Close
Saved Anthologies

Foreign Affairs Anthology Series

The ISIS Crisis

Courtesy Reuters A checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: The ISIS Crisis
Explore the Anthology

Ready for War With ISIS?

Foreign Affairs' Brain Trust Weighs In

We at Foreign Affairs have recently published a number of articles on how the United States should respond to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Those articles sparked a heated debate, so we decided to ask a broader pool of experts to state whether they agree or disagree with the following statement and to rate their confidence level about that answer.

The United States should significantly step up its military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Results

Full Responses

OMAR AL-NIDAWI is an Iraqi commentator and political analyst.
Agree, Confindence Level 10 The United States should double or triple the intensity of the air campaign. Airstrikes are producing effects that have allowed local forces to gain tactical advantage and win a number of engagements. That said, the number of strikes remains tiny compared to previous air campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, the airstrikes do not cover the whole theater; hence, reports of problematic Iranian airstrikes in Diyala in Iraq’s east. More important than intensifying the military campaign, though, is developing a strategy for dealing with the Syrian situation. Without a solution for Syria, breaking ISIS in Iraq won’t be sufficient.

RAAD ALKADIRI is Managing Director of IHS Energy. He was Assistant Private Secretary to the United Kingdom Special Representative to Iraq from 2003–04 and Political Adviser to the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Iraq from 2006 to 2007.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8

TONY BADRAN is a Research Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Agree, Confidence Level 6 An expansion of the campaign can only work if the United States abandons its current tacit alignment with Iran and its assets in the Levant and instead works with traditional U.S. allies in the region. There needs to be an integrated strategy that includes toppling the Assad regime and pushing back against the Iranian axis in the Levant.

AMATZIA BARAM is Professor Emeritus at the Department of the History of the Middle East and Director of the Centre for Iraq Studies at the University of Haifa, Israel.
Disagree, Confidence Level 10 Under the present circumstances, there should be no additional U.S. involvement because the United States would appear to be an enemy of the Sunnis. However, once there is an agreement between Baghdad and the Sunni population, including the tribes of Anbar, Salah al-Din, and Nineveh, on a decentralized Iraq, the United States should help more in defeating ISIS.

HENRI J. BARKEY is a Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University. He served as a member of the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Staff, working primarily on issues related to the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, and intelligence from 1998 to 2000.
Agree, Confidence Level 8 I would distinguish between Syria and Iraq. I would prioritize Iraq, primarily because the United States has a certain responsibility there, but also because it has allies that it can presumably work with—Kurdish peshmerga and, to a slightly lesser extent, Iraqi security forces.

NORA BENSAHEL is Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Responsible Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security.
Agree, Confidence Level 3 U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. strategy is designed to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, but the current military operations are far more consistent with a strategy of containment—which may ultimately be the better strategic approach. The training and advising effort on the Iraqi side of the border needs to increase, but it’s not yet clear how the United States would use force effectively on the Syrian side of the border.

RICHARD K. BETTS is Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security.
Disagree, Confidence Level 3 There's little room to “step up” from air strikes and advisers, short of committing regular U.S. ground combat units, which is a Rubicon the United States should not cross. The little room that there is to increase the U.S. effort would involve extending U.S. advisers below brigade level and allowing them to accompany the Iraqi units they advise into combat.

STEPHEN BIDDLE is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. He is Adjunct Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Neutral, Confidence Level 7 More force versus less force is the wrong way to think about this campaign. Someone else is going to be providing the bulk of the ground forces needed to defeat ISIS. But the likely providers (especially the Iraqi government) have serious corruption, cronyism, and sectarianism problems that will undermine the forces' effectiveness unless the United States can persuade their government to undertake painful reforms. U.S. airstrikes and contributions to the Iraqi Special Operations Forces are almost the only leverage Washington has to encourage these reforms. If it simply provides the forces without strings attached it will lose its only real leverage and actually make the situation worse: With a bigger U.S. safety net and no conditions, Baghdad has less need to swallow the castor oil of reform. Conversely, if the United States takes these forces off the table, it will also lose any prospective leverage. The only way to get anything like what the United States wants is to make conditional promises of major support—only if the government on the ground reforms—and provide this support in increments as the government reforms. So I would oppose "significantly stepping up the U.S. military campaign" unless this aid is used conditionally for leverage.

