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U.S. Strategy to Defeat Islamic State Criticized, Recommendations Made

ByGeorge Bao

May 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES — The U.S.-led strategy to defeat the Islamic State (IS) has been criticized in a research report just released by RAND, a think tank in the United States with military background.

The report, BEATING THE ISLAMIC STATE, SELECTING A NEW STRATEGY FOR IRAQ AND SYRIA, asserts that the strategy to defeat the Islamic State, a hybrid insurgent-terrorist group that as of mid-2016 controls territory in both Iraq and Syria, is lack of clarity, overemphasis on tactical objectives, and insufficient attention to the underlying causes of the greater civil conflict across both Iraq and Syria.

This report assesses the current strategy and presents three options for a new strategy. Each of these options, derived from subject-matter-expert input, represents a broad strategic approach to defeating IS.

Continuous counterterror focuses on containing and suppressing IS while accepting ongoing instability in Iraq and Syria. Practical stability seeks to reestablish the pre–Arab Spring order in Iraq and Syria, building stable states at the probable expense of democracy and human rights, according to the report.

The report recommends the third option: Legitimated stability. This approach pursues a long-term strategy that seeks to address the root causes of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, reconciling the disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations with their governments, and thereby removing the conditions that allowed IS to emerge and thrive.

Other alternatives that fail to address root cause issues are likely to condemn the U.S. and its allies to continual crisis and unpredictable and unending reinvestment of resources, with little real gain in security or reduction in international terror.

According to the report, the strategy to defeat and destroy IS needs a bottom-up review and revision.

The report finds that the root causes can be bypassed or suppressed, but doing so ensures lasting instability.

The report recommends:

  • The National Security Council should lead a full-scope, bottom-up review of the strategy to counter IS. This review should address specific issues with the current strategy, including a lack of internal consistency in objectives, poorly defined objectives, and a narrow focus on defeating and destroying IS with insufficient emphasis on changing the conditions that allow such groups to exist and thrive.
  • The best way to reduce and, eventually, end insurgency and terrorism is to address root causes or, at least, to establish legitimate and capable governance. Stability is most consistent and enduring when it emerges naturally from popular satisfaction with governance and other socioeconomic conditions, rather than from government oppression or military action by external powers.

The legitimated stability option acknowledges that the best way to reduce and, eventually, end insurgency and terrorism is to address root causes or, at least, to establish legitimate and capable governance, according to the report.

The aim of this strategy is to establish legitimate governments in Iraq and Syria. Each government would be capable of addressing Sunni disenfranchisement while protecting the rights of all other groups. Ultimately, strong and legitimate central governments — perhaps federated or confederated to address regional challenges within each state — will reduce the current, dangerous emphasis on ethnosectarian identity politics and violence, the report says.

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