What is to be Done about ISIS?

Justin Marinelli, Senior Writer

As usual in the face of dramatic events, most people, including our leaders, have been asking the wrong questions with regard to the rise of the self-christened Islamic Caliphate. The most common inquiry on everyone’s lips has been: “What should the United States do about ISIS?” This is a mistake with potentially horrendous consequences.

The correct starting point is to ask ourselves what we have the capacity to do. Biting off more than we can chew has been a common error in our foreign policy over the past 50 years, and during an age in which the United States is experiencing the same fate that befell the British Empire in losing its once formidable ability to dictate global happenings, the consequences of overextension are going to become more and more drastic. We are not the hegemon we once were. Pretending that we still are clouds our judgment.
Another question that needs to be wrestled with is the matter of what it actually means to win a war in the modern age. This is not a trivial question, even though it might be treated as one. Is it winning battles? Swaying hearts and minds? Dictating the media narrative? Suppose a state inflicts severe losses on the enemy and seizes large swathes of territory, but in the process pushes away allies, becomes alienated on the world stage, and erodes its influence and reputation. Is that a victory or a loss?

If we don’t know what it means to be the victor in a modern conflict, we will never have an idea of what “winning” against the Islamic State would even look like. Would it be destruction? Containment? Ideological refutation? This question needs an answer, and until it gets one, we have no option available to us but failure.

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