MAX BOOT is Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8 The current campaign against ISIS has little chance of success. The United States needs to expand its efforts, sending not only more aircraft and advisers, but also loosening the rules under which advisers operate. The United States must also do much more direct outreach to Sunnis in Iraq and Syria than is presently the case—and much more to counter Iranian machinations in both countries.

RICK BRENNAN, Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation, served as a Senior Adviser to the U.S. military in Iraq from 2006 to 2011.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9 The United States lacks a strategy to defeat ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. To date, the military campaign has been sufficient to contain ISIS, but it will be unable to defeat this terrorist organization without a significantly enhanced military mission. This doesn't mean that the United States should deploy conventional ground forces to fight in Iraq. However, what is needed are additional forces (boots on the ground) to conduct an enhanced advise-and-assist mission; force protection for U.S. facilities, diplomats, and service members; the employment of elite US counterterrorism forces to support Iraqi Special Operations Forces and target key ISIS leaders in Iraq and Syria; and the integration of U.S. Special Forces and tactical air control units into some of the Iraqi military organizations fighting ISIS—especially the peshmerga—to help build their capacity to conduct offensive operations to regain control of cities, towns, and villages that are now under the control of ISIS. This enhanced military campaign could require as many as 10,000–15,000 U.S. service members working in Iraq for at least three to five years. Failure to provide sufficient forces not only increases the risk of not achieving the goals and objectives established by Obama, but will likely result in U.S. forces having to remain in Iraq for a longer period of time. This military campaign must be a part of a broader political strategy that includes real progress in Iraq on issues associated with reconciliation and reintegration of minority groups that have been alienated by the Nouri al-Maliki government. The United States must use the crisis in Iraq to cause a fundamental political change within that country. In addition, the United States must develop a comprehensive strategy in the region that targets the causes of the Sunni-Shia civil war that now engulfs the Levant and serves as a breeding ground for violent extremist groups in Iraq, Syria, and the surrounding countries.

MICHAEL BRÖNING is Executive Editor of Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, a political magazine published by the Berlin-based Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
Disagree, Confidence Level 9 In the short run, the largest benefactor of a stepped-up military campaign against ISIS could well be ISIS. Instead of pursuing overly-ambitious objectives, the United States should let the “caliphate” provoke its own downfall. ISIS-propaganda aside, the threat needs to be put into perspective. What is needed is limited strikes in parallel to an economic and ideological quarantine of ISIS based on a broad coalition in the region. Instead of jeopardizing the development of such a coalition through all-out U.S. involvement, the United States should focus on bringing Iran in from the cold (before the current leadership is replaced by a more uncompromising generation of religious-nationalists).

DANIEL BYMAN is a Professor in the Security Studies Program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Agree, Confidence Level 6

ELIOT A. COHEN is Robert E. Osgood Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
Neutral, Confidence Level 5 I do not believe that going light is going to work, but I do not believe that this administration can competently devise, execute, and support a larger campaign. That is the core of the problem in recommending any policy to it at all.

BEN CONNABLE is a Senior International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation, a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, and a retired Marine Corps intelligence and Arabic-speaking Foreign Area officer.
Neutral, Confidence Level 10 No further increase in action should be made until the president and his staff outline a comprehensive strategy. The United States should only undertake military campaigns as part of a strategy with clearly defined end-state conditions, or at least definable national objectives.

MARTHA CRENSHAW is Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Professor, by courtesy, of Political Science at Stanford University.
Netural, Confidence Level 10 The answer depends on what type of military campaign, and in the service of what strategy.

RYAN CROCKER is Dean and Executive Professor at the George Bush School of Government & Public Service at Texas A&M University. He served as United States Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and United States Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10

AUDREY KURTH CRONIN is Distinguished Service Professor at George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs.
Disagree, Confidence Level 10 The premise of the question is wrong. It frames the problem as a struggle between ISIS and the United States. Disaffected Iraqi Sunnis lead ISIS military efforts in Iraq—among them former Baathist military officers using U.S. weapons, trained by the United States. What would the United States be trying to do there? Defend a state whose inhabitants are attacking it? Plus, using U.S. military force in Syria aids the Assad regime. The United States should step up its military campaign to what end?

