I love strategy, and by strategy I mean laying out the pros and cons of a situation to figure out the best approach to the issue. I knew that there were going to be a couple sides to the issue when I heard the criticism that President Obama was receiving about not having a strategy to defeat Daesh. I have been living in Washington D.C. for about a month now, but already, I have gained numerous opportunities to learn from the various intellectual institutions that reside here. The city is a giant network for political thought, and I have tapped into it. My academic background is in politics, and have specialized in foreign policy as well as the Middle East, so this is all very interesting and relevant to my education.
The one approach to preventing the spread and success of Daesh is that they are a violent militant group, and should be handled only militarily. This is a the most obvious view of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, but we have to question how effective it has been and will be. It is a knee jerk reaction to look at this issue and say that we need to kill every single Daesh member. Yes, they are brutal extremists, and there should be no mercy for them considering the atrocities that they have committed in the name of God. However, Daesh is more about an ideology, and it is near impossible to kill a concept.
The talking points that have been coming from the U.S. State Department are that there are larger social issues within society that are leading to these ongoing conflicts in the region. This is the traditional liberal viewpoint that the administration has been utilizing, but applying it to an international perspective as opposed to only the domestic sphere. The thought is that the U.S. should invest in Iraqi infrastructure in order to increase the morale of the people, and employ the vast number of young unemployed Iraqi men who are at risk of joining Daesh.
The problem of the at risk population is illustrated by 20% of the people living in the Middle East and North Africa region are between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. Nearly a quarter of the youth was unemployed in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2009. The Pew Research Center estimates that there were over 315 million Muslims living in the MENA region in 2009, and I can estimate that over 15 million people are at risk of becoming part of the Daesh movement by using the aforementioned percentages. This puts into perspective how large the at risk population is at joining the Daesh forces, because they are disenfranchised and desperate.
However, there are severe problems that need to be addressed when examining the noble objectives that the Obama administration has planned. The question that needs to be raised is, how are we supposed to be able to bolster another country’s economy, employment, and infrastructure when we do not have a handle on those issues domestically? Then there is the issue that Daesh is exhibiting the signs of gangs: preying on an at risk population, conducting criminal activity, and promising protection. Attention to gang violence and activity has fallen to the wayside since the September 11th attacks, but the gang prevention programs only produced modest gains. How can we hope to tackle an international gang when we cannot deal with gangs domestically?
Even with the previous questions left unanswered, the two sides clearly are thinking different strategies. The military strategy is attempting to quickly subdue the threat to national and international security, but fails to work proactively to prevent this from reoccurring. The Administration’s strategy conversely is focusing on the long term goals, and is reluctant to take military action necessary to prevent Daesh from spreading. Like many things in America, the best approach is a combination of both long term and short term approaches in order to effectively remove the immediate threat to national security, and then participate in nation building to prevent Daesh version 2.0.
Another issue that Americans should be reminded of is who is going to be paying for this intervention. Daesh is obviously a force that needs to be defeated, and the United States has the most powerful military in the world. The United States is more than capable of defeating Daesh, but we are reminded of the ever looming deficit that has been amassed over the past dozen years. While we should be concerned about our deficit, we must also note that Daesh needs to be handled similar to the Nazis: without hesitation. If Daesh is allowed to expand then it will only take that much longer to defeat.
Finally, Americans need to remember that with the task of nation building comes with a lot of time and money invested long term. This is not a conflict that will be over soon, and we need to be wary of removing American assistance too soon. We need to give these countries, governments, and people time to work. This is emphasized by the point that The United States declared independence in 1776, didn’t ratify the Articles of Confederation until 1781,and didn’t ratify the Constitution until 1788. The whole process of creating a government that everyone agreed on took five years, and then another seven years until the final government had been decided. It took 12 years for a mostly homogeneous population of Protestants to create the United States government that still exists today, and it may take some more time for a split society to do a similar task.