As part of International Education Week, assistant professor of political science Peter Krause discussed the problem of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Monday evening. Much of this problem is in the fact that everyone wants ISIS gone, but no one wants to do it, Krause said.
The International Club of Boston College sponsored the event, along with the BC chapter of College Democrats, Americans for Informed Democracy, No Labels, the Arab Students Association, and the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Student Association.
The areas ISIS controls tend to run along rivers, since access to water provides a key difference in terms of population centers and control over dams, Krause said. These areas also happen to have oil deposits. It would not be entirely wrong to describe ISIS as a terrorist group, Krause said, but it is more than that—in part because of the land it controls.
“They’re much more than what we think of when we think of an organization that commits terrorist attacks,” he said. “Most groups that commit terrorist attacks are usually quite small … they don’t necessarily have a lot of money. They certainly do not rule and control large areas of territory. ISIS changes all of these things.
“The group also gets 2 to 3 million dollars per day through oil revenue.”
More so than other comparable groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS is able to attract members from other countries—notably Saudi Arabia, Libya and central Europe.
“They are not dominantly a local organization,” he said. “A large part of ISIS’ manpower and womanpower—there are women in ISIS, as well—comes from abroad.”
Krause also said that, in addition to the existing five pillars of Islam, Jihadist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda believe that jihad should be a sixth pillar. The groups’ interpretations of jihad are largely oriented around fighting against those whom “true believers” determine to be non-believers, Krause said.
“ISIS subscribes themselves quite strongly to this ideology,” Krause said.
For the most part, major players in the international community tend to agree that ISIS is harmful, but that does not mean anything will happen, Krause said. He compared this problem to a group project assignment in class: everyone needs to complete it, but no one wants to take the most responsibility.
“Everyone has interest in getting rid of ISIS, but they would prefer that every other actor would pay the cost of doing so,” he said. “That’s one of the major reasons that ISIS hasn’t faced a very strong international coalition at this point.”
In addition, the fact that the majority of the American public do not want the U.S. to intervene with the group and that President Barack Obama has a certain responsibility to the American people’s sentiment is preventing America from leading the charge, Krause said.
“The U.S. is currently stating that it wants to … destroy ISIS, and the way it is going to do that is by partnering with the moderate local opposition,” Krause said. “So, basically, you’re going to start a war against two very brutal and very strong enemies by backing a small, weak, and unpopular enemy. That’s not a winning equation as far as I see it.”
Krause discussed four ways in which the U.S. could be more successful. The first was a humanitarian approach: stop the killing. Second, the U.S. could change the regime by overthrowing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Third, counterterrorism: destroy ISIS. Fourth, stabilize the region by containing ISIS. The fourth tactic would be the most feasible to push ISIS out of Iraq, Krause said.
“Right now ISIS is in the middle of a massive proxy war in the region and it is one that they are not going to come out of any time soon,” he said. “There are no perfect solutions here. There is a common saying in the Middle East that it is all about the least bad option—and that really is the case here.”
Featured Image: Michelle Castro / Heights Staff