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Proactive, not reactive, military action is needed against ISIS

A view from Pakistan

Friday 20 May 2016, by siawi3


November 17, 2015, 4:18 pm

Haroon Riaz

Some of the worst fears about ISIS were realized during the November 13 Paris attacks that involved a suicide bomber, who turned out to be a Syrian refugee, and three groups of terrorists shooting out at three different locations. More than a hundred people lost their lives that night and several were injured as the terrorists mercilessly slaughtered peace loving French citizens. ISIS has taken responsibility for the heinous attack.

The incident has shocked and saddened everyone around the world, but it is just a reminder of how dangerous ISIS has become and how urgently substantial action against it is required.

The French President stated that his country would unleash a “pitiless” war against the terrorist state as revenge for the attack. While cynical critics would find that the hawks and the right wing rejoicing at this incident for using it for gaining support for the war, the truth is that many would see this as acting too late, though at least doing the right thing at last.

No wonder this atrocity is sufficient to warrant adequate military action by any standards. You know things are different when Democratic candidates sound as hawkish as the Republicans in their debate the following night, which gives you even more faith in the US leadership regardless of the political affiliation.

However, I find something else wrong with the approach of France to attack ISIS. While I am glad that France is finally prepared to strike ISIS locations in Syria and that it has every right to avenge the death of its citizens, they should have known better than just carrying out reactive vengeful strikes.

The French approach is precisely what is generally wrong with the reaction of the Western powers, in terms of countering ISIS. They see ISIS as a distant security threat, which they do not need to do anything about unless their homes are threatened, instead of proactively intervening to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to destroy a local threat in the Middle East. The French reaction also suggests that up until this time it was not at war with the entity and did not consider its atrocities worthy of an intervention, as it considered necessary in the case of secular Libya. Sadly, it is only now that the French seek a global coalition against Islamic State.

Europe apparently did not have a problem with the existence of ISIS, without being bothered by the massacre they have been committing in Iraq and Syria. Even Israel has not taken any active action against it, because probably ISIS has been working to weaken Bashar Al-Assad, one of their archenemies. Or probably because the main victims of ISIS have primarily been Muslims of the Middle East, but by that rationale, you would expect Arab countries of the region to act against them, the reaction of which has been terribly dishonest and irresponsible. Nevertheless, you cannot expect much from morally bankrupt regimes.

The United States is probably the only exception, and they had better be, due to the enormous responsibility they bear following the Iraq War and their intervention in the Syrian Civil War. And they have been fighting ISIS alone without any considerable help from any ally in the region. However, despite reassurances by President Obama, his strategy has fallen short of effectively reducing the threat. Furthermore, he completely rules out deploying ground troops despite demands from the Republican leaders.

Such a reactive and defensive approach is what has resulted in the strengthening of ISIS in the first place. This should surely offer fodder to moralist critics who would accuse the Western powers of valuing the loss of life in Europe but completely ignoring the bloodbath in Syria and Lebanon, and genocide and human slavery in Kurdish Iraq.

Instead of striking back at ISIS as a reaction to some terrorist attack, proactive military action should be carried out against its targets until the complete annihilation of the terrorist entity as a state. This would not be possible without ground forces and occupation of the area making up the terrorist state.

United States should also reconsider its withdrawal from Iraq, which has resulted in the breakdown of the security of a weak state with a Shia leadership unpopular with the local Sunnis. While President Obama could blame the Iraq War in 2003 initiated by George W. Bush for the rise of ISIS, history could see it as more of an unfinished business of his administration, or even a part of his Middle East foreign policy legacy.

As a matter of fact, President Obama has a great and rare opportunity to achieve undisputed greatness as a statesman following his historic Cuba initiative and the Iran Nuclear Deal. When he was elected President with the slogans of hope and change, even his fiercest enemies would have expected him to be destined to do great things. With the peace of the world at peril, and the Pope talking about the signs of a Third World War, his leadership can restore peace to the world if only he is willing to do what is necessary. It is up to him to execute a swift blow to the terror network or wait for the next President to replace him to get the job done.

The United States is already tackling ISIS at his own pace, but in the words of Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s policy of “containment” of ISIS is not enough. President Obama tried calming the demands for more military action by using the very word just the night before ISIS attacked Paris and immediately came under fire. This incident seems to prove the last straw to wake the world up. The world must not rest until ISIS is destroyed. And since nobody else would even bother until the threat reaches their shores, United States remains the only moral leader in the world to take on the challenge.

However flawed the military strategy of Obama administration maybe, it still deserves greater respect for its principled action than the reactive measures France is going to take as revenge. If only a global coalition had been formed in a timely manner, the resources of ISIS could have been greatly reduced to carry out such attacks, though it would have required active pursuit of its presence in the continental Europe as well. But ISIS is feeding off the oil in the region and its supply lines must be destroyed.

ISIS has also threatened terrorist attacks in Washington D.C, and against any country that participates in bombings against them. The US intelligence believes they lack the resources to do so at the moment, but we must not let them grow strong enough to become capable of it, and must certainly stop underestimating the threat. The world still has time at its hands to prevent another tragedy like 11/13.

United States certainly does not need to bear this burden alone. The rest of the powers of the world have a chance to redeem their ignorance of the humanitarian crisis created by ISIS, by joining a global coalition under US leadership. The United States, under the leadership of President Obama, is perfectly capable of rallying allied powers from around the world, not only from Europe and the Middle East, but from Asia Pacific as well to combat this threat together.

As long as the focus of the war becomes averting a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria instead of just defense of Western countries, the war should not feel like such a burden. However, I am not too sure if many in the West are still too concerned about the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

Haroon Riaz is a Rawalpindi-based independent blogger and believes in promoting free speech and secularism.