'Islamic State'

Defeating the Islamic State

This is a cross-post by James Snell

During the quieter months of the year-long aerial campaign waged against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it might have been possible to forget of its existence, or at least to push the subject to the rear of the developed world’s many priorities. That cannot be said now. With a refugee crisis which largely stemmed from the affected areas sparking a summer of tragically perilous sea journeys and arbitrary border closures, followed at all times by the implied threat of a populist, nationalistic backlash, forgetting was not an entirely easy process. And now – as ISIS launches more ambitious examples of its terrorist activity overseas, including the likely downing of a Russian plane in Egypt and the savage bloodbath which has terrorised the city of Paris last week – it seems that a reaction of sorts is not only appropriate but vital.

ISIS had never gone away, of course, and though the breathless coverage of its every atrocity did subside, this gave way to a situation in which every major news story seemed suffused – or at the very least underwritten – by the menace and threat ISIS could be counted upon to inspire. And now, much like last year, when ISIS fighters committed a spate of entirely barbaric beheadings, murders which shocked the world and seemingly galvanised statesmen and politicians into action, the question is again being asked: what exactly should we do about all of this?

Then, as now, it seemed as if there was momentum behind action of some kind. When it was agreed that a coalition of nations would launch an air war against ISIS, at the request of the Iraqi government, I and (I think) many others were mollified. We thought that something would finally be done – which was, rather pitifully, enough to allay our immediate concerns – and there was the general sense that though this may be a partial measure, it was still something, and that it would likely lead to the taking of necessary decisions to ensure the successful completion of the objective at hand.

In short, we were fooled, tricked into believing a diplomatic cliché (that ISIS must be defeated and its influence eradicated) instead of advocating for a more effective and ultimately successful policy. In reality, the bombing campaign constituted not an intervention but a holding action, a delaying tactic designed to look decisive. One year into this apparently aimless intervention it is clear that the status quo is untenable. ISIS is not being worn down rapidly enough; and with other considerations informing the ever-fluid situation on the ground – not least the involvement of Russia and Iran and ISIS’ newly-demonstrated capacity to execute complex and horrific attacks on the European mainland – it seems clear that a change of strategy is of the utmost necessity.

Do read the rest of James’s post here

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