IVO H. DAALDER is President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He was the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO from May 2009 to July 2013.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10 The United States needs to learn the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq—its ability to affect significant internal change in other societies through the use of military force is extremely limited. Additional force isn't going to turn a failing strategy into a successful one.

JANINE DAVIDSON is Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Agree, Confidence Level 6 Although there is probably a bit more that can be done militarily to stop ISIS’ momentum and protect innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria, getting at the root causes of this conflict and creating lasting peace will take much more than military action by outside actors such as the United States.

ADEED DAWISHA is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Miami University.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8 The U.S. aerial campaign has scored some major successes. It has been instrumental in pushing ISIS fighters out of a number of strategic towns and areas in Iraq. It has relieved earlier pressure on Baghdad and Irbil. And it has inflicted damage on petroleum installations controlled by ISIS. Any stepping up will entail troops on the ground, and that will ignite opposition much wider than ISIS. Recent Friday sermons in Iraq (most notably by Muqtada al-Sadr) have echoed earlier calls to “confront the occupier!”

ERICA DE BRUIN is Assistant Professor of Government at Hamilton College.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8 Without adequate ground troop support, even a stepped-up U.S. air campaign will not defeat ISIS. This is because defeating ISIS, like ending any other insurgency, requires sorting out insurgents from civilians. Local Sunni police forces in northern Iraq are likely best positioned to do so. Yet their efforts are being systematically undermined by a Shia-dominated central government that is fearful of putting too many weapons in the hands of Sunni forces. In the end, whether ISIS can be rolled back will depend less on the U.S. military campaign and more on the extent to which the Iraqi government can become more inclusive.

JAMES DOBBINS is Senior Fellow and Distinguished Chair in Diplomacy and Security at the RAND Corporation. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union from 1991 to 1993, as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs in 2001, and as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from May 2013 to July 2014.
Netural, Confidence Level 5

PAULA DOBRIANSKY is Senior Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard University’s JFK Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Chair of the National Board of Directors of the World Affairs Councils of America. She served as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs from 2001 to 2009.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10 ISIS presents a major threat to U.S. national security interests. It is also vulnerable to a well-executed application of military force, coupled with an adroit diplomatic strategy with appropriate economic and ideological components. ISIS can be defeated with regional powers providing the primary capabilities on the ground.

MICHAEL SCOTT DORAN is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is a former Senior Director for the Middle East at the National Security Council and a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10 Allow me to use the analytic tools of American quantitative political science. In Iraq, our policy is, at best, containment—that is, half a policy. Meanwhile, in Syria, we have no policy at all—zero. As long as Syria remains a safe haven, ISIS wins. Zero times 0.5 equals zero. Now, multiply that total by the numerical coefficient of the fact that our actions in both Iraq and Syria strongly benefit Iran—by, in other words, a big fat zero. The little zero times the big fat zero equals the biggest zero of all.

MICHAEL EISENSTADT is Kahn Fellow and Director of The Washington Institute's Military and Security Studies Program.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10 Having vowed to "degrade, and eventually destroy" ISIS, Obama must demonstrate that momentum is shifting against ISIS and address the mismatch between means and ends in U.S. strategy. To do so, the United States needs to intensify air operations, commit special forces and combat controllers to guide air strikes, and further ramp up support for the Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish peshmerga, and elements of the Syrian opposition. To do otherwise would be to further undermine U.S. credibility in the eyes of allies and adversaries, reduce U.S. leverage over coalition partners, create additional opportunities for Iran to expand its influence, and, most importantly, enable ISIS to attract additional recruits by allowing it to claim that it remains undefeated and unbowed. Intensified military activity is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success against ISIS, however. The biggest challenge is countering the jihadist ideology of ISIS and groups like it. The path that the United States and its Muslim partners have thus far taken—delegitimizing ISIS on religious grounds—by and large will not work for a coalition consisting of either "nonbelievers" or "apostate" regimes. Here, the key is to discredit ISIS by demonstrating that its caliphate project is doomed to fail and will bring only ruin to those who embrace it. Finally, ISIS and groups like it have demonstrated that they are highly resilient. Accordingly, the United States and its allies must husband their resources and prepare for a long struggle that may last for years to come. And the United States must avoid committing large numbers of ground forces to a military mission whose achievements—like those of other recent interventions in this part of the world—may well be ephemeral if efforts to counter jihadist ideology and to mobilize and organize opponents of ISIS fail.

