HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Striking Back Against ISIS

The past few weeks have brought some significant developments in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (abbreviated ISIS) as many countries in the Middle East resume the offensive against ISIS. The renewed assaults came after ISIS released a video of the violent immolation of a Jordanian pilot captured in December of last year. This kind of execution is just one of many in a line of beheadings, stonings, and even crucifixions that ISIS has been performing as they acquire more territory in northern Iraq and Syria. In response to the video, King Abdullah of Jordan appeared publicly to offer his condolences to the family of the pilot as well as to declare further and more powerful airstrikes against ISIS in order to “punish those who did this heinous act.”

King Abdullah TV

Jordan is backed by the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, which is also resuming air attacks. The U.A.E. temporarily pulled their support due to concerns for the safety of their pilots after the Jordanian pilot was captured in December of last year. However, their concerns have now been addressed as a more speedy and effective search and rescue procedure has been established. According to Jordan’s palace, Bahrain has also pledged military support to the new campaign.

Despite resounding support in the fight against ISIS, noticeably absent is the government of Syria, even though ISIS controls a large portion of the northern half of the country and has their headquarters located within its borders. Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has refused to join a US coalition because, in his words Syria “can not be an alliance of a country who support the terrorism.” This accusation comes from the US-provided non-military support of the so called “moderate” rebels in Syria, which Assad has labeled as a terrorist organization.

ISIS Territory Middle East

Instead of taking action, the Assad regime seems content to sit back and allow foreign powers to intervene while every day Syrian civilians are suffering as ISIS expands their control over the region. It’s crucial that all of the countries in the Middle East coordinate together and fight back against this major threat to the safety and stability in the region. Countries like Jordan, which shares a border with Syria and therefore is in the most immediate danger if ISIS keeps expanding their control in the region, have already taken the initiative to try to stop this threat before they can augment their influence even further.

Though Israel also shares a border with Syria, they have not joined the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu used this opportunity to offer condolences to King Abdullah and strengthen ties between their two nations, but seems reluctant to formally work with the other countries of the Middle East. ISIS poses an even more significant threat to the Israeli people because we have increasingly seen the extremists practicing violent ethnic and religious cleansing in the regions they control and using these radical ideals to justify their savage actions. One might think that in these times of crucial danger, countries could set aside their differences and work together to defeat the threat, but this lack of cooperation demonstrates just how complex the relationships between Middle Eastern countries are.

Where does the United States fit into all this (if at all)? Though the US isn’t immediately in danger of ISIS in the same way that Jordan is, instability and extremism in the Middle East pose a threat to the entire world through terrorist attacks, as seen most recently in the Charlie Hebdo shooting. However, there is much debate as to whether this warrants US intervention and, if so, how much intervention is necessary. After all, just last year we finally finished a decade long war in Afghanistan and many citizens of the United States are not eager to get involved in turmoil in the Middle East again. Despite this reluctance, the atrocities being committed by ISIS have led to US military action over the past six months.

According to NPR, the White House has just this week requested that Congress declare war. For many, this seems long overdue since we have already had a strong presence in the fight for the last few months. If Congress does formally declare war, it is vital that some very important restrictions are put into place. One of these restrictions will most likely be “no ground troops for enduring offensive combat” according to Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, who worked on a proposal last year. Provisions like these are important to make sure that the United States can help out without getting too involved in an open-ended conflict like the one that we just got out of. Ultimately, it will take full participation by most countries in the Middle East with the support of foreign powers like the US to finally defeat ISIS. Fortunately, the events of the last week look promising as these various forces come together to fight this common enemy.

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22 Comments

  1. emartin36 says:

    I find it ridiculous that Syria has not taken action in this crisis, and I believe that allowing these actions to continue is essentially supporting ISIS’s cause. I don’t agree that the United States needs to become militarily involved in this situation because several Middle Eastern countries are taking necessary action, but I believe diplomatic relations should be implemented to push Syria into dealing with the terrorism occurring in their country.

  2. jjacob7 says:

    The Syrian element is curious here, but I think that ultimately Assad recognizes that it’s in his interest to tacitly support the US coalition’s air and ground campaign while keeping up all of the rhetoric against the US for supporting Syrian rebels. Here’s an article to that effect: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/02/10/the_murky_story_of_whether_the_us_and_assad_are_teaming_up_against_isis/. I too am interested to see how Israel acts in coming months. If Israel faces a tragedy similar to the one Jordan faced, Israel would also likely seek to exact revenge – and few states do that better than Israel.

