The ADD nation fights ISIS

Last Wednesday American University’s School of International Service hosted its professor and former ambassador Akbar Ahmed, Politico correspondent Susan Glasser, and Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius to discuss Fighting ISIS: The Future of American Foreign Policy in the Middle East. David Gregory, the former moderator of Meet the Press, presided.

President Obama some weeks ago stated his goal of degrading and defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with air power and a dynamic, committed coalition but the campaign thus far has been unimpressive. Ignatius defended the President stating, “wars often start badly” but questioned whether the President has a concrete strategy to accomplish his goal. While President Obama sought to turn the page of America’s legacy in the Middle East, he has been “sucked back” into the region. The President’s insistence on changes to the Iraqi government as well as demands for regional actors to become involved are promising first steps. Although the coalition does not have a UN mandate, it avoids the “go it alone ethos” of the Bush administration or the lead from behind approach in Libya.

How will ISIS be defeated in Syria? In Iraq? While there are plans for the CIA and military to train guerilla fighters in Syria, Ignatius notes that history shows us this approach is rarely successful. With internal conflicts plaguing both Syria and Iraq, a coherent strategy is lacking. This will be a test for President Obama as he faces a group that has an “apocalyptic view.” Ignatius noted Osama Bin Laden and the writings of his final days, in which he outlines his feelings of failure and his intention to rename Al-Qaeda. The Muslim leaders whom he respected had come to hate Al Qaeda, which its leader feared would lead to its downfall. Ignatius believes the same goes for the “savagery” of ISIS, hated by both the Muslim world and the West.

While all three speakers underlined the President’s reluctance to become involved, Glasser focused on the public debate that transpired between the President and the Pentagon. This friction has largely gone uncovered. Glasser believes the United States is in a quagmire that will not end well.

Ahmed believes that the US has forgotten the lesson of Afghanistan, where it entered without any understanding of tribal wars. There is a parallel situation in Iraq, but along sectarian divisions. ISIS vaunts the golden age of early Islam but Ahmed disputes this. He instead believes “justice, knowledge, equality and tolerance” are embedded in Islam, none of which are included in the ISIS movement.

Gregory asked a question that went largely unanswered. What are we protecting the US and our allies from? Ignatius believes that ISIS is such an aggressive adversary that we should have seen it coming. While there is no current intelligence that ISIS is planning an attack on the United States, ISIS poses a serious threat to Jordan’s monarch, a key US ally.

Ignatius refers to the media as playing to an “ADD nation,” with a dwindling attention span to critical foreign affairs. The consequences of not being patient will hurt the United States. There is no overnight solution. Stability will not be achieved until there is reconciliation between Sunni and Shia and between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Proxy wars are “eating up” the Middle East, which will need restoration of strong security institutions.

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