LEILA FAWAZ is the Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 6

TANISHA FAZAL is Associate Professor of Political Science and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8 In Syria, increased strikes against ISIS would likely strengthen Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s hand, especially given that the United States hasn’t been willing or able to support the Free Syrian Army to the extent that it could take over the government. In Iraq, increased strikes could be more effective militarily and politically. But stepping up the military campaign would likely mean risking more American lives against an opponent that has shown itself to be fairly ruthless and capable. Even if such strikes were effective in the short term, I would be extremely skeptical about the results in the medium to longer term.

JAMES FEARON is Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 8 First, the more we do, the less will be done by parties in the area who have more at stake and who (in some cases) the United States wants to build up their own capabilities. Second, although it is surely a horrible organization, ISIS does not pose that big a direct threat to the United States. Third, the more the United States does, the more it actually helps ISIS with the group’s own storyline, which says that it is the most important and legitimate nationalist (in a way) opposition to foreign, infidel oppression exercised both directly and through corrupt local proxies. ISIS baited the United States to attack, and the United States took the bait. The more it does, the more it helps with ISIS’ recruitment drives. Fourth, the only good way to get rid of ISIS in the long run is to let local actors deal with it and/or let the group fail at governing people who will quickly get sick of their rule.

PAGE FORTNA is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.
Disagree, Confidence Level 5

F. GREGORY GAUSE III is the John H. Lindsey ’44 Chair, Professor of International Affairs, and Head of the International Affairs Department at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8 The United States can hurt ISIS, but it cannot kill the group as a whole even with an expanded force, unless it stays there for a very long time. And that is not worth it.

FAWAZ A. GERGES is Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science and holder of the Emirates Professorship in Contemporary Middle East Studies.
Neutral, Confidence Level 3 A bottom-up approach—working with local Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria by giving them a stake in the political and social system—is much more effective and less costly than U.S. military power.

SHADI HAMID is a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy and author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8 I would say the need to step up the U.S. military campaign against ISIS applies much more to Syria than Iraq, especially as it relates to supporting mainstream Syrian rebels against not just ISIS but the Assad regime as well

JOOST HILTERMANN is Chief Operating Officer of the International Crisis Group.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10 There is no military solution to the challenges posed by ISIS. Any military campaign should therefore be accompanied by a concerted diplomatic effort to: lessen tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is stoking the sectarianism in the region that is ISIS’ best mobilizer; push the government in Baghdad to address local grievances through inclusive politics, the absence of which has led many Sunnis to believe that they have no defender other than ISIS; and bring about a negotiated political transition in Syria, where the regime has taken advantage of U.S. strikes to increase its attacks on remaining rebel-held areas—to ISIS’ strategic advantage.

HEATHER HURLBURT is Director of New Models of Policy Change at New America and Senior Fellow at Human Rights First.
Neutral, Confidence Level 8 I would strongly support a plan that foresaw how a stepped-up U.S. military engagement could lead to a situation in Syria and in its neighbors that is more stable, more conducive to human freedom, and less conducive to extremist movements. Those are U.S. interests and values that would be worth asking our military to fight for. I have not yet seen anyone lay out such a strategy, however, and I’m not in favor of using force just to “do something.”

JAMES JEFFREY is the Philip Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute. He was Deputy National Security Advisor from 2007–08 and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9 In fairness, the United States has done much—some of it to my surprise—since ISIS seized Mosul just six months ago, from stopping ISIS’ expansion to putting together an international coalition and facilitating a new, more inclusive Iraqi government. The United States plans to further pressure ISIS. But given the sensible but hard goal of destroying ISIS, big questions remain: Whose boots should retake territory? What to do about Syria? Is time really on our side? The answer to the latter, I believe, is “No”; the United States thus needs to accelerate pressure on ISIS, put air controllers and/or advisors on the ground, and accommodate the Turks’ Syrian no-fly/buffer zone idea.

