[February 18, 2015] In Parts 1 and 2 it was noted that none of the current strategies for defeating ISIS are likely to succeed. Today, specifics of grand strategy to defeat ISIS will be discussed. While any strategy must include a coalition of countries willing to take on the challenge, the focus of today’s blog will be on a grand strategy for the United States. It could apply, all the same, to just about any country.
We begin by setting the record straight. The idea that Western nations are the cause of Islamic terrorism – and tolerated – should be rejected out of hand as wrong. Other root causes of terrorism like the lack of opportunity for jobs and poor governance should also be discarded as wrongheaded – these were two motives given by the U.S. Department of State.1
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Understanding the ideological purity of ISIS provides the opportunity to predict its future actions and thus the key to its defeat. What we know is that the ISIS Islamic ideology is geopolitically on the doorstep of Europe and America. It has received pledges of support from other terrorist groups in Egypt, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya.2 Most important is that its extremist ideology must be delegitimized in the eyes of Muslims. We must understand ISIS and its extremist ideology. So far that is not the case.
Here are some specifics on what should be done with a U.S. grand strategy:
Political and Diplomatic Power:
- The U.S. must have the political courage to take the fight to ISIS and should not artificially limit its military, economic, or political programs beyond the internationally recognized rules of warfare as enumerated in the Geneva Conventions.
- The U.S. must insist that the United Nations pass a resolution authorizing a broad use of force against ISIS and its supporters. Furthermore, the U.S. Congress should give the president formal authority to conduct war without unnecessary restrictions.3
- The U.S. should also insist that the U.N. create a war crimes commission. Since the U.N. has no power to prosecute, the U.S. should help Middle East nations create an International Military Tribunal for ISIS, openly put them on trial, and quickly carryout justifiable punishment.
- The U.S. should lead the effort to create a coalition of the willing to fight ISIS. To give it the greatest credibility possible also means to have a Middle East nation as its lead.
- The U.S. has a strong strike capability but also has the expertise to coordinate a variety of multi-national military forces and to provide an efficient logistical resupply system. The U.S. should lead that coordination and logistical effort.
- Operationally, Iraq is the best place to make progress against ISIS; where it should be attacked with the greatest force. Iraq must be cleared of ISIS influence as the priority, while putting pressure on ISIS everywhere it exists.
This is certainly not all that a grand strategy holds for the U.S. The ability to wage economic warfare (e.g., cutting off the flow of money to ISIS), information warfare (e.g., taking down ISIS internet sites), and psychological warfare (e.g., disinformation campaign) needs to be meshed with the political/diplomatic and military power of the U.S.
The seeds of understanding extremist Islam are one of the keys to defeating ISIS. While knowing the enemy is important, empathizing with them is not. But time is not on the side of the civilized world. ISIS and its affiliates will only grow stronger as the world dithers.
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 In the United States it is called an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).