ISIS (also known as IS or ISIL) is primitive in every sense of the word. As a group, it is founded upon outdated fundamentalist ideology, whilst its active members are little more than barbarians. And as with most primordial beings, it has an undesirable tendency to often act without any consideration of the consequences, to put all forms of rationality aside in order to fulfil any wild desires it may hold. This characteristic has unfortunately been manifested recently by the killing and kidnapping of Western aid workers and journalists; actions taken with the intention of revealing a weakness (an implied sense of abandonment) that developed nations hold for citizens abroad. It comes as no surprise therefore that both Britain and the US declared their intentions to enforce retribution for such acts of callous inhumanity in the form of strategic bombing campaigns against the Islamic State over Iraq and Syria. Today, British Tornados continue to try and destabilise these inhumane fundamentalists in their bombing campaigns.
I usually find it hard to agree with the seemingly whimsical style that the West as a conglomerate of richer nations chooses to conduct its foreign policy. More often than not we see military intervention within countries that would benefit more from not having any form of condescending meddling by distant powers. It is a repugnant habit of self proclaimed “more civilised” nations; they (we) bestow upon themselves a false sense of self-righteousness and exceptionalism, ideas that breed and enforce a belief that somehow they are superior over others. Frankly, the West is often guilty of acting neo-colonial in fashion.
Yet, ISIS is of a different nature to most groups the West has tackled before. It poses a very real threat domestically through not only the spread of mujahedeen (people doing jihad) as a lucrative doctrine, but also though the practical creation of numerous radicalised jihadists who will undoubtedly someday turn their attention in our direction. It has achieved more than Al-Qaeda ever did by establishing a de-facto state, which alone acts to justify the need in this instance for Western intervention; even more so than the heartless execution of British and American citizens.
The qualms I have with the recent declaration of aggression by both the US and Britain directed toward ISIS is therefore not regarding the motivation for such attacks, but the method by which they are intending to complete the job. Isolated bombardment is by no means sufficient in order to eradicate ISIS as a force forever. Many argue that because of the intention by the belligerent nations, which includes a surprising number of Arab countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to use drones and planes in order to back up the forces which are already fighting ISIS on the ground, the mission will be a success. Yet at present, all of the local factions which are currently clashing with the caliphate have proven themselves to be worthless at best. The Iraqi army is cowardly and inept beyond belief, having allowed IS fighters within five kilometres of Baghdad through undignified surrender and the abandonment of positions. The Kurds, whilst having a number of successes driving ISIS out of their held positions, will undoubtedly refuse to venture beyond their own territory in order to consolidate any gains made; they care not for the fate of sovereign Syria or Iraq. Finally, it is clear why the West cannot rely on giving any form of support to the Assad regime in their fight against ISIS; the world would erupt in humanitarian pandemonium given the Syrian government’s track record of massacres and chemical warfare.
Whilst considering the topic of humanitarianism, it is important to remember that bombing campaigns can be counterproductive in the long term. They often serve, as seen in previous Western excursions in the Middle East, to cause enormous civilian casualties and extensive damage to infrastructure. Winning the hearts and minds of those you attempt to save from perceived barbarism is key to winning the fight against hostility. We’ve seen it in Vietnam, we’ve seen it in Afghanistan; to unapologetically kill innocents during heavy bombardment is to alienate a population indefinitely. The already shattered reputation of the West in the Middle East certainly does not need to be exacerbated at this point in history by any more tales of civilian casualties.
So surely the answer must lie in providing ground troops of our own in order to win this fight securely? A well disciplined and empathetic army has the potential to win hearts and minds, whilst also efficiently using modern technology and military superiority to end IS as an entity. Unfortunately for all Western nations however, suggesting the mobilisation of troops to combat any threat coming from East of Europe is taboo. Since the failed elongated occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, to do so would be electoral suicide. No world leader wants to leave behind a tarnished reputation akin to that of either George Bush or Tony Blair.
With all this considered the West does indeed like to think of itself as out of options, leaving it able to justify its own pitifully inflexible and brittle foreign policy exploits. Yet for those who are not constrained by the desire to fulfil political self interest or who fear the repercussions of working against international normality, it is plain to see that there are infact a number of options that have yet to be explored by our frightful governments.
The list of potential avenues for alternative means of defeating ISIS is vast; in order to keep it brief, I will list only one option which has been frustratingly overlooked and sparsely discussed by political commentators: the question of utilising Iran.
Communication between the West and Iran has been practically non-existent since the Iranian revolution in 1979, with the only break in the silence being to allow bickering over Iran’s nuclear intentions, meaning it is understandable that many consider the idea untouchable. Yet as of late, a thaw has appeared in this icy relationship. The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected on a mandate of closer ties to the West, and America is now not always considered ‘the Great Satan’. Therefore, now would seem like a better time than ever to reach out and engage with what is the largest and arguably most influential of all the Middle Eastern states. Given its geographical location and more importantly, its explicit knowledge of local issues, it accordingly qualifies as the best candidate for putting forward ideas regarding how to deal with ISIS. If the West were to consider this option, it is probable that little persuasion would be needed to reel Iran into providing a regular army to deal with the caliphate; with it being a Shia state, it would be wise to fear reprisals from the Sunni militants should they gain a considerable foothold in Syria and/or Iraq. Furthermore, if the case were that Iran demanded some form of compensation for single-handedly dealing with IS, the West could offer a minimal further scaling-down of existing trade embargos on manufactured products and raw materials it has in place. This would in turn boost the Iranian economy, over which Western restrictions have a strangle-hold, opening up available markets for cheaper fossil fuels.
Until Western governments are inclined to think outside the box and attempt something other than the repetitive cyclical tactic of little other than bombing campaigns, expect to see ever more from ISIS and groups of the same ilk.
Tornado Plane image rights; UK MOD.