, I begin to see a coherent strategy that can (if executed right) bind up the wounds of the Middle East for the time being if not for the foreseeable future.

The first situation to me that needs to be resolved is the ongoing chaos in Iraq. We have two failed states already in the form of Syria, and Yemen in the region. The last thing that we want to do is provide for another failed state in Iraq, this would be unacceptable. My instincts tell me that we should begin rolling back ISIS in Iraq by cutting off supply lines to the two main cities that they have occupied in Iraq, namely Mosul, and Ramadi. By circumvallating the cities and then choking them off we can avoid large scale military, and civilian casualties.

By supplying weaponry directly to the Kurds in the north and training and equipping Iraqi Sunni tribes who would then take the fight to the Islamic state we can ensure that the frontiers are safe and protected from ISIS spilling over into Iraq. One wild card is the unpredictability of the Iranians and their sponsored militias. Since we are in direct contact with the Iranians at the highest levels of both governments then it seems prudent to me to at least get on the record an official position from the Iranians about their plans for what would happen if the Syrian regime were to collapse tomorrow and what do they ultimately want from their dysfunctional neighbors. If they want peace on their borders then this would be a worthwhile pursuit. However if they show by their actions that they intend on piecing back together a form of the Persian empire this I think would be dangerous. So long as they’re fighting ISIS in Iraq for peace, this I think should be encouraged. But a by proxy of bringing peace to Iraq would mean additional influence in a Shiite dominated government in Baghdad could lead to one more friendly nation for Iran and one less friendly nation for America in the region. Not to mention the reshuffling of strategic priorities countries friendly with the United States in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.). So then by exerting influence in Iraq, America can influence the outcome of regional relations between Iran and its neighbors, while simultaneously denying Iran predominant influence in the affairs of its neighbors, something they desperately want.

When Syria is viewed through the lens of a country dominated by ISIS the picture becomes less clear in my opinion. However when Syria is viewed through the lens of a nation once dominated by the government in Damascus that now has rebel outfits running loose through its countryside though it is a semi functioning failed state, the situation becomes a lot more manageable. The methodology which should be taken with Syria is to treat it as a state which has already failed and so should be treated as such. Which means the first thing to do is to re-monopolize the use of force in the country. In my opinion ISIS is in its last death throes in Syria and so will be the first part of Syria, namely ar-Raqqa and its sphere of influence which will allow for a vacuum to be created. The United States needs to be ready for this eventuality and we cannot simply allow for another power vacuum to be created in Syria without having a say in its outcome. This is why I see arming the Kurds directly as one of the most important things that the United States can do to regain peace in Iraq and Syria. For Syria this manifest ipso facto reality means that the U.S. can and must do what the government in Damascus either cannot do, or chooses not to do which is providing a peaceful, functioning state for its current, former, and future inhabitants. This can’t be done by the Kurds alone and the president has for the time being ruled out American troops.

In Jordan the U.S. is training troops from the Free Syrian Army to establish a free Syrian state. This effort should be heavily promoted and accelerated by the administration. These forces in my opinion are the last great hope to prevent Syria from becoming a dead zone that has violence begetting violence in an unending cycle, akin to the European dark ages. It seems prudent to me that once we have ISIS on the ropes and confined to their only respite left (ar-Raqqa), we should take steps such as establishing a no fly zone which will get tighter and tighter around ISIS as they lose ground and also provide air support for FSA forces and Kurdish Militias in the north of the country. When ISIS finally does dissolve we will be prepared with a solid ground game and air support for these forces which will allow for large swaths of Syria to have order, and the Rule of law established through a monopolization of force.

When encountering Syria it should be noted that again we don’t know the exact trajectory of Iranian forces on the ground in terms of what their objectives for Syria are. I believe that this situation though can be resolved through the deployment of United Nations Peacekeeping personnel in Syria which will allow for a change in the calculus for the Iranians when it comes to order, and the rule of law in Syria and the perceived state of posse comitatus that currently exist in Syria for not only them but the world as well.

In fact in a paper entitled “The ISIS Defense in Iraq and Syria: Countering an Adaptive Enemy” by Jessica Lewis McFate. The author stipulates in the paper that:

“The only way to defeat ISIS, which is necessary for U.S. national security, is to guarantee a ground force that will occupy, secure, and rebuild Syria, and Iraq to a lesser extent. More limited solutions are insufficient to shape ground conditions that promote stability and reduce the opportunity for groups like ISIS to remain.

The U.S. is not a suitable unilateral occupying force in 2015 because anti-U.S. sentiment in these countries has risen to staggering levels.

Iran is also not suitable or capable, as demonstrated by its inability to help the Assad regime win its war in Syria, its tactical inability to clear ISIS from Tikrit in Iraq, its state sponsorship of terrorism, and its strategic objectives to destroy other states in the region.

The Arab coalition currently fighting the Houthis in Yemen is likewise unsuitable, given the likelihood that it would also condone persecution of minority Shi’a populations; it is also incapable, given what little its current air campaign in Yemen has accomplished as of April 2015. The Arab coalition is also risky because it treats Iraq and Syria as battle grounds for a sectarian war against Iran instead of unified state-building missions that are necessary to defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda. U.S. leadership is therefore essential.

Partnership is also essential, because the U.S. is no longer a legitimate ally in the eyes of many populations in the region.”

This is why allowing U.N. peace keepers in Syria is so important it’s the only organization that has the legitimacy of the arab world to go into Syria and impose peace and it’s an organization that once mandated will have the force of U.N. Security Council Sanction that even the Iranians will have to accept.

By not allowing Sanction of force or safe haven for ISIS in Syria we can begin to turn the tables on this vicious group of murderers that wish to see anarchy for the world. By the use of men on the ground and American planes in the skies we can create the type of lasting peace that the Syrian people desire.

Once Iraq and Syria have been resolved I feel that the United States should allow its allies to devote resources to the function of restoring peace in Yemen and denying safe haven to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. I’ve already gone over the various options that we have in this contested land in a previous paper. Needless to say the peace process must work itself out however the stakes must be held principally by the Saudi government and not the Houthis as the situation now exist.  Only then will the negotiating table be a likely rejoinder for the Houthis and their grievances. However the Houthis will not come to the negotiating table unless they feel that the Saudis have something that they want to negotiate for namely a peaceful place to call home. And though the Saudis were using airstrikes to exact their demands, everyone knows that you can only accomplish so much from the air before you have to go in on the ground and secure territory. It seems likely that this is what the Saudis will have to do in Yemen an order to convince the Houthis that they need to go to the negotiating table an order to sue for peace. By first taking a contingent of the Saudi forces and landing them in Aden the Saudis should be able to draw away from the capital a lot of the forces currently guarding Sana’a. Then by taking Road two and blitzing down the west coast of Yemen from Saudi Arabia you should be able to secure the west coast which is the heartland of Houthi activity. By doing these two things alone you would have spread the Houthis thin and secured most major transport ports for allies (Egypt, U.S. etc.). The next thing to be executed is the invasion of Sana’a. By moving forces to al-Radah via land and using it as a jump off point into Sana’a the Saudis can accomplish most of what they want in the country from there. Also by parachuting men into the northern enclave of Sana’a just as tanks from al-Radah co-opt them on the ground the airport in Sana’a is an objective that can be completed and from their supplies can be flown in directly into Sana’a for the battle of Sana’a and beyond.

By taking into account all of the things that I have mentioned previously in this paper concerning Syria, Iraq, and Yemen a coherent strategy becomes a viable alternative to the lack of strategy and policy drift apparent currently in the administration’s handling of the wars in the Middle East.




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