ISIS: Illusions Versus Reality - Committing To Long–term And Substantial Socioeconomic And Political Programs
20 September 2014
By Alon Ben-Meir
Much has been said about President Obama's strategy to
degrade and eventually "destroy" the Islamic State of
Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Regardless of the soundness of
the President's strategy, to ensure greater success in
defeating ISIS, three distinct interlinked aspects
must be factored in: careful consideration of the root
causes behind the rise of ISIS, simultaneous inclusion
of socio-political and economic development along with
the military campaign, and the real, not illusionary,
role and capability of the coalition members President
Obama has assembled. Bearing this in mind and acting
accordingly will permanently degrade ISIS and prevent
it from rising again to pose a serious threat to our
allies in the Middle East and Western security in the
The rise of many jihadist groups can be traced several
decades back to the reigns of corrupt and ruthless
Arab dictators who grossly violated human rights,
deprived their citizens of social justice, and
violently suppressed any opposition with impunity.
Adding to this mix is President Bush's misguided Iraq
war, which has ignited the long-dormant Sunni-Shiite
conflict, and the violent upheaval in the wake of the
Arab Spring that swept several Arab states,
culminating with the still-raging civil war in Syria.
ISIS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda (disavowed by them
because of their savagery) who converged, among other
jihadist groups, into a disintegrated Syria,
unleashing the dark-ages forces of Islam in pursuit of
their twisted religious historic and cultural agenda
that sanctifies Islamic reign.
At the same time, both secular and religious
authoritarian regimes in the region have been adding
fuel to the fire by supporting one jihadist group or
the other financially and with military equipment,
while engaging in hate narratives against one another
and against the West.
Millions of dispossessed, despairing, and despondent
Arab youth are left with no place to go, no hope, and
no future. They are consumed with anger and hatred of
their corrupt and unresponsive leaders and the West,
who acted only when the conditions served its
For these reasons, the military campaign must
simultaneously be accompanied by sustainable economic
development programs to create jobs and opportunities
to give the young hope for the future.
The US, European countries, and the oil-rich Arab
states must raise billions of dollars strictly
dedicated to that end and give young men and women the
incentive to reject extremism and embrace moderation.
Sustainable development projects will not only
galvanize local resources, but allow for the
development of ownership and a sense of empowerment
that builds a social and economic structure from the
bottom up. This would allow the people to become
increasingly less dependent on government handouts
that come with chains and subservience.
We must carefully assess the role and responsibility
of each member of the coalition (many of whom remain a
mystery) and have no illusions about their importance
Iraq: We should have no delusions about the makeup and
effectiveness of the new Iraqi government. Whereas the
Kurds will join the military campaign willingly to
safeguard their territory and autonomy, the full
support of the Sunni tribes is not assured given their
long, violent conflict with the Shiite Maliki
government over the past eight years.
Before they throw their weight behind the Shiites,
they want to know what is in store for them. I
maintain that nothing short of autonomous Sunni rule
with equitable revenue-sharing from oil with a loose
federalism will suffice.
The US must begin to lay the ground for this
eventuality, and make it clear to the Abadi government
that an Iraq free of violence depends on the Sunnis'
conviction that their fight against ISIS will benefit
them rather than further consolidate the Shiites' hold
Syria: President Obama's plans to mobilize and train
moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS will go nowhere
regardless of how well-trained and equipped the Syrian
rebels may be. They cannot be effective if they must
fight on two fronts—ISIS and Assad's forces.
The US must target immediately ISIS fortifications in
Syria as well as some of Assad's military assets,
especially his air force installations and runways and
infantry, to prevent him from continuing to use barrel
bombs that kill thousands of civilians
Moreover, the US should capitalize on the growing
sense of uneasiness among the Alawites with Assad, as
they are increasingly realizing that there will be no
end to the civil war as long as he remains in power.
An Alawite-Sunni axis in Syria is possible once the
Alawites are assured that Assad's butchery of the
largely Sunnis communities will not be held against
them once Assad is ousted and the Sunnis form a
The American aerial onslaught against ISIS must be
overwhelming and simultaneously target ISIS both in
Iraq and Syria to prevent them from regrouping,
recruiting, and developing new defensive positions and
make their recovery extremely difficult.
Saudi Arabia: The war against ISIS is in principle a
religious war that transcends the defeat of ISIS.
Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are waging a war by
proxy in Syria and Iraq to secure regional hegemony.
Their battle is one for survival itself and will not
abate any time soon.
Saudi Arabia should have every incentive not only to
train Syrian rebels but actively participate in the
military campaign. The US must insist that Saudi
Arabia dispatch ground troops to Syria to fight ISIS.
Although this may help Iran, which is also threatened
by ISIS, it will at the same time undermine Tehran's
foothold in Syria.
Iran has and will always be part of all regional
conflicts by supporting one side against the other. It
is illusionary to assume that Tehran can be a part of
the solution. It has directly supported Assad with
money, military equipment, advisors, and even fighters
as he is waging a merciless war against his civilian
Iran will stop short of nothing to maintain its
foothold in Syria, which the linchpin of the crescent
of land between the Gulf and the Mediterranean and is
central to Iran's ambitions to become the region's
hegemon. Regardless of the ongoing negotiations with
Iran about its nuclear program, the US must spare no
efforts to keep Iran out of the military campaign in
Iraq and Syria.
Turkey: President Erdogan, who is guided by his
Islamic convictions, will not help the fight against
ISIS and nothing should be expected from Ankara other
than lip-service. Turkey has and continues to be the
gateway for jihadists coming from all over to cross
the Turkish border into Syria and Iraq.
The US should stop covering for Turkey and insist that
Erdogan stop the flow of jihadists and end the buying
of oil from ISIS, which helps finance ISIS' deadly
campaign. The US should warn that there will be
consequences if Turkey does not heed American demands.
There are several Arab states including Egypt, Jordan,
UAE, Oman, Kuwait, and others who should assist in
different capacities in the campaign to defeat ISIS.
It is incumbent on the US to ensure that this war
looks, feels, and is an inter-Arab war, with Western
powers only supporting the moderate Arab camp while
protecting their strategic interests.
To help defeat Islamic extremism, we must condition
our future support to any of the Arab states affected
by this scourge and insist that they commit to
long–term and substantial socioeconomic and political
programs. This will give tens of millions of Arab
youth alternatives to violence and instead, give the
hope and the opportunity to seek a more promising