Last Thursday evening, political science professor Ali Banuazizi and history professor Julian Bourg spoke at the Eagle Political Society’s first topic meeting, “ISIS and the American Response.” The two professors provided background on the situation before delving into the United States’ options and then opening the floor for student opinions.
Ultimately, as Banuazizi noted throughout the lecture, the issue of the Islamic State’s militant control in Syria and Iraq will need to be solved internally from those in positions of power in those countries.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, commonly referred to as ISIS, rose to power due to two main reasons, according to Bourg: the American invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring. The beginning of the insurgency commenced when the provisional authority of Iraq dissolved the Iraqi army, which left tens of thousands of young men armed and unemployed, Bourg said.
“The emergence of ISIS is the result of a perfect storm of two interlocking events,” he said.
The governments in Iraq and in Syria are very autocratic and corrupt, which means that they are many people striving for justice and freedom, Banuazizi said.
“In this part of the world we are dealing with populations that in many ways are desperate for those fundamental opportunities in life particularly when it comes to the youth,” he said.
The rise of ISIS was not unexpected: Iraq has seen a slow rise in fundamentalism and extremism. The present leader of ISIS was once involved in Al-Qaeda. He now controls a territory that spans roughly one-third of Syria and one-third of Iraq, Banuazizi said.
“It was not a sudden phenomenon. It arose very gradually in Iraq as well as in Syria,” Banuazizi said. “He has been doing this over the past several years and finally came up on the intelligence radar.”
The goal of President Barack Obama’s administration is to degrade and then destroy ISIS. The administration plans to do this by bombarding the group’s sites. On Sept. 19, the Senate voted to approve Obama’s plan to arm Syrian moderates to assist in the fight against ISIS, he said.
“At least we have the makings of a credible coalition which we can support,” he said. “We have quite a fight on our hands.”
It is going to be very difficult to truly defeat ISIS with airstrikes alone because there will always be a new group to take its place, Banuazizi said.
“What will happen after we defeat ISIS?” he said. “This is not going to be the end of the story, because other groups are likely to emerge. Unless we have a strategy that addresses many of the underlying issues and creates realignment in the issue we are not going to solve the problem.”
There is always a possibility that the United States’ effort to defeat ISIS will only lead to more problems. With no long-term strategy, the U.S. is forced to adapt their smaller tactics, Bourg said.
“The shadow that haunts all of this is the term ‘blowback,’” he said. “Without a strategy, there’s a danger in small tactical efforts leading to unintended consequences and creating greater problems still.”
One takeaway from the discussion could be that the U.S. should do nothing, Banuazizi said. However, this could worsen the situation by making it possible for ISIS to extend its sphere of influence. Intervention is inevitable. However, the problem truly needs to be solved by people in the affected areas, he said.
“This is very complicated, and wherever we insert ourselves may be right, may be not, but ultimately these issues have to be resolved in the region by the people themselves,” Banuazizi said. “This is not our fight.”
Featured Image courtesy of Raqqa Media Center / AP Photo