What we should do about ISIS
Thursday, August 28, 2014 2:12 PM
Last week, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff described the threat arising from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in apocalyptic terms - as well they should. The unspeakable depravities committed by ISIS are enough to evoke images of death's pale horse.
However, neither in that briefing where the two national defense officials explained the dimensions of the threat, nor elsewhere in White House action have we seen an adequate response consistent with the growing danger. We must marshal all of our resources to confront this danger and act strongly, immediately and comprehensively.
This is how we should begin:
1. Strategic context
To date, the United States has responded with delay, half measures and strong language without real backing. President Obama, just back from vacation, conveys no sense of urgency or alarm.
The administration immediately must articulate its own plan to confront ISIS in a way that weakens or destroys it, and - most importantly - protects America from the increasing danger ISIS poses. Such a comprehensive strategy has been entirely absent, or at least not visible to anyone outside of the White House.
The ISIS version of Islam is a perversion of the Muslim religion. That these barbarians deign to call themselves a "caliphate" - an area controlled by a successor of Mohammed - should be seen as an abomination by those who revere the Prophet.
Where is the outrage in the region? We must work with all political and religious authorities in Islamic countries to speak out about how their faith is being co-opted and perverted by the ISIS criminals. We must press them to take effective actions to undercut popular, political, and economic support for ISIS extremists. We and our European allied governments should work with our own indigenous Muslim communities to spread this theme among their members. We need to encourage genuine Muslim leaders to take a center stage to discredit the violent radicals and weaken their outreach and recruitment among Muslim youth.
We must press Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other states that have harbored ISIS patrons to completely cut off financial support for that organization and punish those citizens who continue such support. We must convince our European allies to follow our and the United Kingdom's lead in refusing to negotiate ransom payments for hostage takers, thus depriving ISIS of this funding stream and motivation for abductions.
3. Security Assistance
The U.S. should move quickly to provide much more arms, training and other requested assistance to Iraqi Kurdistan's peshmerga forces. We also need to find effective ways to support and directly arm the reliable, vetted Sunni tribes and Sunni leaders in Iraq who are essential partners in combating the ISIS extremists that ultimately are Sunni Islam's greatest threat.
We should enhance security assistance to the Iraqi Army now, especially aircraft appropriate for close air support and counterinsurgency. Continuation of this support should be contingent upon the new Iraqi government moving out smartly to address issues of sectarian hostility and taking steps to create a more broad-based government. If those steps are ineffective or slow in coming, security assistance should be directed toward Kurdish forces and moderate reliable Sunni tribes exclusively. We need to play hardball with the Iraqi government, even with the possible consequence of encouraging an independent Kurdistan.
We must provide lethal assistance to the Free Syrian Army. ISIS oozed from the festering wound that is Syria. This threat must be addressed at the source. Chairman Dempsey explicitly acknowledged this fact in his recent briefing, even as he declined to describe just how the administration intended to deal with the Syria mess. Earlier concerns that such assistance might fall into the wrong hands have been overtaken by events. Those other wrong hands are already well-armed. They need to be more effectively opposed in the field.
4. Military Action
The current bombing campaign against ISIS targets should be continued. However, it needs to be placed in a proper strategic framework, with a firm foundation and defined purpose.
Protecting US assets and personnel is a top priority, but it alone is not enough. Any military action must be related to the objective of weakening ISIS so it can be dealt with by Iraqi, Kurdish and Free Syrian Army forces. At the same time, we must not become the Iraqi Air Force. We must define our own objectives better and act accordingly with vigor and purpose.
We must expand our bombing campaign to include ISIS bases in Syria. Vietnam, Korea, Serbia and our experience along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border have taught us the futility of attacking military forces that have safe-haven bases nearby. General Dempsey made this, at least, clear. He and Secretary Hagel cautioned that, in their view, such an expansion of military action would require an international coalition. If that is so, then we must form and lead it. The threat to America posed by Kaddafi's Libya was infinitely less than that now posed by ISIS. If we were willing to lead from behind in Libya, we must be willing to lead from the front in Syria. At last.
5. Homeland Security
In order to promote international tourism and economic prosperity, we have supported different travel programs for entry into the United States. For instance, citizens from 37 countries are able to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Because those nations undertake additional security measures, their citizens can enter without going through a visa application process and the extra scrutiny that can provide.
The threat of western, home-grown, radical and violent jihadist terrorists is real and growing. ISIS boasts on twitter that they have trained and motivated fighters embedded in many countries throughout the world, and they have their sights trained on the United States. There is no reason to disbelieve them. We must respond to this threat to our country in every way possible.
One effective step is to reevaluate our entry procedures, including the Visa Waiver Program. We must conduct a thorough, candid assessment of how the Visa Waiver Program affects our national security interests and whether there are changes to the program that would enhance our security, or whether the program should be limited or even eliminated. Similar reviews of our refugee and asylum policies are necessary.
As ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee, I will seek such an assessment and pursue legislation that is responsive to the new danger we face.
Dan Coats is a U.S. Senator from Indiana and a member of the Republican Party.