ROBERT JERVIS is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs at Columbia University.
Disagree, Confidence Level 4

SETH JONES is Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, as well as an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies.
Agree, Confidence Level 7

ALI KHEDERY is Chairman and Chief Executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners. From 2003 to 2009, he served as Special Assistant to five U.S. ambassadors and as a Senior Adviser to three heads of U.S. Central Command.
Neutral, Confidence Level 10 The question misses the point in that no amount of bombing, covert action, or foreign assistance can make up for governments in Damascus and Baghdad that are seen as corrupt, murderous, unjust, or generally illegitimate in the eyes of millions of their citizens. ISIS and other jihadi groups are the manifestation of decades of bad governance, and so their ultimate defeat can only come from fundamentally good, inclusive governance. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya should have taught us that bombs absent political strategies will only do harm.

LAWRENCE J. KORB is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. From 1981 to 1985, he served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8 The struggle against ISIS will not be one waged militarily by the United States. The best that the United States can hope for militarily is to contain the group so that the countries in the region can have time to undermine the ISIS narrative.

ANDREW KREPINEVICH is President of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Agree, Confidence Level 9

ELLEN LAIPSON is President and Chief Executive Officer of Stimson.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 8

JOSHUA LANDIS is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is a member of the Department of International and Area Studies at the College of International Studies, and the President of the Syrian Studies Association.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10 In Iraq, the United States supports the central state in its effort to retake ISIS-held territory. Because the state is weak, it is wise to contain and degrade ISIS until the Iraqi military can retake and hold ISIS-controlled towns. In Syria, the United States does not have a partner, but it claims to want to build up a vetted force to retake ISIS-held territory for minimal money. This is unlikely to happen. The Syrian state military is also weak and is being further weakened by sanctions and allied assistance to rebel militias. It is in no position to retake and hold most ISIS-held territory. Because the United States has no partner to occupy and govern the 35 percent of Syria that ISIS owns, it has no realistic option but to stick to its narrow policy of counterterrorism and trying to shove a weakened ISIS back into Syria. If Turkey were willing to send troops into Syria to help set up civil, non-Islamist rule in territory controlled by ISIS and al Qaeda, the United States could step up its campaign significantly and create a no-fly zone.

ROBERT J. LIEBER is Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University.
Agree, Confidence Level 8 It’s late. The situation is far worse than it might have been had the United States followed more robust policies earlier. As a result, the difficulties of a stepped-up military campaign have become significantly greater and the odds of success lower.

JANE HOLL LUTE is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council on CyberSecurity. She served as the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009–13.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8 War is a ground reality. Only an effective military response on the ground will set clear strategic limitations on what ISIS can achieve through violence. At this moment, the United States should not lead such a ground war. To send a clear message that ISIS cannot kill innocent Americans with impunity, however, the United States should hunt down those who do so. Yet, even against a brutally violent group such as ISIS, force cannot do all that needs doing—wars are known not just by what they destroy, but also by what they create. ISIS draws (mostly) young men from everywhere who will go anywhere because they feel like they belong nowhere. Against the backdrop of worldwide access to the Internet, where people can connect to ideas and each other instantly, and in the wake of the Arab Spring, which shattered the regional myth of an all-powerful centralized government, ISIS advances. Even if not on the ground, in the minds of those attracted to its message and (not incidentally) its means, ISIS advances. Force is legitimate to set clear limits to unacceptable behavior. But to solve the problem ISIS poses, we all must dig deeper for the enduring answer.

EDWARD N. LUTTWAK is Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 10 The Islamic State (ISIS itself is euphemistic) is actually the Sunni State. Its chief enemy is Iran, the United States' chief regional enemy.

MARC LYNCH is Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and Professor of Political Science at the George Washington University.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 7

KANAN MAKIYA is the Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10

CARTER MALKASIAN is Principal Research Scientist in Strategic Studies at CNA. He is a former Political Officer for the U.S. State Department in Garmser, Afghanistan.
Neutral, Confidence Level 4 As soon as possible, the United States should assist tribes already fighting ISIS with airstrikes, funds, and possibly special operations, but unless the government collapses, it should commit no conventional ground forces.

