By Claude Salhani
One of the promises made by Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year was that one of his priorities would be “the total destruction of ISIS”.
Trump has repeated this pledge several times since taking office and has asked the Pentagon to provide him with options on how to deal with the jihadist threat. They are limited and none of them are really good for the United States. Among those possibilities is arming the Kurds or putting US troops on the ground.
The United States has been arming and advising the Kurds for a while now, though that is not without potential negative backlash.
So complex is the situation in Syria that each solution comes packaged in more problems. If you manage to solve one problem, you get four or five more that pop up in its place. For example, arming the Kurdish militias could have serious repercussions from one of Washington’s principal allies in the region, Turkey.
The Kurds deserve all the help they can get. They have been at the forefront of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS). However, arming them would irritate the Turks, important US and NATO allies, who would vehemently oppose giving the Kurds, whom they consider terrorists, any assistance.
Deploying troops in Syria would drop US forces into a bubbling cauldron of a sectarian conflict. Suffice to look at what happened in Lebanon in 1983 when the US Marines got caught in the intricacies of the country’s civil war. Now multiply this disaster twentyfold.
The fight to exterminate ISIS is going to be a very difficult because the solution is not purely a military one. This problem demands the close cooperation of multiple government agencies and departments as well as the participation of a number of countries in the region.
The intentions of the US president may be honourable and courageous in trying to rid the world of what is considered such a ruthless terrorist group that even al-Qaeda views ISIS members as extremists. However, the question remains whether the United States has the long-term commitment needed to see this battle through to the end.
ISIS has hijacked a peaceful religion for its own designs. It has committed the worst atrocities, from decapitating hostages, enslaving non-Muslims in towns and villages they occupy and throwing homosexuals off rooftops, to burning to death prisoners they capture and the systematic killing of tens of thousands of Shias
Fighting ISIS will require far more than deploying several thousand US American troops to Iraq and Syria if the Trump administration is serious about the destruction of the jihadist group. The forces battling ISIS would need to attack the group and their allies on multiple fronts. Besides fighting ISIS on the military front and killing as many of its members in battle as possible, there is a need to look at the long-term effects the fight would have on ISIS and its followers.
The solution to the ISIS problem is best depicted in an episode of the made-for-television hit Homeland. In one of the episodes, top-level CIA officials debrief an operative who had just returned to Washington after spending more than a year in parts of Syria occupied by ISIS.
The field agent is asked what it would take to defeat ISIS. He replies that the United States would need to commit 350,000 military personnel on the ground and then devote the next 30 years to reshape the country’s education system at the cost of billions of dollars to the US taxpayer.
“That’s never going to happen,” replies a CIA official.
Indeed, the solution to defeating ISIS and the dozens of associated groups requires a carefully designed long-term agenda that can be implemented from the ground up. The problem is that US foreign policy is conducted from one presidential election to the next, changing direction every four years. Meanwhile, the Islamists are following a carefully designed plan for the next 350 years.