This article first appeared on The Epoch Times
CNN reported yesterday that President Obama has ordered his national
security team to reevaluate their strategy and approach to fighting the Islamic State (IS). Up to this point, the mission, as defined by the president, was to
degrade and ultimately destroy IS. While the first objective of this
mission is feasible, the second has garnered significant criticism as being unrealistic. The administration has overly touted their tactical
gains against al-Qaeda, which include the killing of Osama bin Laden.
However, the group, while degraded, has not been eliminated or
Similarly, as Matt Schiavenza in The Atlantic points out, the Bush administration successfully
eliminated core leadership members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, yet the group evolved into what is now the
most powerful terrorist organization in the world: the Islamic State.
Putting aside these
facts, the administration's stated goal did not reflect the tactics
taken militarily on the ground, namely addressing the Assad regime. As
Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, stated recently, "[IS] is not the problem; [IS] is the symptom of the
problem. The problem is the civil war in Syria." If the ongoing conflict of regime versus opposition is not addressed, the IS problem will
never be solved. If IS is destroyed without addressing the
overarching civil war and the vacuum caused by it, what is to stop
another terrorist entity from taking their place?
Pollack also outlined
unattractive, but in his mind, necessary endeavors to address the Syrian
crisis - regime change, which then will roll into nation building. The idea of regime
change and nation building is not popular in the US because after 13 years of failed efforts, the nation is
tired. The US made several mistakes throughout their nation building endeavors, which Pollack indicates can be rectified. He
outlined a formidable strategy for the US to undertake in rebuilding the Syrian nation. "If we do it right in Syria, there is every reason to believe
the U.N. can provide the leadership, the NGOs can provide most of the muscle
work, and we'll probably provide, at least, a big chunk of the security, and
the Gulf States will provide most of the money," Pollack stated adding that in order to be successful and efficient, this process must begin immediately.
While an unattractive
option, it may be necessary. However, many disagree. One being Senator
Tim Kaine (D-VA). Kaine, who has become a champion of reining-in war
powers and calling on his congressional colleagues to vote on an authorization in Syria stated this week at the Wilson Center, "I don’t think we'll deal with [the Assad regime]…I don’t think official policy of the US
any longer will be regime change in a sovereign nation…I don’t think we should
be in the business of saying ‘Assad must go’…we don’t set the time table for
change in regime in other nations, we’ve been bad at it when we’ve tried and I think
we should step back from the hubris in thinking we should set it." His
views seem to clash with the administration's as reported by CNN and some of his colleagues such as Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who has called for assistance against the bombing campaign of the Assad regime against Syrian civilians and rebels.
Recently, I argued
that the US leaders must reevaluate their counterterrorism framework and modernize their approach the current threats. The reports by CNN indicate the
administration might be doing just that - reacting to realities rather
than to a romanticized policy objective.