PETER R. MANSOOR, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, is Raymond E. Mason, Jr., Chair in Military History at the Ohio State University. He served as a Brigade Commander in Iraq in 2003–04 and as Executive Officer to General David Petraeus, Commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, in 2007–08.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10 ISIS is the face of evil in the modern world. Left unchecked, it would be highly destabilizing to the Middle East and a threat to the homeland and U.S. interests around the world. It must be confronted, degraded, and destroyed. The administration needs to formulate a coherent strategy to achieve this goal, resource it adequately, and prosecute it aggressively. Unfortunately, it is zero for three so far.

JOHN J. MEARSHEIMER is R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 9 ISIS is not a serious threat to the core interests of the United States. Furthermore, there is no military strategy available to the United States that will solve the terrorism problem in the Middle East. Indeed, the more force the country uses, the worse the problem will get, as we have seen in recent years. The United States should rely on the local powers in the region to deal with ISIS.

BARAK MENDELSOHN is an Associate Professor of political science at Haverford College and a Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9 Both strategic and moral imperatives require that the United States do more to rid the world of ISIS. Allowing ISIS to maintain an image of success and inevitability will make dislodging it, the ideology it presents, and methods it uses much more difficult. More robust action is also required to reestablish U.S. credibility and convince allies that it is serious.

MOHSEN MILANI is Professor of Politics and the Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida.
Disagree, Confidence Level 7 I disagree. Although U.S. airstrikes have stopped advances by ISIS, they alone will not defeat the group, even if they are significantly intensified. In Iraq, U.S. military intervention did not produce the desired outcome, and it resulted in unintended consequences. In fact, ISIS is a byproduct of the U.S. military occupation. It has now metastasized and is enmeshed in the mini cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and in Turkey’s determination to reassert its regional role. At this time, when the Middle East is experiencing a tumultuous transformation, Washington must develop a regional strategy. The smart use of military force must be one component of this strategy, but cutting off the flow of money and weapons to terrorists in Syria and Iraq and undermining the ideological appeal of ISIS must be the other components. The strategy should also include rethinking of the U.S. approach toward Syria and Iran. The dilemma in Syria is that the organizations the West supports have been ineffective against Assad, whereas those the West does not trust, mainly ISIS and Al Nusra, have been effective. As for Iran, it has considerable experience fighting against ISIS and enjoys better relations with the Syrian and Iraqi governments than any other regional power. Iran has also helped the Kurdish peshmerga fight against ISIS. The United States and Iran share the common goal of defeating ISIS. Although there seems to have been an indirect coordination between Iran and the United States, as the recent airstrikes inside Iraq by Iranian Phantom jets indicate, much more bilateral collaboration is required in the future to defeat ISIS.

PAUL D. MILLER is a political scientist at the RAND Corporation. From 2007 to 2009, he was Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the U.S. National Security Council.
Agree, Confidence Level 7 The campaign in Iraq and Syria is a Band-Aid. It is not a long-term solution. It is a necessary Band-Aid, but the United States still does not have a strategy for achieving stability and defeating jihadist groups in the Middle East (or South Asia).

JOHN MUELLER is a political scientist at Ohio State and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
Disagree, Confidence Level 10

CHANTAL DE JONGE OUDRAAT is Executive Director of SIPRI North America.
Disagree, Confidence Level 9

PAUL R. PILLAR is on the faculty of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. Concluding a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency, he served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.
Disagree, Confidence Level 7 We should already have learned the lesson that application of external military force is not a substitute for internal political will that is necessary to end a civil war and the opportunities it provides for extremist groups.

KENNETH M. POLLACK is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy.
Agree, Confidence Level 10 Although there is more that the United States could and should do in both Iraq and (especially) Syria, the real area where it needs to do a whole lot more is on the political side in both places.

BARRY R. POSEN is Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 8 The only way to quickly step up U.S. participation would be to bomb more. I doubt that the current campaign is having an easy time finding good targets, and I fear that a more intense campaign would produce more collateral damage, which would produce more loyalty to ISIS and more new recruits. I fear that enhanced military advice, including providing advice in combat for Iraqi troops, would cause the troops to attack prematurely and that these attacks would not go well. The United States would then be seduced into adding more resources to avoid the loss of prestige that would come with the setback. I also fear that, even if these offensives could take back lost real estate, ISIS would revert to guerrilla warfare, which predominantly Shia and Kurdish troops would have a very difficult time suppressing. Again, pressure would rise for the United States to take a more direct role. In the latter two cases, a more direct role would not only increase direct costs to the United States but also validate the ISIS narrative. The group might be militarily weakened in a narrow sense but politically strengthened. The whole enterprise would be futile. Of course, this analysis is based on the facts as they have been presented. These facts might be false, in which case my analysis could be too pessimistic, or too optimistic.

