Monday, 15 September 2014

The Trouble with Obama's IS Strategy

President Obama's much awaited strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying the Islamic State (IS) group was unveiled last week to a captive international audience that has been horrified by the sheer savagery of the group. There is no doubt that IS poses a threat to global peace and stability and as such it had to be confronted through a concerted millitary effort.

The long over due four part strategy has by and large been welcomed across the world with the usual exception of Russia and China, Syria's ever-reliable allies, which have expressed reservations in regards to Syria's territorial integrity and of course by Al Assad's Syria, which insists that it must be co-opted in any action against IS within its boarders, never mind that it has no control over large parts of Syria which are under IS control and Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow Al Assad.

There is little doubt that Obama's strategy will, at least in the short-term, degrade IS to the point of reducing it to a rag tag band of rebels without control over any territory in Iraq. The same however cannot be said of Syria, the group's safe haven, which is where the jihadists will eventually retreat to once they are routed in Iraq.

What however is debateable about Obama's IS strategy is its ability to achieve its main objective of destroying the group. If the decade-long war on al-Qa'ida is anything to go by, IS won't be ultimately destroyed through military effort alone. In fact, as a result of this intervention, IS will in all probability mutate into something else potentially more virulent and resilient than itself in pretty much the same way it metamorphosed from al-Qaida to Islamic State.

The Trouble with President Obama's IS strategys is that it places very little emphasis on addressing the Islamist ideology which is the root cause of the Islamic State problem. Deploying the military to degrade and destroy the IS group will certainly disrupt the group and help put a temporary stop to its murderous campaign.

However, a comprehensive strategy for countering the Islamist ideology that is propelling IS and other jihadist groups is infinitely more important and effective in dealing with the persistent problem of jihadism. Obama's strategy pays lip service to the underlying problem of Islamist ideology and that is its greatest shortcoming. His strategy, unfortunately, deals with the urgent and ignores that which is more important and that is not what we expect of President Obama.

Confronting the Islamist ideology is a battle for hearts and minds something which the State Department, not Pentagon, is better equipped to undertake. The Department's public diplomacy outreach, which among other things, works to confront ideological support for terrorism is home to the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Unfortunately, the State Department is always overshadowed by Defense Department when it comes to matters security and it seems America would rather cure the problem through military might than prevent it through the thankless tasks carried out by the State Department.

Not too long ago, in his commencement speech to West Point graduands, President Obama counseled his countrymen telling them that, "U.S. military action cannot be the only or even primary component of our leadership in every instance." "Just because we have the best hammer", he went to say, "does not mean that every problem is a nail."

In his four-part strategy to defeat IS, Obama seems to have either forgotten or pressured to make military action the primary component of his response to the threat posed by IS against his better judgements. Whatever the case may be, he still has the opportunity to reogarnize the priorities of his strategy. If the air strikes are successful in putting a halt to the bloodshed and IS goes into hiding, that could be an opportune moment for reworking the priorities of his strategy. If however, history repeats itself as it is notorious for doing exactly that, IS will retreat to Syria and Syria will become the new Afghanistan.

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