ISIS Won and Four Fundamental Facts That Explain Why

Image courtesy of Tremr. Image courtesy of Tremr.

 Make no mistake, this is not an assessment one offers with a smile.  But it’s a fact: ISIS (or ISIL) has achieved victory in Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria and does meet minimum requirements for statehood. Just spend a few miserable minutes reading the most recent situation updates or listen to the Foreign Policy Establishment talk it over – the Islamic State…is.

What makes this a fact?

  1. Landpower. ISIS controls contiguous terrain in Northern Iraq (roughly 9-12 on the country’s “clock”; see the Institute for the Study of War graphic below) and some of Eastern Syria. This is landpower; dominance on the ground that enables ISIS a true, solid base of support.
  2. Vacuum. No local state or non-state group has the ability to deny ISIS this control. As Bing West might put it, ISIS is “the strongest tribe.”  The Government of Iraq cannot dislodge ISIS; neither can Syria, Syrian opposition, or the Kurdish Peshmerga.
  3. No International Intervention. The US has no vital interest at stake with respect to ISIS (where they are) and the US public is either apathetic or fed up with interventions in Iraq. The UN and international community have come to the same conclusion. If the world wouldn’t intervene in Syria, why Iraq?
  4. Defense is Stronger than Offense. Clausewitz teaches (correctly) that defense is the stronger form of warfare. The only military force the US has or would consider sending to Northern Iraq is from the Special Operations community, which generates landpower that is either too small or too slow to dislodge ISIS in any acceptable timeframe.

Result? It’s time to settle in and talk containment.  Anyone know if George Kennan is still around?

Graphic from the Institute for the Study of War. Graphic from the Institute for the Study of War.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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