ANDREW PARASILITI is Director of the Center for Global Risk and Security at the RAND Corporation.
Neutral, Confidence Level 8 U.S. military operations against ISIS should ideally complement diplomatic efforts toward a political settlement in Syria. There may be a role for more air strikes, intelligence coordination, and U.S. advisers in the fight against ISIS, but U.S. combat troops and no-fly/ safe zones would be high-risk options, especially in the absence of clarity about the U.S. endgame in Syria. On December 10, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed, by a vote of 10–8, a draft authorization for military force which does not authorize U.S. ground combat forces “except as necessary,” meaning for protection and rescue and other non-combat actions. A CNN/ORC poll in late-November reports that 55 percent of Americans oppose U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Syria. The resolution also requires the Obama administration to provide a comprehensive strategy for Iraq and Syria. This strategy should be a prerequisite to any discussion of U.S. military escalation. The draft authorization calls for the United States “to the greatest extent possible act in concert or cooperation with the security forces of other countries in the region to counter the grave threat to regional stability and international security posed by [ISIS].” Here, the United States could benefit from stepped up efforts by Turkey and other U.S. allies to disrupt ISIS’ financial, trade, transit, and supply networks and from the shared interest of Iran in battling ISIS.

CARLA ANNE ROBBINS is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Clinical Professor of National Security Studies at Baruch College's School of Public Affairs.
Disagree, Confidence Level 8

LINDA ROBINSON is Senior International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation.
Agree, Confidence Level 8 The United States needs a more robust advisory and assistance mission, strategic patience, and political conditions on the Iraqi government in order to have a good chance of succeeding. Key allies and Syrians will not fight unless a post-Assad succession is part of the plan. Diplomatic expertise and a political strategy is needed to guide this effort.

BASSEL F. SALLOUKH is Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Political Science at the Lebanese American University.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10 The specter of ISIS haunting Iraq and Syria and the rest of the region is part of the blow-back from the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and, later, the sectarianization of the grand geopolitical contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran triggered by this invasion. Although this contest predates the Arab uprisings, its sectarianization peaked on the morrow of the Arab Spring. It is increasingly clear that the regimes that played an instrumental role in the formation of the Frankenstein that is ISIS are unable to contain it anymore. Consequently, regional stability, to say nothing of domestic peace, require a much more robust U.S. military effort against ISIS, one that entails close coordination not only with America's regional allies, but its opponents as well.

JEREMY SHAPIRO is a Fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy and at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution and a former member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.
Disagree, Confidence Level 6 ISIS is a symptom of the disorder and dysfunction in the Middle East. And although destroying ISIS with massive U.S. military power might satisfy the United States’ sense of justice and desire for revenge, it will not address the underlying cause of instability in the region that gave rise to ISIS. As the United States has learned to its own cost, that will require a local and regional political effort that no amount of U.S. military power can provide. The country can continue to send young Americans to destroy U.S. enemies in Iraq and Syria for many generations, but that will never buy the peace it seeks. While working to contain the ISIS threat, the United States needs to encourage local efforts, and part of that involves demonstrating to local actors that the U.S. military will not serve as their air force or crush their enemies.

ROBIN SIMCOX is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9 ISIS relies on safe havens in both Iraq and Syria to thrive, but not enough is being done in either theater to defeat the group. In Syria, expanding the effort to arm non-jihadist rebels is required, as is a no-fly zone to protect them from Assad. In Iraq, the West must restore Sunni tribes’ trust in its commitment to Iraq and help them build the capacity to retake their lost territory. Yet to be truly effective, boots on the ground to accompany Iraqi partners will also be required.

