Sunday, September 7, 2014

ISIS cannot be ignored

With pressure mounting at home and abroad, it's not all that surprising that  President Obama has decided to take more substantive action against the group known as "ISIS," or the "Islamic State." While the recent murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by ISIS, as well as the siege of a mountaintop where members of the minority Yazidi group had taken refuge, have grabbed headlines and the attention of the world, ISIS clearly represents a much broader and deeper threat.

In the swirling cauldron of Middle East terror groups and their state-sponsors, it can often be hard to discern which particular organizations or individuals may be gaining or losing influence in the region,  but I can't help but get the sense that ISIS is an organization that the US and its allies, perhaps most prominently Jordan, Israel and Egypt ( but likely the Saudis and the Gulf States as well) cannot afford to ignore. According to a piece published in the New York Times this morning, President Obama plans to lay out a plan this coming week to aggressively address the threat posed by ISIS,  a plan which, critically, should include US allies in Europe and the Middle East.

And who can blame him? After nearly 13 years of war in the Middle East and Western Asia, the American public, which has never, generally speaking, shown much interest in foreign policy, clearly lacks enthusiasm for yet another military engagement in the region. And yet there seems to be little choice - the deaths of Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff are personal tragedies for their friends, families and colleagues, they are a disgusting violation of human rights and human dignity, but the real threat lies not in the facts of their individual murders, but in the idea that if ISIS could, they would gladly murder as many journalists -and Americans - as they could get their hands on. The same may be said for their persecution of Yazidis and Christians  - these things are, in and of themselves, reprehensible, but it is the group's intention to convert or kill every minority, as well every Muslim who does not follow their own perverted vision of religion, that should make the world worry.

Having read my share of Middle East history, I am under no illusion that any conflict in the region, let alone one involving as many states and non-state actors as this current situation has drawn in, that whatever follows action by this US-lead coalition will be neat, predictable or easy to contain. It is highly likely, for example that action against ISIS will help Assad in Syria, and with a new government in Baghdad facing myriad challenges, it's hard to tell how robust of a role we can reasonably expect the Iraqi security forces to play.

All of that being said, it's hard to see how the US, Europe and our allies in the Middle East can sit on the sidelines and watch as ISIS kills off one American at a time or besieges one city or village after another, until they rule over a broad swath of the region containing a homogenized population comprised of fellow zealots and those unable to flee. Clearly action is the order of the day, but what comes next is anybody's guess.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment