by Holly Lincoln
This article was first published in The Havok Journal on 21 November, 2015. With all the rhetoric about ISIS, we thought it would be a good time to revisit this one.
Given that most of the world is a little late to the ISIS-game that has been being played out over the last couple of years, there have been some very troubling and ignorant reactions to the Paris attacks. The first was the inevitable beating of war drums and the second has been a knee jerk reaction to close borders to Syrian refugees. Neither of these options will defeat ISIS and will only exacerbate the problem. These options are how we continue to underestimate and lose the fight against ISIS.
There is no military-centric solution to defeat ISIS. Bombing is not enough. No amount of ground troops is enough. You simply cannot defeat an extremist ideology with military options alone. Is military action justified? Absolutely, France was attacked and it was within their rights as a sovereign nation to retaliate against ISIS positions in Raqqa. In a follow up attack today meant to disrupt ISIS’ illicit and lucrative, oil supply distribution chain, U.S. bombers and gunships destroyed an oil truck depot in Syria.
Predictably, ISIS has promised revenge against all nations involved in these bombings. Should we take this threat credibly? If you have been paying attention at all over the last few years, then your initial and resounding answer should be yes. And if not, just examine the ability of ISIS to escalate their tactics from a regional war to a global jihad in just the last couple of months.
However, the question we need to be asking ourselves is military action enough to defeat ISIS? Since 2003 the military has become the de facto “easy button” for the United States. It appears as though the public and our politicians, even some of us, have forgotten about the other three elements of national power – Diplomatic, Information, and Economic. There are many things that the military can do, at the top of that list is to win our nation’s wars. The military is a part of the solution to defeat ISIS, however it needs to be the supporting effort to Diplomacy. The world cannot defeat radical ideologies with military action alone. The freedom and speed at which information moves and ideas flow, prevents military action from defeating ISIS. It is necessary to have a collective strategy inclusive of Diplomatic, Information, Economic, and Military means to defeat ISIS.
So what does that look like? Another great question. Arguably, we do not really have an answer yet, but a start is collective action. The free world is at a cross roads and must send a message not only to ISIS, but the unknown dregs that will want to replace ISIS when we kill their leadership (because we are very good at drone strikes). Given the current situation in the Iraq and Syria, there are no good options. This cannot paralyze us, we must act to choose the best of the worst options. That will most likely include partnering with Russia and having a Russian-backed Syrian government. On any given day of the week, this is a better option than letting ISIS continue with their maniacal and perverted interpretation of Islam and genocidal tendencies.
This leads to the second ignorant response to the Paris attacks, which is the demand to stop the flow of Syrian refugees into European countries and the United States. ISIS is taking advantage of the refugee crisis to infiltrate Europe and possibly the United States. This is a brilliant, exploitative measure by our enemy which should immediately help us stop underestimating their strategic thinking capability. It is understandable why people want to close their borders to refugees, but this will play directly into ISIS’ favor. Think about it, a vast majority of these refugees are legitimately fleeing a terrorist organization. We are already perilously close to losing an entire generation to this conflict. If the world turns their back on them now, they will have no place to go and winter is literally coming. As the saying goes, this will not end well and ISIS can thank us for helping their recruiting efforts.
Rather than close our borders, there needs to be safe guards and a stringent screening process to catch the ISIS terrorists disguised as refugees. This is within our capabilities. It will take longer to process refugees, but collectively we can figure it out. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to do so. Let us not forgot that the United States’ years of botched state building in Iraq helped to create the current day situation where ISIS thrives and continues to grow.
One final thought, in this community we all have a vested interest to advance the discussion and make decisions in a responsible manner because we all know too well the horrible and lasting consequences of war. As you develops your opinion on how to solve the ISIS problem, read the Atlantic’s article called, What ISIS Really Wants. By no means is it a definitive answer, but it is a start in an area that has been largely ignored. Time and time again our senior leaders have hinted at how this will be a long fight. In order to win it, we must understand the causes of the conflict both proximate and long-term, so that we can develop and execute a strategy capable of defeating our enemy.