Can the Islamic State be defeated without US boots on the ground?
The Republican Presidential candidates are all in lockstep on one issue: the current strategy against the Islamic State is weak. They diverge on how to handle it with the primary difference being whether there should be US boots on the ground. It’s as if the specter of the attacks in Paris have made many Republicans very forgetful of what has happened repeatedly in the last decade. Putting boots on the ground is exactly the reason that the Islamic State has risen to power in the first place.
There’s one extremely important reason that this would be a bad idea for both the Republican Party and more importantly for America itself. If we go in, we can’t leave for a long, long time. This fact will wear on the nation just as Iraq and Afghanistan did. More importantly, it will be extremely costly and at this point in American history, the last thing we need is to sink billions of dollars into another military intervention.
The biggest reason that we shouldn’t put many boots on the ground against the Islamic State is because we don’t have to. There is path to destroy the Islamic State that does not require massive troop deployments, expensive infrastructure creation, and American lives being put at risk. There are fighters that we can support and those fighters are more motivated than anyone else to destroy the Islamic State.
Take Charge of the Peshmerga
The ragtag but effective warriors of the Kurdish Peshmerga are stronger than most people realize. While accurate numbers are not available, Wikipedia estimates that they have around 200,000 fighters. They were instrumental in our take down of the Iraqi government and they are motivated because the Islamic State is in their own backyard.
The name of their army itself means “one who confronts death.” Today, the greatest threat of death to them and to others around the world is the Islamic State. They want nothing more than to rid themselves and thus the rest of the world from this blight. They can do it, but not without the help of the international community in general and the United States in particular.
Their problem has been twofold. First, they’re splintered. They don’t possess the organization to take on the Islamic State properly despite being bigger than them. The second reason is arms and support. They need better weapons, better training, and the air support that the United States is well equipped to deliver.
If the United States were to take tactical command of the Peshmerga, we have a path to victory against the Islamic State that would be nearly impossible for them to stop. It’s their towns that are being destroyed, their men that are being killed, and their women and children who are being kidnapped and raped. They deserve a ton of support to help them achieve their own goals since their goals and our goals are completely aligned.
Why Not Yet?
With all of this understood, the obvious question becomes, “If it makes so much sense, why haven’t we done it already?”
The Obama Administration made a choice. They saw that they had two big problems in the Middle East: the Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They made the call to arm and support the rebel fighters between the two enemies in hopes that they would be able to win on both fronts. In essence, the administration chose to try to kill two birds with one stone rather than take the obvious road against the Islamic State and abandon their pursuit of regime chance in Syria.
It actually wasn’t a terrible idea. However, it was designed this way because the administration underestimated how strong the Islamic State would become and how great their influence would spread around the world. From a purely political perspective, it wasn’t far off from being the right choice. However, we didn’t commit all the way to helping them because we didn’t want a repeat of Afghanistan. That proved to be very costly to the whole world because we. in essence, overarmed the rebels against the Russians. It was successful and allowed Afghanistan to drive out the Russians, but they were so well equipped and organized that they translated their strength into attacks on the United States. Thus, al Qaeda was born.
We didn’t want to make our next monster by helping the Syrian rebels too much. We chose to arm them a little bit, just enough to where they would be able to topple Assad. The Islamic State threw a monkey wrench in those plans by offering a better solution that didn’t require the United States. They became an enemy on a different front for the rebels, but they also represented a new outlet for the very people we were supporting. Many joined the Islamic State as a result which means that we inadvertently helped to arm them through our proxies within the Syrian rebels.
Peshmerga is different. They don’t have an agenda that is contrary to ours. They don’t run the risk of defecting to the Islamic State. The only real risk is that they could take their American support and boldly go after the rest of Iraq, but that is very unlikely. They simply want the Islamic State destroyed and then to be left alone in their little region of the Middle East.
Recent history has shown us that when we jump into direct conflict in the Middle East, we lose more than we gain. The answer is there with the Peshmerga. It might not be what the Obama Administration wants, but it’s clearly the solution that has the best chance of success against the Islamic State.