Should We Leave ISIS Alone?

Recent news reports indicate that at least within the next year ISIS could lose its stronghold of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, either to Iraqi, Russian or American forces. The question has never been whether this could be done. It was a question of how long it would take and how much it would cost. That’s because when we talk about routing ISIS, what we really mean is that we are attempting to repair a failed state. There’s been much debate on both sides of the aisle as to how this should be accomplished. Some believe in a more forceful policy involving long-term United States military commitment and others suggest that we increase our forces temporarily to destroy terror targets and then quickly withdraw. But what about if we just let them be? Would that really be so bad? Here are the six reasons why the United States might want to just pursue a policy of containment.

1. The Aftermath Could be Worse

One only needs to look at recently liberated areas in Syria and Iraq to see what could happen if Isis is completely decimated. In some areas of Iraq, local Shia militias have run rampant over the local populace and committed war crimes. In Syria, factions that were once somewhat peacefully coexisting  with one another such as the Kurds and the Syrians have been battling in recent days.  There’s more than just ethnic and religious issues at stake, there’s oil revenue. And while various actors have been busy blowing each other up near a Lipo, the Syrian Kurds have been making gains in the north, capturing important oil fields. If Isis is no longer a threat to these regional actors they will likely turn on each other. If turkey becomes more involved in the battle against ISIS it could place the United States and in the untenable position of having to defend or prevent the outbreak of war between two important allies.
2. ISIS is a counter to Russian and Iranian influence in the region.

In the early days of the Syrian Civil War the free Syrian army struggled to make any territorial gains, even with United States weaponry and communications. But there quickly changed when they started to utilize the, kamekaze-style soldiers employed by ISIS and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Al Quaida. Since the vast majority of Syrian and free Syrian army soldiers were not willing to battle to the death, lunatics driving truck bombs into army barracks became a powerful and decisive weapon. Decimate them completely, and the strongest remaining powers in the region will be Syria who, with the assistance of Hezbollah, and Russia, will move back in. Leaving ISIS somewhat intact will prevent substantial Syrian gains in the region and help ensure that Iranian in Russian influence remains somewhat contained.
3. It will prevent more terrorist attacks.

By destroying Isis the United States will likely send some of its adherents into Europe and the United States.  ISIS has stated willingly it has no problem becoming using guerrilla tactics, as it has successfully done in Iraq.  When you take away their homes, their bases, they will scatter, and likely into Western locations.
4. The Sunnis need some sort of representation.

ISIS would not be as strong as it is today without the thousands of disaffected Iraqi Sunnis and Baathists who were not given a seat at the political and economic table. While many of them were not strict adherents to the fringe brand of Islam of ISIS, or completely aware of how intolerant their new society and government would be, it may be better for most of them been living under minority rule.  While they don’t have typical state institutions or diplomatic contacts, giving the so-called Islamic caliphate an air of legitimacy may allow moderates to come into the fold later on, as occurred in Iran.
5. It’s less expensive.

The United States has already committed billions of dollars to clean up the Middle East mess after the Iraqi invasion and subsequent withdrawal. Leaving ISIS alone or at least in a position where they are contained would save the United States and its allies a lot of money.  This is primarily because the only way to keep another group like them from springing up once we defeated them would be to maintain A strong and costly military presence in the region indefinitely.
6. ISIS is bad, but so is everyone else.

Westerners are typically mortified by news reports about forced marriages, slavery, genocide and draconian religious punishments, including beheadings. But one doesn’t need to look far to see that many US allies are engaging in the same sort of behavior. Saudi Arabia for example attempted to bomb the Houthis out of existence in Yemen. Just this year they beheaded dozens of people for religious crimes. Meanwhile US ally turkey has arrested thousands of conspirators without charges and according to Amnesty International is engaged and torturing these individuals. US allies in Syria have recently been accused of war crimes including the murder of a child. A recent story in the New York Times explained that if you want to be successful as a militia group in Syria, you’re going to need to commit atrocities against civilians. In fact it may be the greatest key to the success of ISIS in the region. Any group that plans to take the reins after they’ve been eliminated will have to use the same playbook. There’s very little room for a free and open democratic society in the region at this time.

There’s a future for the ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and Syria, but total war is not the answer.  Pulling back and containing threats to Europe and abroad provide the best chance at global military and economic security.

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