    • amiteichenbaum says:

      I’m very interested as well. I think a big part of it is that countries don’t want to ask and rely on Israel for help (even though the Israeli military is one of the strongest and most advanced in the world). Clearly this is an example of politics getting in the way of a common good. However, ISIS is not a direct enough threat to Israel currently, so there is no real reason for them to intervene at this time anyway. I also highly doubt ISIS would attack Israel considering they would just be crushed. I also agree with you about how Assad is basically using the States to take care of ISIS by being complacent while he is openly against the US and their role in supporting the rebels. This case is very dynamic and will be interesting to follow

  3. cryan3232 says:

    It interesting that it has taken this long for some many countries in the Middle East to act, and that some still refuse to get involved. I believe that the longer this issue with ISIS persists, the more countries are going to be directly affected by it. While no one is necessarily siding with ISIS, inaction on the account of countries like Syria raise a big red flag. I also think that the limitation of involvement by US troops would be a very good thing. Having a structured plan before anything is done would prevent the long drawn out conflict that we just got ourselves out of not too long ago.

  4. coreilly says:

    It seems weird Syria wouldn’t want to get involved in ridding their own country of these terrorists. I think it is a huge step forward for the Middle Eastern states to join forces as much as they can against a common terrorist enemy. I’m also happy to hear Jordan has a better search and rescue team put together. It is very important to the mentality of these military pilots that there is a system to come and try to save them if they were to get shot down. It would give them extra confidence and allow them to perform their job better. I agree that we should hold off as much as we can on putting boots on the ground in that area, we can help as much as we can using out Navy and Air Force and maybe help with some rescue teams but I don’t think US boots on the ground would be very motivating for the American people.

  5. kimpgt says:

    It is absurd that the fear and threat of ISIS is so great, that it causes governments to pull their support; however, it was nice to see that the U.A.E. pulled their air attacks out of concern for their pilots and soldiers. Though there is US intervention with an anti-ISIS coalition, there is not enough support from the Middle Eastern countries. This is understandable because the US does not face an immediate threat from ISIS as the countries, however, it may be the best way to stop ISIS. The US can only intervene up to a certain extent, and this may be a war that we may not want to be engaged in. Another war would perhaps hurt our country in economics, but maybe it’s the price to pay for others to have freedom.

  6. khospedales3 says:

    One would expect that such a universal opposition to the radical threat that is ISIS would prompt cooperation between the various Middle Eastern states affected to fight against this threat, but it’s disheartening to see that that isn’t quite the case.

    I know “can’t we all just get along” is very idealistic and there’s a lot more to the situation, but I wonder just how desperate the situation has to become before Middle Eastern states decide to formally cooperate, as though the situation isn’t desperate enough already. It definitely seems like ISIS is large enough that action by any one country is simply not enough.

  7. corypope6 says:

    I agree with the first comment. The Syrian government standing aside and doing nothing is essentially approval of the heinous acts that ISIS is committing, but the question does remain whether or not the United States has any business in this affair. We could claim that ISIS is a threat to the nation in a roundabout way, but it is a stretch to justify military action in this manner. Also, even though the Syrian government is obviously corrupt and dangerous, we cannot legally intervene in their country’s affairs unless otherwise requested by the Syrian government. Essentially, the White House has to choose between two evils. If we intervene in this situation without approval from the Syrian government, we are in the wrong, but the United States is known for intervening in these situations and trying to help innocent civilians. Do we have an obligation to help the civilians in these areas or does our lack of diplomacy with Syria bar us from any intervention?

  8. Travis says:

    Although the countries that are not cooperating in the fight against ISIS have their own specific reasons as to why, I believe that they are letting short term goals and conflicts influence their long term vision. It’s like you mentioned in your post. If the influence of ISIS continues to grow and spread, then it will result in more violence and chaos. If countries act too slow in stopping the spread of ISIS, then by the time they do decide to step in, it could be too late. As for the United States, I agree with the senator. I admire how our country likes to come to the aid of others, but we should definitely try to assist in a way that will not ultimately bring harm to ourselves. Hopefully, ISIS’s reign will come to an end as soon as possible.

  9. trevormcelhenny says:

    It seems absurd that al-Assad refuses to join the coalition, or at least take action of his own against ISIS…especially when the threat is so close to home. It was, however, quite refreshing to see those images and videos of King Abdullah leading airstrikes in Syria last week. It is also encouraging that more Middle Eastern countries seem to be working together (somewhat) on this threat.

  10. ssweeny3 says:

    While it is obvious, in terms of the national budget, that another ground war cannot be supported it may be the only option that ISIS leaves us with. Air strikes are effective, but a missile or bomb cannot distinguish between enemy and civilian. While this was a problem during Operation Iraqi Freedom in cities like Fallujah, the United States Armed Forces have been training and preparing our infantry forces for close quarters combat in cities and situations exactly like Fallujah. By learning from our mistakes, we have made our conventional military even more deadly against this specific enemy. The military is always changing and adapting to their enemy. This war is not the same as World War II or Vietnam, and we have adapted our training to this new type of warfare. Airstrikes are not going to be enough to stop ISIS in its tracks. A ground war is going to be necessary at some point for this altercation, and the countries willing to attack ISIS such as Jordan or UAE do not have the manpower nor tactics to completely remove ISIS. Even with a coalition of forces, ISIS may still be able to overpower them. While it is not what the country wants, it may be what we have to do.

