Opinions: The Ever Pressing ISIS Issue

Will Simonson, Contributing Writer

​Faced with the rising threat of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the debate over what the United States’s course of action should be has grown in intensity. Many Americans are wary of engaging in yet another conflict in the Middle East, especially one as complex and multifaceted as the one ISIS presents. On Sept. 10, President Barack Obama outlined the United States’s initiative with respect to the Islamic State, stating that the end goal was to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the radical group. Key aspects of his plan included continuing the airstrikes on the region that began last month, increasing non-combat ground support in Iraq, calling for additional funding to train and arm Syrian opposition fighters, and finally, increasing humanitarian assistance to civilians. This plan is far from ideal, and is sure to lead to a long and costly conflict.

​Obama drew attention to the 150 successful airstrikes the United States has executed against ISIS within the past month. While he has stated that the most significant aspect of U.S. resistance is the continuation of these airstrikes, he continues to emphasize that there will be no combat soldiers deployed. Though the prospect of preventing military casualties is most commonly a positive outlook, many Americans feel that not deploying troops may be a mistake.

In an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, stated that “hitting it from above then hoping we destroy some supply chains is not going to get the job done,” arguing that there can be no strategy without boots on the ground, but Obama is hesitant to deploy combat troops, attempting not to blindly send in troops to a large scale military conflict as his predecessor did in Afghanistan. It seems as though he is declaring war on the Islamic State, but he reassures us that this is not another “ground war in Iraq.” If not another ground war, does that make this an “air war over Iraq?” The difference between the two is minute–lives and resources will be expended in either case–though according to Obama, we are not entering a war at all. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric; this certainly seems to be a war, and it is sure to be a long one at that.

​Last month, in an interview with the New York Times, Obama said that arming moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight the Assad regime was “never in the cards,” yet as a part of this new plan he is asking Congress for $500 million to train and arm these same rebels to fight against ISIS. Thomas Friedman with the New York Times argues that training is not the problem, citing the billions of dollars spent training the very Iraqi soldiers that “ran away from ISIS’s path.” What real impact will this training have? Is arming these moderate rebel groups going to make a real difference in the fight against ISIS?

Greg Myre stated on NPR that although “the moderate rebels of the Free Syria Army notched multiple successes in the early days of the Syrian war in 2011, they have been a fading force on the battlefield and training them will be a time-consuming project.” How can we expect these forces to make a significant difference as our allies in this conflict, in which they would still be fighting against Assad’s forces in addition to the growing forces of ISIS? This is neither a productive use of time nor resources, both of which are limited.

​It is easy to point out flaws in this suggested plan of action, but it is much more difficult to provide an alternative plan. While Obama’s plan is far from perfect, no other viable proposal has emerged, and time is limited. How many more journalists must be publicly killed, or innocent civilians terrorized, before the world jumps to action? Something must be done, and it must be done quickly. But the most important caveat, one that Obama understands well, is that whatever is to be done must not be done by the United States alone; in order to tackle a threat as large as ISIS, it will take combined and coordinated effort from the United States and its allies everywhere.

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