America's Strategy to Defeat ISIL

September 11, 2014

Last night, President Barack Obama revealed his strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism campaign.” Ultimately, the President stated that we will begin a campaign to defeat the threat of ISIL within Iraq and expand it to Syria as well.

Obama outlined a four-point strategy to roll back the terrorist threat. First, the President revealed that we will be engaging in a “systematic campaign of airstrikes” in Iraq and Syria.  Second, America will increase our support to forces fighting on the ground. Essentially, Obama called on several hundred service members to deploy to Iraq in June to assist with training, intelligence and equipment.  “We have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. I again, call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters,” the President said. 

This point highlights Obama’s call to strengthen Assad’s opposition “as the best counterweight to ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.” Essentially, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its progeny ISIL, did not exist the way it does today until the occupation of Iraq. MPAC has long stated that as long as the war in Syria remains protracted under Assad, the more likely groups like ISIL would thrive. Our policies toward the region have unfortunately contributed to the rise of ISIL; therefore ramping up assistance to the opposition has been a welcomed strategy for quite some time. 

Third, America’s focus on defeating ISIL will draw on our counterterrorism capabilities while working with global partners to cut off funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter the “warped ideology” and stem the flow of foreign fighters both in and out of the region. This point is significant for any president to openly and forcefully use counter messaging as a strategy in the fight against a terrorist group. The means to achieving this end however, is unclear. Will the administration enlist the partnership of Muslims to engage in developing a strong counter message to ISIL or will it go the course alone and enter new territory of developing theological messages? Granted, the President stated unequivocally that ISIL is “not Islamic” and that the vast majority of casualties of ISIL are Muslim and “no religion condones the killing of innocents.” 

Last, the President reiterated our continued humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by ISIL. While these four points remained the crux of the President’s speech, there was still a lot left to be desired. Throughout the speech, Obama reiterated that our strategy includes a broad coalition of partners who will help us defeat the ISIL threat. However, the partners and how they will assist in the mission were not specified. Further, while the President expressed that this mission will not include a “boots-on-the-ground” presence, he admitted that Americans will risk their lives to defeat the terrorist group. 

Ultimately, Obama inadvertently admitted failure in the Middle East. He classified the region as exporting the biggest threats to the world, despite the fact that the United States has invested more in this region in terms of arms, dollars and human lives than anywhere else in the world. We may have a resounding military victory against ISIL, but we will deal with more radicalism from the ashes of this campaign if we don’t truly change our strategy. MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati suggests such a change in strategy in his op-ed, Takfirism: The Key to Understanding ISIL

The President also stated that America has the will and capacity to rally the world against terrorism. A missing component to the President's strategy is the partnership with American Muslims: a most valuable resource in defeating the enemy in the battle of ideas. In fact, yesterday morning, prior to the President’s speech, a group of national American Muslim leaders and organizations, government officials and law enforcement gathered with MPAC at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to stand together against extremism and reiterate their condemnation of ISIL. Furthermore, several leaders laid out their programs and efforts to defeating extremism emanating from groups like ISIL that can encroach on our communities. 

MPAC’s Safe Spaces Initiative is one such plan that focuses on a PIE model of preventing, intervening and (if need be) ejecting an individual who has been plagued by the cancer of extremism. While the President has just outlined his strategy of defeating ISIL, we have yet to see how the mission will be operationalized. ISIL represents a warped ideology led by thugs; therefore, it will take more than a broad coalition of nations to defeat this threat. The President must not overlook enlisting the help of American Muslims to be part of his strategy and solution.

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