The ISIS crisis
Stephen Raab | Tuesday, September 1, 2015
ISIL. The Islamic State. ISIS. Daesh. Known by many names, this violent extremist group has rampaged across the Middle East for more than a year since its separation from al-Qaeda. They’ve tortured and massacred prisoners, smashed and looted historical sites and launched campaigns of genocide against religious and ethnic minorities.
While local governments and militias have done their utmost to weaken ISIS, their efforts are disjointed and suboptimal. The annihilation of ISIS will likely require a sustained, external intervention by an organized, professional military. Unlike the Second Iraq War, this operation cannot be a unilateral move by the United States and a handful of our allies; such an intervention would be viewed as a purely political maneuver. Instead, support must come from around the world, as ISIS is fighting a war against civilization itself.
The ideal vector to give this effort legitimacy is the United Nations. It would be impossible to draw the moral contrast more starkly — Al-Baghdadi and his cohorts on one side, and on the other, the entire population of the world, united to oppose an ideology that has no place on a civilized planet. ISIS’s defeat would not be at the hands of one nation, but of all nations.
It’s true that it’s often difficult to marshal the UN’s resources for such interventions. However, this proposal passes the traditional stumbling block of such resolutions in the past — the five “veto power” members of the UN Security Council. Often, one or more of these nations feels threatened by a UN resolution, and so scuppers it before it’s even begun. In the case of ISIS, however, no veto-power country has its interests served through permitting ISIS to grow. Let’s analyze each member’s reasons to support such an action.
The United States of America: Almost a shoo-in. America’s position as the foremost representative of Western culture and the primary supplier of aid to the Iraqi government means that we have been in this fight since before we realized it. Combined with the first wave of direct attacks by ISIS on American soil, it is clear that we must take stronger action against our adversary. This must be our last Iraq War.
The United Kingdom: The massive displacement of humanity caused by the war across the Middle East has sent thousands scrambling for the safety of Britain. The most important step to resolving this crisis will be the elimination of its source through the stabilization of the countries from which these refugees have emigrated.
France: ISIS affiliates have attacked France repeatedly, from the bombing in Lyons to the recent attack in the Arras subway thwarted by off-duty Marines. French cities such as Calais are also an important jumping-off point for refugees attempting to reach Britain, with hundreds repeatedly attempting to storm the Channel Tunnel. For France, intervention is both a humanitarian and a security necessity.
Russia: The Syrian Civil War threatens the stability of Bashar al-Assad’s government, one of Russia’s last remaining friends in the Middle East. In addition, the emergence of an ISIS caliphate will doubtless embolden domestic terrorists in Russian Chechnya, who seceded to create a short-lived Sharia state around the turn of the century.
China: The ISIS expansion into Africa, including its merger with Boko Haram, means that ISIS now threatens Chinese investments across the continent. If China is to establish meaningful trade with Africa, it will have to eliminate the threat of terrorism.
Obliterating ISIS from a military perspective is of course only the first step. Winning a war is always gratifying, but it is far more important to prevent the next war. The post-Cold War attitude of sending in soldiers and then looking for the first opportunity to remove them (a sin committed by both major parties) will result only in yet another power vacuum to be filled by yet another extremist group. This time, we need to be in for the long haul. It may take decades, but we must build a stable Middle East for all time.
Consider by way of analogy post-WWII Europe. After rightfully intervening to eliminate the terror of Nazi Germany, American policymakers realized that quickly drawing down our presence would leave Europe to fall into communism. To check this, the Marshall Plan gave billions in aid to the European nations, including former Axis powers. Even today, the United States has around 65,000 personnel stationed in Europe, and almost 50,000 in Japan. As a result, these states have remained stable and firmly capitalist.
The threat of ISIS demands a forceful response from the international community. Military intervention by the United Nations, followed by a program of extended economic and security assistance, will stabilize the Middle East for good.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.