Thursday, January 28, 2016

When will we learn?

Last week, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, suggested that the US might integrate members of its armed forces with Iraqi military units at Iraqi bases as part of the effort to recapture the city of Mosul from ISIS.

His pronouncement is bad news for two reasons. First, the warning indicates that Iraq's military and civil governments are not up to unilaterally defending Iraqi territory from ISIS aggression in spite of thousands of US casualties and billions of dollars in aid. Almost fifteen years after Saddam's defeat, Iraq still lacks a stable, effective government. Second, the US appears to be on the verge of expanding its continuing, although currently low key, military presence in Iraq. Sending more troops will inevitably lead to more casualties with little prospect of achieving enduring gains.

Immediate control of Mosul is strategically unimportant. The fundamental strategic needs are for peoples in the Middle East to exercise self-determination and agree to peaceful coexistence.

ISIS is an insurgent movement that aims to establish a state, a global Caliphate governed by its extremist version of Sharia. If ISIS only had aspirations as a state, the US and its allies would handily finish defeating it. ISIS in the last year has suffered repeated losses and now governs less than 75% of the territory it controlled a year ago. Furthermore, people ISIS rules are widely dissatisfied. ISIS has had to employ increasingly harsh measure to coerce compliance from the people it governs. Concurrently, recruitment of foreign fighters is slowing. M of ISIS' current fighters are growing demoralized and disenchanted.

However, ISIS is actually both a state and a political/religious movement. ISIS retains significant popular appeal in the region. Many disenfranchised Sunnis in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East believe that ISIS represents their most viable, perhaps only realistic, option to better their lot in life. Foreign military victories against ISIS are unlikely to alter that perception.

Instead, ISIS' defeat and ultimate demise as a political/religious movement will happen only when its putative constituents believe that a more viable path exists for realizing their aspirations for their children to have greater opportunities for better lives, economic prosperity, improved physical security, and progress toward self-determination. No external organization or state can impose these changes.

The US should stop meddling in Middle Eastern internal affairs (i.e., withdraw all military personnel, halt all arms sales, etc.), guarantee Israel's continued existence (but not its borders), and strongly endeavor to convince other states to follow suit. The peoples of the Middle East need and deserve the opportunity to establish states and borders of their choosing (not have to live with states and borders European nations created at the end of WWI). The emergence of these new states will be messy, slow, and conflicted. However, this represents the region's best hope for peace. Incidentally, the current global oil glut, the lifting of Iranian sanctions, and oil shale production in North America, diminish the potential adverse economic effects on the rest of the world from implementing this policy.

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