The Articulated Strategy to Fight the Islamic State: Is It Self-Defeating?

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  • January 2015

    President Barack Obama has detailed his strategy to degrade, defeat and ultimately destroy the Islamic State (IS) (the IS is also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS]) currently considered the most threatening of the various terrorist groups operating primarily in the Middle East. Fundamental to the success of the strategy is military action aimed at degrading the combat capabilities of the fighting elements of the IS. However, based on previous experience, it is obvious even to the casual observer that military action alone will not bring success in ‘destroying’ the IS as an entity. In fact, going by a number of reports, it seems certain that, unlike other such groups,1 the IS has already gained the trappings of an established state—control of territory, an administrative machinery, tax collection facilities, welfare activities undertaken by a central authority, education systems and an effective if brutal police force. Such an entrenched entity cannot be defeated and made irrelevant by military actions alone.

    The group poses a clear threat to all countries in the Middle East, Europe, the US and America’s allies elsewhere. It has been able to gain strength by leveraging the civil war in Syria and exploiting the sectarian divide still very visible in Iraq. The IS has established itself through the use of a potent combination of insurgent, terrorist and conventional military tactics and the vicious use of violence to seize control of large swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq, as well as weapons and natural resources.