STEVEN SIMON is Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.
Disagree, Confidence Level 5 It's not obvious what "significantly step up" means. Small special forces have already been inserted into Syria for the purposes of hostage rescue and, in Iraq, there will soon be a couple thousand advisors. The United States is flying hundreds of sorties against ISIS. These operations will increase in intensity as more intelligence is built up—an alluvial process that takes time. All this seems to add up to something significant already. The issue is how much is enough to keep the government in Baghdad more or less secure from disabling ISIS attacks. The currently projected level of effort should accomplish this goal, recognizing that Iraqi forces will remain weak for a long time. The ISIS threat to the U.S. homeland does not warrant more intensive involvement at this point—it's mainly an intelligence and law enforcement problem.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER is President and CEO of New America and Bert G. Kerstetter ‘66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. From 2009 to 2011, she served as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State.
Neutral, Confidence Level 10 The United States’ campaign against ISIS has no chance of being successful over the long term unless the country is willing to take direct action against the Syrian regime at the same time.

PETER SLUGLETT is Director of the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore.
Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8 Of course, the rise of ISIS is partly a consequence of failed U.S. policies in Iraq, but the fact is that only a robust response from the United States now is likely to make a significant dent in ISIS’ progress. I wish this were not the case, but I see no other immediate solution.

JESSICA STERN is a Fellow at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health and a Lecturer in Government at Harvard University.
Disagree, Confidence Level 5

ANDREW J. TABLER is senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Neutral, Confidence Level 8 Washington needs to wield much more political power if it seeks to “defeat” or “destroy” ISIS. U.S. airstrikes may be “degrading” jihadists in Iraq and Syria, but the Obama administration’s uncoordinated and slow roll-out of a program to train and equip Syria’s moderate rebels has, thus far, strengthened the cause of jihadists in Syria and Iraq. When the United States began striking ISIS and al Qaeda groups in Syria, the latter turned against Western-backed moderate rebels that Washington plans to arm to take on ISIS. Washington's unwillingness to forge political agreement with its Sunni allies concerning efforts against the Iranian-backed and Assad-dominated rump state in Syria means that Washington is unlikely to have sufficient buy-in from Syria and Iraq’s neighbors to seal their borders and help train forces that can enter the Sunni-dominated areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq and root out ISIS. Washington’s negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program, combined with a recent letter from Obama to Iran’s Supreme Leader pledging cooperation against ISIS following a nuclear deal, has only exacerbated suspicions among Sunni allies that Washington’s ISIS strategy will primarily benefit Iran. Without getting the Sunnis politically and militarily on board in Syria, Iraq, and the rest of the region, defeating or destroying ISIS will remain an elusive goal.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 9 The United States should limit action to airpower and focus principally on Iraq, with preventive planning in Jordan. Ground forces could become part of problem, not solution, especially in Syria. It is not enough to stop ISIS' progress militarily; the United States must plan for the morning after it stops its operations. Ask: Will ISIS or a replacement re-emerge soon after U.S. attacks stop? Many Arabs do fear ISIS and dislike its agenda, but some also dislike existing Arab regimes even more, and ISIS is stepping into that vacuum. One source of the problem cannot itself become part of the solution.

STEPHEN M. WALT is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 8

BARBARA F. WALTER is a Professor of International Relations and Pacific Studies and Affiliated Faculty of Political Science at UC San Diego.
Strongly Disagree, Confidence Level 9 We have absolutely no evidence that military attacks against ISIS will shorten these wars. In fact, if anything, historical evidence suggests that it will lengthen them. We also have no evidence that military attacks against ISIS will deliver a stable government in either Iraq or Syria that serves in the best interests of a majority of Iraqi or Syrian citizens (or the best interests of the United States). Given these uncertainties, less intervention is advised, not more.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is former President of the World Bank, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Agree, Confidence Level 9 Curiously, for an administration that asserts so often that there can't be purely military solutions to problems, its approach to this one seems to be purely military. The United States also needs a political strategy to separate Iraqi Sunnis from ISIS, to separate Baghdad from Tehran and bring it closer to the Sunni Arabs, and to separate Assad’s “outer circle” from the hard core supporters. All of this would be facilitated by a stronger military campaign against Assad as well as ISIS, which would convince the people the United States needs to influence that the United States is going to be a decisive factor in defeating ISIS.

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.

Continue

Close We are offering free and open access for a short period of time. Read more about why we are doing this.

Days
Hrs
Min
Sec