In a lecture given to BYU students and faculty last Wednesday, former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte spoke extensively on the troubling situations the United States faces abroad. He spoke, in part, about the threat ISIS poses to the international community and gave his opinion regarding the solution. In recent weeks the Untied States, as well as European and Middle Eastern nations began strategic bombing campaigns of key ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria in order to bring relief to a struggling Iraqi army. Secretary Negroponte said that this was not sufficient to end the threat of the extremist organization in the region.
“Anyone that is asking ‘how many days or weeks is this going to take?’ must be smoking that peace pipe or something. This is going to take months and years not days and weeks.”
He went on to say that a “boots on the ground” strategy would be required in the near future despite President Obamas outspoken opposition to such a plan. Secretary Negroeponte commented,
“You can’t do this all with airstrikes. It’s foolish to think that you can … In the end there is no substitute for ground forces, both military and police, for that country to be able to reestablish governmental authority … You cannot claim to be a self-respecting sovereign state like Iraq when your second largest city is under the control of the enemy.”
Secretary Negroeponte has been one this country’s brightest diplomats for the last 40 years, but that is not why anyone should agree with him. What he says is logical. When an airstrikes takes place enemy combatants are killed thus shrinking their fight capacity. However, that loss of life is only a temporary setback in the minds of the ISIS leaders who are busily attracting thousands of fighters from recruiting hubs around the western world. International agreements will soon be put in place to limit the influx of new ISIS soldiers, but the problem lies in the heart of Syria not with the expatriate fighters. As the coalition bombs ISIS targets they are soon replaced by new resources and trained fighters. With no ground forces to take the positions destroyed by airstrikes and ensure their lasting effects; the destruction of the ISIS hubs are of little consequence.
When a gardener removes a weed from their garden they don’t not wear down each leaf with a nail file. The nations who wish to see ISIS only as a section in a history book need to rip ISIS up at its roots. Airstrikes alone only scratch the surface without confronting the real problem. In this case, the problem is that ISIS has now spread its roots all over the world. ISIS is cropping up in the Philippines, where two westerners were being held hostage, Algeria, where a French man was beheaded by ISIS supporters, and Belgium which is hotspot for extremist recruiting.
Accepting that ground forces are needed to stop the spread of violence from reaching any further, the question that the international community must discuss next is “who is going to take the lead?”. Most people would look to the United States (Including itself) who has been, by comparison, rather gung-ho when it comes to Middle East intervention, but this fight cannot be only America’s to handle. There are signs of hope that many nations will put their full weight behind ending this conflict and provide security to the region. Without wide international participation the following conflict could be viewed, merely, as another American show of force for the world to scoff at. However, the recent refusal of the French government to corporate with terror demands and the British parliaments support of the coalition makes me think they are willing to make stabilizing the Middle East a priority. Each nation must contribute equally to successfully undermine radical Islam. The idea will never disappear, surely, but world wide involvement, rather than pushing the responsibility to the “locked and loaded” US, will guarantee that everyone has an interest in resolving the seemingly unresolvable stability crisis caused by extremism in Iraq and Syria. Each nation must see the merits of creating a self sufficent and credible government in developing countries like Iraq. Each nation must imagine a more peaceful world, free of the constant tragedies emerging from the Middle East. Is it worth it?