Under the Radar: Turning the Tide
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Under the Radar: Turning the Tide

A discussion of how the US should to respond to ISIL

Joe Friedrichsen | Echo

The rise of the Islamist militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is testing America’s ability to project its power and influence in order to bring a level of stability to the world. However, as ISIL continues ravaging Iraq and Syria, the United States and the international community are desperately fumbling for a unified solution to confront ISIL’s growing threat to world order.

At the moment, America’s long-term strategy for defeating ISIL is to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIL and the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, according to Reuters. This strategy is problematic for several reasons. First, the Obama Administration does not cooperate and recognize Assad’s government as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. This position eliminates the only capable actor in Syria with the available resources to effectively fight ISIL.

Second, the “moderate” rebels that Obama wants to arm have been decimated by ISIL, after years of infighting within the Free Syrian Army and by forces loyal to Assad. ISIL has sidelined the moderate rebels in terms of fighting capacity and capability. Beside this, the three most prevalent actors in Syria—Assad’s government, ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra (an al Qa’ida group)—do not recognize the legitimacy of the Syrian National Council (SNC), according to Business Insider.

This means the Syrian Civil War would not just end with Assad’s resignation. The moderate rebels would have to fight ISIL and other Islamist groups opposing their rule before securing power over Syria. Furthermore, Congress has not authorized funding for the U.S. to train moderate rebels. In addition, the critical details for such training have not been worked out, reports Business Insider.

In short, the Obama Administration’s current long-term strategy of arming the moderate rebels is now a lost cause. For this reason, the U.S. needs to adopt a new approach to address the looming danger ISIL poses to international security.

This begs the question—what policy should the U.S. instead pursue? I would propose allying with the Assad government. Of course, it would be a significant policy shift for the U.S. and its other Western allies.

This would also entail abandoning support for the SNC. If the U.S. did decide to work with Assad, it could also partner with Russia (Assad’s main supporter). Moreover, America could try to work out a deal with Iran, a predominantly Shiite country, to fight Sunni-led ISIL.

Assad’s government said on Aug. 25 it would cooperate in any international effort to fight Islamic State militants, according to Reuters. This follows a report on Aug. 21 that U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey is now advocating for military airstrikes in Syria against ISIL.

At the moment, forming an alliance with Assad is not a favored option for the U.S. However, America is currently presented with a unique opportunity to respond to ISIL with near-unanimous support from countries around the world. ISIL has made a gamble and possibly overlooked the repercussions that its heinous violence and exclusive brand of Salafi Islam would have on public opinion in Islamic countries. Although ISIL’s charismatic image is attractive to young Sunni men, its exclusivity has alienated other Salafist groups, such as the Taliban.

The U.S. ought to take advantage of this Muslim opposition to ISIL by forming an international coalition of states that includes countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria. This coalition could combine resources to help diminish ISIL’s military capabilities.

Although America’s military response to ISIL is important in the short-term, it must also fight an ideological war that is vital for a successful long-term strategy. The threat of ISIL has presented the U.S. with a chance to win over the hearts and minds of people around the world. If it plays its cards right, America can easily win the ideological battle, despite the paradox in its policy. Even though such a strategy would include supporting a dictator with a history of human rights abuses, the consequences of not working with Assad could be grave.

For the time being, the U.S. should focus its energy on forming a coalition that includes Syria and Iran. ISIL’s reign of terror must quickly be put to an end. To do this, America needs to temporarily brush aside its distaste for Assad and embrace a more inclusive policy to quickly unify the world against a ruthless foe.

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