The president’s and the country’s strategy for “defeating” ISIS has been evolving, as it should, as we learn more and work with other countries to develop the strategy. Here’s what I hope he addresses.
- Represent a wide coalition.The coalition should include European, Arabic, sub-Saharan African and Asian partners from both Islamic and non-Islamic cultures. This is important because the virus of ISIS exists in only moderately weaker versions in both east and west Africa between al Shabab and Boko Haram plus splinter groups and fringe elements. If we are going to eradicate it, we need to get it all. Also, that wide a coalition is important because ISIS is a threat to Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Egypt, Qatar and all the other neighboring governments. They need to show that they fight against the funding for ISIS that comes from their own countrymen, block borders from ISIS militants and stop providing safe havens. In addition, Russia needs to participate!
- Enable building respect for traditional Islam. ISIS is completing the hijacking of Islam that began some decades ago. They have made it a refuge for psychopaths and sociopaths worldwide that have no respect for the basic tenets of the religion. Their actions defame Islam and need to be repudiated widely and loudly by legitimate Imams and clerics.
- Make our motivation clear.I want to see opinion pieces in Al Jazeera that reflect the threat and a motive that showing concern for the Arab states as well as the west. Our stated motives should make sense beyond the shores of the US and western cultures. This means improving our image with the Arab street.
- Goal. How do we know when we’re done? How will we know if we are winning?
- Roles. What role will our partners play? What will the Saudis contribute? Jordanians? Israelis? Europeans? Who supplies weapons, troops, tactical command, and strategic command? Who takes care of which border crossings?
- Sunni relationships. We need to show how we are going to get Sunni support in Iraq and Syria to help combat ISIS. The new Iraqi Prime Minister will be said to be the way forward but he has not had time to demonstrate “inclusiveness”. There must be a stronger case for inclusiveness than wishful thinking.
- Exit. What do we do when we are done? That will include what we do when things go wrong before we’ve met the goal. There will be defeats and set backs for us. Will we be prepared emotionally for those situations? It must also include the governing arrangements for Iraq and Syria. Will we make peace with Asad if he stops killing the moderate rebels and drenching his citizens with chlorine gas or are we pushing for regime change? If the latter, how do we get countries to support us? If the former, how do we get popular support in the west?
- Forward. Last, can we leverage the coalition for the future?
I fervently hope that the president has a well thought through plan and has the requisite alliances in place. He approaches problems with care and thoughtfulness. Let’s hope he gets this one right.