Smoke rises over Ramadi after coalition airstrikes fail to uproot ISIS insurgents.
In light of the spiraling disasters throughout the Middle East and North Africa, no one-size-fits-all approach can work against ISIS.
(CNN)It’s been a year since Steven Sotloff was brutally murdered. The images, which have become all too commonplace, shocked the American public — and consequently, the American President — into responding to the horror that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has wrought in the Middle East. But countless decapitations, and hundreds of thousands of less infamous (but no less vile) predations later, ISIS continues to flourish.
The United States has no strategy against the terrorist group, and the tactics being pursued by the Obama administration are failing.
In early July, the President took to the airwaves to announce that things were going, well, OK, in the battle against ISIS. “As with any military effort, there will be periods of progress,” he began hopefully, “but there are also going to be some setbacks — as we’ve seen with ISIL’s gains in Ramadi in Iraq and central and southern Syria.”
Yes, Mr. Obama there have been setbacks. And those are not the worst of them.
ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant and as Daesh, a variant of the Arabic acronym for ISIS, has taken Mosul and Ramadi in Iraq, has taken Palmyra in southern Syria and is spreading through Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Algeria and beyond.
Obama administration officials insist that ISIS is not 10 feet tall and has its own troubles. Senior leaders have been picked off by drones, and the group is at daggers drawn with al Qaeda. All true. But ISIS continues to attract foreign fighters, and intelligence officials admit that despite upwards of 10,000 deaths, the group’s strength is estimated at 20,000 to 30,000, virtually unchanged from when the United States began more intensive operations in 2013.
Retired Gen. John Allen, the Obama administration’s special envoy, insists that ISIS is losing. In an existential sense, he’s right. ISIS isn’t going to run Iraq or Yemen or Syria anytime soon. But it is running statelets in Iraq and Syria and is putting in place the accouterments of the state it claims to be.
Worse yet, what the administration claims to be good news — the intensified engagement of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the fight — is far from uniformly positive. Both Riyadh and Ankara have been supporting groups that include al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. And the Turks, who have finally woken up to the danger to their own security from ISIS, are more interested in using the new U.S.-Turkish partnership to attack Kurdish groups gaining ground in Syria. In other words, in subcontracting national security policy to others, we have found — surprise — that they do not share our views about the enemy.
In Iraq, ISIS continues to hold substantial and important territory, and notwithstanding efforts by the al-Abadi government in Baghdad, insufficient progress has been made in reconciling the Sunni and Shia factions whose fighting has allowed ISIS to flourish.
Nor, notwithstanding the bizarre partnership between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Obama White House in Iraq, have Shiite militias “advised” by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and occasionally backed by U.S. air power been able to beat back ISIS in a meaningful way.
In Yemen, the story is much the same.
The country’s slow-motion collapse, while less in the headlines than Syria, has pitted the Saudis and their proxies against Iran and its proxies, with the most notable result being benefits for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS’ Yemen branch.
Libya, too, is divided between the genuine and more moderate government now holed up in Tobruk, an Islamist government in Tripoli and ISIS and other al Qaeda-related groups growing steadily in the void.
In light of the spiraling disasters throughout the Middle East and North Africa, no one-size-fits-all approach can work. Clearly, intensified effort is needed to help the Iraqi military and to reengage Iraq’s Sunni — likely more military assistance, more aid and deeper engagement by the United States. In Syria, the training that has generated just 60 U.S.-taught members of the Free Syrian Army must ramp up dramatically.
But that’s far from enough; fashioning a transitional government acceptable to the United States and the Syrian people should have already begun. Indeed, each country demands its own separate strategy, but there is one common element: Washington cannot drop in when bad news hits the front pages, as it did when Steven Sotloff, James Foley and Peter Kassig met their grisly ends.
It is tempting to believe that the countries of the region can rise to meet their own challenges, but there is not a scintilla of evidence to support the notion. And while some continue to insist that the nightmare that has driven 11 million people from their homes is somehow not America’s problem, the reality of ISIS’ (and al Qaeda’s) growth and spread and continued strength means that these terrorists will be on our doorstep sooner rather than later.