Minutes ago, I watched a heated exchange between Bill O’Reilly and Kirsten Powers over what to do about ISIS. Bill O’Reilly advocates the saber-rattling – “Let’s round up some troops and go kill them!” type approach and Powers defended President Obama’s do next to nothing approach. The solution, if such can be sought, will not be an American imposed solution, but instead will require dynamic and bold American leadership to rally Gulf State leaders, Russia, China and European leaders to work out a way forward to not only defeat ISIS, but to create some sort of regional security framework for the collapsing Islamic world and to forge ahead, despite huge obstacles, toward working out some sort of, if not peace, then truce in the ongoing Sunni-Shia conflict, which complicates every attempt to quell some of the escalating violence in the region.
ISIS, in my view, while creating horrific, attention-grabbing videos, remains a band of drugged-up, dangerous psychopaths, led by a few savvy politically-minded leaders. The attempt to actually create some sort of government will be more akin to the Taliban than any dreams of a new Caliphate. ISIS, in my opinion, grabs headlines, but is truly only a symptom of the larger failing and failed states (huge power vacuums) in the region.
Defeating or toppling any one regime or even ISIS, without a comprehensive, long-term regional stabilization plan, agreed to by the power-players in the region, European leaders, and China, Russia and the US will lead to more chaos in the region and perhaps even wars spreading beyond this current hot zone. What is needed is not a “Let’s go kill ISIS” plan, but a “Let’s work out a comprehensive long-term plan to stabilize the region”. My suggested way forward would require all sides to make some compromises and to make some painful concessions.
If the goal is to stop the collapse of Islamic civilization and create an environment where moving the political ideological tenor of the Muslim world to a more moderate position, then Islamic religious leaders must engage in the process too, which creates another formidable obstacle. The power they wield can be used to foment more hate and more deaths of innocent Muslims caught in the crossfire of this religious extremism they continue to aid and abet or they can seek to save Muslim innocents and help build a more prosperous Muslim future. They must decide if they are men of hate or men of God. Or, they can continue to help destroy the Islamic world, because assuredly failed states are not safe for even the self-righteous, pious Muslims. They are zones where criminals, drug lords, and psychopaths roam free to terrorize innocents. There are no easy choices for anyone involved in this struggle.
From what I can see Syria remains the center of gravity for ISIS and to deal with Syria will require engagement with Russia and Assad, because Assad, must be a part of the solution, if there is to be any solution. Russia and other Arab leaders, must present the choices to Assad, he can either lose Syria to growing radicalized Islamists or he can do the honorable thing for his country and his people and work to defeat ISIS, then step aside and work to help Syria form an interim government. He has lost all credibility with the Syrian people and can not possibly remain in power. This is all my opinion, of course, if I were in charge of leading American foreign policy, these are the avenues I would pursue. A big picture geopolitical regional security framework would be the goal, to minimize the killing required to subdue the virulent Islamists and to work with Arab regional leaders to unify their military and political efforts in an effective way rather than these disjointed hit or miss, reactionary responses.
As to the O’Reilly, pie-in-the-sky demands of let’s send X-amount (usually large numbers) of US troops to defeat ISIS, this is the alarming reality of US ground troop readiness in America (April 2015 Army Times report):
“The unrelenting budget impasse has compelled us to degrade readiness to historically low levels,” Odierno said.
“Even today we only have 33 percent of our brigades ready, when our sustained rate should be closer to 70 percent. We are unable to generate readiness for unknown contingencies, and under our current budget Army readiness will at best flatline over the next three to four years.”
The ability to deter and compel more than one adversary at a time is in doubt.
The situation “requires us to hope that we can predict the future accurately, something we’ve never been able to do,” Odierno said.”
Tough choices, many huge, almost insurmountable obstacles blocking hope, but with determined global leadership and America taking a resolved stance, perhaps other countries will attempt to help move this mountain, understanding that this will require many hands to lug huge boulders, many miles, for a long time. There is no easy road ahead.