  11. cfundora says:

    Great post. Its interesting that you bring up President Obama asking Congress for permission to use military force against ISIS. Given the history of US foreign affairs, the US is very selective in terms of where it decides to provide a humanitarian intervention, especially by way of force. I think its important for ground rules to be set and I think we can use military force without necessarily putting boots on the ground.

    Some have commented on the fact that the Assad regime is not doing anything to stop ISIS and frankly I don’t think they care enough about their citizens to stop them. In the past three years, over 200,000 people have died within the Syrian civil war. In a way, the US bombing ISIS would be helping Assad. There is no simple method of fighting or getting rid of ISIS.

    • ashumway3 says:

      Thank you for your comment! One interesting thing that I came across in my research for this topic is an interview with Bashar al-Assad, the president with Syria. This provides an interesting view into the mind of Assad and how he justifies things like using chemical weapons and barrel bombs on his own people.

      In his mind, Assad defines a civilian as someone who lives within the area controlled by his regime. Anyone who lives in the rebel-controlled areas is automatically defined as a rebel, even women and children. In the same manner, ISIS is only operating within rebel controlled areas of Syria, and therefore the horrendous crimes they commit do not concern Assad or his regime.

      If you want to read more, here is an NPR article with snippets of the interview or you can find the full interview on BBC’s website.
      http://www.npr.org/2015/02/10/385267265/assad-says-he-wants-no-part-of-u-s-campaign-against-isis

  12. vlobo3 says:

    Interesting article. I support many of my peers when I agree that it is really sad that Syria, and others like it, are not taking stands against terrorism in their countries. I know that there is a lot of fear driving these decisions, but it is a pity that the overall picture is not being looked at. If countries within the region continue to sleep on this, rather than wake up and take action, the situation is only going to get worse. One cannot fight against a group of people on a killing rampage by “staying out of it”. They will eventually be right in the heart of it, as part of Syria already is, and will have to either submit or be killed.

  13. mdsmith910 says:

    I feel that the US is really the strong military force that can make the difference between defeating vs. slowing down ISIS. However, I wish it weren’t that way. Why can’t other countries “take our place” and give our troops a break. I have a lot of friends who have served for 5+ years and the horror stories they tell are unbelievable. One guy found someones head in the trunk of a car in Afghanistan. I feel as though if we declare war, we really need to consider who we are sending in, and how it is going to affect them. What ever happened to safety first?

  14. apabst3 says:

    I also find it ridiculous that the Syrian government is content with sitting back and let other nations fight ISIS. It almost seems that if ISIS wanted to make join forces with the Syrian government that the president of Syria would need very little persuasion. I think that ISIS can be defeated but like many of the commenters have said I also think that the US will have to intervene heavily to stop them. Unfortunately this will only aid the terrorist when they explain to their fighters that the US is always overreaching their power. How can the US intervene without creating more anti-Western thought?

  15. lalaninatl says:

    It’s clear why anyone wouldn’t want to join a war/coalition. It’s expensive. I think the Middle Eastern countries have been pampered too much. Why would they fight their own battles if someone else will do it for them. They need to focus on strengthening their country for the aftermath of war. However, if major players stepped out of this, I think they will realize the degree of how bad the situation is and when that happens they will start to get worried but by then it will be too late. Also, it seems like the same thing happened in Afghanistan. I think there should be another way of dealing with this besides war.

  16. missypittard says:

    An interesting point brought up in the post echos the sentiments of Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice anywhere.” There does not seem to be much doubt that the US has be involved in defeating ISIS in some capacity, the real question, how much, is to be determined.

    The inaction of Syria and other Middle Eastern countries begs the question of whether or not ISIS will ever be enough of a threat for them to step up. It seems Syria’s president is masking cowardice with political B.S. to avoid doing his job. He and other Middle Eastern leaders must be held accountable. This mess is in their backyard. The US has been a good neighbor, taking their trash out on occasion, but it’s time for them to do some landscaping.

    What is holding these leaders back? Have they been jaded into accepting the status quo? Until leaders in the Middle East regain the confidence to challenge ISIS, I’m afraid the terrors of extremists will persist.

  17. zhu64 says:

    I do not think this is going to make any difference. Jordan and some of the countries have already been conducting air strikes against ISIS and the congress declaring war will not change anything US have already been doing because its probably just going to be airstrikes. To destroy ISIS its going to require ground troops and no one is willing to go that far.

  18. jenglish7 says:

    As the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I’m very curious as to how this ad hoc coalition will affect the existing relationships between Middle Eastern nations. I would say that the alliance against ISIL seems spurred by necessity, yet this isn’t true given the notable absence of Syria from the mix. However, for the other nations I think the solidarity against ISIL may provide a common ground which may possibly spur other, non-military, improvements in political relations.

  19. wcarter31 says:

    I definitely agree with your last paragraph, specifically that some restrictions are put in place. I feel like the US’s military strength can be used in ways other than only placing boots on the ground. Though I have no military experience, it seems to me that having our military train the resistance in the Middle East and provide council and guidance is the best course of action. Because you are right, many Americans, myself included, would not want another ground war in the Middle East.

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