COMBATING ISIS: IS THERE AN ARGUMENT FOR CONTAINMENT?
"Isis itself shows no interest in this at present, other than to discuss ransoms for hostages, and any negotiation that even implicitly condoned its atrocities would be anathema to western public opinion. Perhaps, eventually, we shall come to this, if Isis decides that it needs a period of relatively peaceful consolidation, while on our side we come to see all-out war with Isis as counterproductive. Something like that happened in the early 1920s with the rise of Bolshevism, which at the time seemed to the western establishment every bit as terrifying and beyond the pale of civilisation as Isis does now".Edward Mortimer, "Caliph country: the rise of Isis". The Financial Times. 4 September 2015, in www.ft.com
"Revolutions pose serious dangers only when they involve great powers, since only great powers have proved capable of spreading their revolutionary principles. ISIS will never come close to being a great power, and although it has attracted some sympathizers abroad, just as earlier revolutions did, its ideology is too parochial and its power too limited to spark similar takeovers outside Iraq and Syria. History also teaches that outside efforts to topple a revolutionary state often backfire, by strengthening hard-liners and providing additional opportunities for expansion. Today, U.S. efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, as the Obama administration has characterized U.S. policy, could enhance its prestige, reinforce its narrative of Western hostility to Islam, and bolster its claim to be Islam’s staunchest defender. A better response would rely on local actors to patiently contain the group, with the United States staying far in the background. This approach requires seeing ISIS for what it is: a small and underresourced revolutionary movement too weak to pose a significant security threat, except to the unfortunate people under its control".Stephen Walt, "ISIS as Revolutionary State: New Twist on an Old Story". Foreign Affairs. (November/December 2015), in www.foreignaffairs.com There is of course an argument, nay a cogent and reasonable argument that 'containing' ISIS rather than destroying it. Stephen Walt and Edward Mortimer offer up two of the better arguments along these lines as can be seen above. What an impartial evaluation of their arguments unfortunately, highlight is the flaws in the reasoning rather than it's coherence. Specifically, the issue with endeavoring to 'contain' ISIS rather than destroying it is simply that this 'solution' ignores the immense threat to both the Near & Middle East as well as to Europe, that an ongoing statelet like ISIS will present both now and in the future. The fact of the matter is that if ISIS is allowed to survive, not necessarily to thrive, but merely to survive, the upshot will be that an immense degree of legitimacy will be given to it's extremist ideology and the policies flowing from the same. In addition to the fact that such a statelet will by definition attract an ongoing stream of volunteers, who will be trained to kill and then to be sent elsewhere in any number of other conflicts, which feature Muslim extremism around the world. The failure of Walt's and Mortimer's argument au fond is that they fail to realize that we are dealing not with a static actor, but with a highly dynamic one. In that sense, Walt is indeed correct: ISIS is not a state in the ordinary sense of the term and if the world of to-day were the very same as the world of 1921, then we would have reason to feel infinitely less concerned about the doings of a group of ignorant & murderous fanatics in a misbegotten and miserable place like provincial Syria. However, given the 'interconnectedness' of man's contemporary existence, we do not have the luxury of ignoring or even merely isolating ISIS. The only remedy is to destroy it completely. Which is not to say, as per Anthony Cordesman's argument that the defeat of ISIS will necessarily mean the defeat of 'terrorism' or better yet, 'Islamic terrorism', around the world, merely that what has emerged as the most dynamic and dangerous source of violent Muslim extremism in the world will have been destroyed 1. And that the lesson to be derived from the future fall of ISIS, will be that in to-day's world, with some geographical exceptions, no place on earth is safe from the establishment of an extremist state apparatus which emits terrorism and mayhem as a matter of policy. As the editor of the London Spectator, so accurately put it last week:
"Ever since 9/11 (sic), the aim has been to deny terrorists sanctuary. That, that after all is why the United States and Britain went into Afghanistan - troops were sent in only after the Taliban refused to hand over the al-Qaeda leadership and shut down the terrorist training camps....If we are really serious about defeating Islamist extremism, then we must - as a first step - be prepared to will the means to drive Islamic State out of both Syria and Iraq". 21. Anthony Cordesman, "Fighting Fear as Well as ISIS: Setting the Right Priorities". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 24 November 2015, in www.csis.org. 2. James Forsyth, "Obama's failure is Putin's opportunity". The Spectator. 21 November 2015, p. 12.