THE BLOG
11/14/2014 04:44 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

The United States' Ambiguous Strategy for Dealing With ISIS

What is one to make of the recent decision by the White House to send an additional 1,500 military advisors to Iraq? The answer depends on whom you ask. What I find perplexing is how the White House could double the number of so-called "advisors" and not expect them to engage in military activities.

Against this backdrop, U.S. foreign policy continues to be reactive rather than proactive, highlighting how ambiguous our foreign policy toward the region is. According to the White House, the decision to send additional military advisors represents a new phase of U.S. strategy in dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). To the contrary, I'll argue that this augmentation in the number of military advisors represents failure and a lack of a clear strategy for dealing with ISIS. Despite president Obama's claim that the previous phase of his strategy consisted of building the credibility of the Iraqi government under the leadership of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, reality on the ground suggests otherwise. Iraq is still marred by sectarian violence, and most Sunnis maintain their suspicious view of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. And I do not see how the Iraqi government can have credibility when its Shiite prime minister appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Confounding matters further is our ambiguous foreign policy. We use a set of policies and diplomatic approaches for one country, then turn around and apply a different strategy for another despite the increasingly apparent need for a consistent, unified approach throughout this region. Stated differently, when ISIS emerged, the White House announced that it would limit its involvement to airstrikes, and that no American troops would be involved on the ground. Nowadays, we are witnessing a creeping increase in the number of troops sent to Iraq under the label of "military advisors." It is this lack of honesty and these self-serving policies that are contributing and accelerating the decline of our great nation. The Washington establishment is no longer capable of governing; instead, it is mastering its ability to politically maneuver its way at the expense of hard-working Americans who are noticing that their standard of living continues to decline.

Our nation would be better served by advisors to the president -- and to the Washington political establishment, for that matter -- who have a deep understanding of the social fabric of the Middle East, including its diverse ethnic and religious sects, whose values, beliefs, and loyalties are often contradictory. The problem is that there simply are not enough advisors who are culturally aware and linguistically capable in addition to having an in-depth understanding of how the Arab Muslim mind works in a visceral part of the world that defies easy acquaintance.

The importance of the Middle East is prompting heated debates for and against the direct involvement of our country in the affairs of the region. That debate continues to foment dissension here at home because of the outcome of U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.'s lack of a strategy for dealing with the civil war in Syria, its turning of a blind eye to the military coup in Egypt, and, most recently, its strained relations with Russia. These conflicts demonstrate how little the United States can do to influence events on the ground elsewhere. I worry whether these events suggest the beginning of the end of not only U.S. dominance but Western hegemony more broadly.

As someone who has a theoretical understanding of Arab culture, speaks Arabic, comprehends its dynamics, grasps the depth of its social and cultural interactions, and perceives the impact that the new political order in the Muslim world would have on American foreign policy and U.S. relations with the region, I've always held the belief that U.S. airstrikes in Syria will not accomplish the objective: the defeat of ISIS. At the same time, U.S. airstrikes are attracting more ISIS supporters in the Middle East and beyond. According to Marwan Shahadeh, a Jordanian specialist on Islamic groups, there appears to be an increase in the number of ISIS supporters even in Jordan, especially among the younger generation.

The question I keep coming back to is whether U.S. airstrikes in Syria are triggering a shift in the conflict, similar to what happened in 2003, when the U.S. initiated its Iraq invasion through airstrikes, inviting a long and costly involvement by U.S. ground forces. Should this scenario become the case, it will reinforce the notion that we do not learn from history, possibly signaling the beginning of the end of U.S. global dominance.