October 8, 2015

GLANZEL | You Can’t Just Wish ISIS Away

Print More


In the past six years, the political fault lines of the Middle East have drastically shifted.  Between the Arab Spring, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and the pan-regional growth of radical Islam, the Middle East of 2009 looks radically different from the Middle East of 2015.  These drastic shifts have left the established political order of the region in rotting decay.  From Iraq to Yemen, Syria to Egypt, the old political order has died, opening an immense power vacuum — a vacuum that radical Islam is happy to fill.

Surely, one could argue that the United States played a part in the Middle East’s power vacuum. Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 deprived Iraq of Saddam Hussein’s stable leadership (granted the operation also removed a genocidal maniac who killed 100,000 Kurds), and Obama’s support of the Arab Spring movement greatly weakened the legitimacy of Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt.  Yet, for the most part, the decay of established Middle Eastern governments has been an internal process.  Therefore, we cannot focus on the question of why chaos has broken out, but what can be done to solve the crisis.

As turmoil ensues in the Middle East, the President’s response has been simple: Let’s just wait and see what happens.  In essence, the administration has simply been hoping that the regional chaos will somehow dissipate on its own.  Time and time again, the press has asked the White House and the Department of Defense for a detailed outline on how they plan to deal with ISIS.  And time and time again, both institutions have produced nothing.  I am certainly not a foreign or defense policy expert, but even I can tell you that hoping the problem will go away without a concrete plan is sheer insanity.

While the United States has failed to help establish stable leadership in the Middle East, one nation has decided to fill the void: Russia — the same country that Mitt Romney warned about in 2012 (to which Obama simply laughed off).  In just the last few weeks, Vladimir Putin has stationed troops in Russia’s long time ally, Syria.  It is key to understand that wherever there is an American void, Putin seeks to fill it with Russian power and authority.    

So, the story of the Middle East has become more complex. Even if ISIS magically disappeared (as the White House seems to be hoping), we would still be left with the problem of an ever-belligerent Russia.  When considering these factors, nearly everyone agrees that something has to be done.

If sitting on our hands and wishing the problem away is not the answer, then what should be done?  Surprisingly, there has been a great deal of agreement among politicians in several key areas.  First, the United States, NATO and regional allies (such as Saudi Arabia) should help to arm the Kurds — a notion supported by a myriad of politicians, ranging from Carly Fiorina to Barbara Boxer.  The Kurds, an ethnic group predominantly located in northern Iraq, have consistently fought ISIS independent of the Iraqi military, and with greater success than the Iraqis.  Certainly, some have questioned if arming the Kurds would undermine the authority of the central Iraqi government.  Perhaps, but the Iraqi government has consistently failed to successfully combat ISIS.  Why not give arms to fighters who can actually defeat ISIS?

Second, the United States must ramp up its bombing efforts in the region.  Certainly, we cannot send ground forces into the region (we do not need a third invasion of Iraq — we saw how well that went the first two times).  Yet the military has limited its bombing efforts to ISIS supply routes.  Instead, the United States should increase the number of air-based attacks by expanding its targets to include key ISIS outposts.

Finally, we must do a better job of supporting our allies in the region.  Whether it is King Abdullah of Jordan or our friends on the Arabian Peninsula, the Obama administration has consistently ignored the requests for arms and supplies from our allies.  This lack of support not only undermines our legitimacy with our allies, but also strengthens Russia’s hand as a major power player in the region.  The defeat of ISIS will not come from an internal collapse of the movement, but rather the concerted effort of organized armed forces.  In order to ensure these forces are properly armed and equipped to defeat ISIS, the United States must be willing to provide key provisions.

No, I am not a foreign policy expert.  But I do know this: wishing that a problem would go away is never the solution.  ISIS has been a growing problem for nearly two years, and we all agree that something must be done to fight plague of radical Islam.  So, why hasn’t the president done anything yet?  What is he waiting for?  The true test of a superpower is if it can help to provide international stability.  If the United States fails to act, we undermine our capacity as a superpower and embolden the growing power of Putin.   

Michael Glanzel is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Thursdays this semester.