After the burning alive of Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz Al-Kasasbeh by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a strong response—international in nature, but Arab at its core—is needed, not as retaliation for this abominable crime, but to finally defeat ISIS and rein in the other evil forces wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, namely Bashar Al-Assad and Iran.
Months ago I wrote in this paper that the fight against ISIS was at heart a Sunni one, and I believe recent events now prove this to be true. There are a number of reasons as to why I conceive this as a Sunni battle. One is that the lack of a prominent Sunni presence fighting ISIS will leave the door open for Iran and sect-based militias to fill the vacuum in Syria and Iraq. This will seriously threaten the unity of these countries, helping Assad to turn Syria into a country of militias, or bringing about more Nuri Al-Maliki-style sectarian politics in Iraq—or a scenario in either country along the lines of the Houthi takeover of Yemen.
The international anti-ISIS coalition now needs to shift gear and put Arab boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq, bolstering these forces with aerial bombardment. This is the only way to contain and eventually destroy ISIS. Today we have before us a US president who has adopted a policy of “strategic patience” in dealing with a phenomenon like ISIS, a policy he plans to practice until the end of his term in 2016. I’m not bringing this up just to lambast Obama; the man has had more than his fair share of criticism recently. The point of mentioning all this is that our region simply does not have the luxury of Obama’s indolence. For this reason, a full-scale but balanced Arab military mobilization is needed right now. This will include sending in a coalition of ground troops made up of Arab countries as well as funding and arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA), putting them in Jordan and unleashing them from there once ISIS is being elbowed out of the areas it currently controls in Syria and Iraq. Crucially, Assad must not be allowed to benefit from ISIS’s becoming weakened as a result of this offensive. After all, it was Assad who allowed, and directly helped, ISIS grow and become stronger until he could use the group as a crutch with which to hold the world ransom with two stark choices: me, or the deluge. In reality, ISIS and Assad are two sides of the same coin.
A military offensive of this kind would be the most appropriate response to the horrifying murder of Kasasbeh by ISIS. It would also help break this group once and for all and at the same time block, through the support of the FSA, any gains made by a resurgent Assad or ally Iran as a result. Most importantly, though, it would help lay the ground for serious political changes in the region, especially in Syria, and set the stage for a climate free of Obama’s “strategic cowardice.”
I say of all this now because it has become clear that airstrikes will not be enough to defeat ISIS. They will not bring about peace and security in the region either, or strengthen the FSA. Ultimately, everyone knows the international anti-ISIS coalition is just a cover for the Obama administration’s spineless reluctance to make any lasting decisions or take any real action in the Middle East. It is, then, our war, one that will at last truly take the battle to ISIS. But there is only one way to do this: Arab troops on the ground, full support for the FSA, and reining in Assad and Iran.