Divide and Conquer in Syria and Iraq

Why the West Should Plan for a Partition

A volunteer from the Yazidi sect who have joined the Kurdish peshmerga forces walks with his weapon in the town of Sinjar, Iraq, November 16, 2015. Azad Lashkari / Reuters

The October bombing of a Russian airliner above Sinai, followed quickly by the November Paris attacks, created a broad international consensus that the Islamic State (ISIS) is on the march and must be stopped. The United States had acknowledged as much—at least rhetorically—over a year ago. In September 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would seek to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group, but cautioned that the campaign would be long and difficult. Indeed.

Unwilling to commit ground forces to topple the jihadist state, Washington settled on a gradual approach that involved a very limited application of force. In fact, the pace of the U.S. strikes on ISIS was so slow that the attacks amounted to a strategy of containment. The limitations of such containment became all too clear in October and November. The strategy had given ISIS time to consolidate its control,

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