The Islamic State of Iraq & Syria, more commonly known by its acronym ISIS, has recently begun attacking western targets. It bombed a Russian passenger airliner flying over Egypt last month, killing everyone on board, then staged a multi-point attack in Paris, killing well over a hundred civilians last week. How should the USA respond now that ISIS is expanding its attacks outside the territory it currently occupies? It should end all military activity against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
That is neither a retreat nor a defeat. It’s the smart move to stop throwing good money after bad. The USA has been leading a costly aerial bombing campaign against ISIS for over a year but has not significantly impacted the situation on the ground. There’s no evidence that a continued or even a stepped-up air campaign would substantially degrade ISIS’s power but every indication that it would result in the deaths of non-ISIS residents in the region via collateral damage.
ISIS does not pose an impending threat in America, so the USA should definitely not deploy any American troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria. If we learned anything from the Vietnam War, it should be that putting small numbers of special forces on the ground in another country’s civil war is likely to escalate to a large presence. In that case, ISIS could simply blend into the community, requiring the USA to occupy the territory indefinitely to maintain security, just as occurred during the Iraq War. It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
ISIS will only be defeated when people on the ground rise up against them. The people under occupation by ISIS are more likely to rise up if they believe that the USA will not get involved in the conflict. The USA should even leave the air campaign because there are already Muslim nations in the region with sufficient air strike capability to support a ground campaign. The neighboring Muslim countries should also put boots on the ground fighting ISIS.
I’m not confident that ISIS would be more effectively defeated without the USA involved but I don’t think the situation would get substantially worse, either, without the USA in the war. And there’s no indication that ISIS would be defeated if the USA were to continue its air campaign as it has been the past year. Pulling out of the war on ISIS would be neither a victory by nor a defeat of the USA but sometimes a victory is not the best alternative. A victory of the USA over ISIS is well within the capacity of the American military but it would result in substantial negative and costly consequences, including the loss of many American lives and another protracted occupation in the Middle East.
The conflict with ISIS is not the USA’s fight. The USA does not always have to be the world’s police. To be the caliph, Sunni law requires Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi (ISIS’s leader) to have ’amr, or authority. This requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce sharia. However, the first amendment of the constitution prevents the USA from qualifying as a territory of the caliphate. That’s why ISIS is attempting to establish the caliphate among Muslim population and that’s why Muslim people need to be the ones to put a stop to ISIS. If Muslims resist al Zarqawi’s authority, he would not think it would be easier to establish his authority in secular lands.
ISIS explicitly stated that the reason for bombing the airliner and attacking Paris is because Russia and France are currently bombing them in the Middle East. If the USA left the fight, ISIS would not have any more justification or motivation to attack it on American soil, thereby making Americans safer from ISIS.