Facing ISIS: Possible scenarios

ISIS fighters have finally managed to convince the U.S. that they are not a uniquely Iraqi problem

Maria Dubovikova
Maria Dubovikova
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To cope with any problem, we have to elaborate on both tactics and – if the problem is expected to be a long-term disaster – strategy. ISIS, as has been rightly observed by U.S. President Barack Obama, could pose a “medium and long-term” threat to the whole world.

To deal with this problem, the international community and the U.S., which repeats its mantra about its constant leadership in the unstable world, should have a well thought out set of tactics and a clear and debugged strategy.

The efficiency of the international community’s tactics and strategy depends on the future of the region and the world, on living people and those who haven’t yet been born. There are several key scenarios, though only one of them is good and has positive impacts and results. However, the current state of affairs and the divorced-from-reality speeches of some world leaders are making a positive outcome seem more unlikely.

Despite all the pledges that U.S. boots will not set foot on the ground, I feel that there is still a high probability that American soldiers will have to land in the Middle East once again

Maria Dubovikova

The international community has already avoided the worst of all possible scenarios, as ISIS fighters have finally managed to convince the U.S. that they are not a uniquely Iraqi problem, or even just a regional one. Washington had to deviate from the laissez-faire approach and had to agree to the Iraqi government’s appeals to strike ISIS positions in the North of the country. Better late than never it seems.

The only hope is that “late” is not “too late.” What is more, the U.S. has finally started the airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria. However, these strikes would have much more international legality if sanctioned by the United Nations. But who really cares about this now in the region, except, for obvious reasons, Damascus and Tehran? Another twist in the story that diverts the international community further from the brink is the U.S. is not embarking on this bombing campaign unilaterally, but with regional countries too. Another important feature is that they are not striking at the Syrian forces, which in the current circumstances I believe is a positive factor.

Moreover, the will of Iran to participate in the anti-ISIS campaign should not be rejected. Having much more influence in Iraq and Syria than any other country, Iran is a good partner and should not be ignored in the current war on ISIS. The fact that the European countries such as France, Belgium, Denmark and the UK are joining the fight on ISIS does not add much to the coalition. But if this coalition were formed exclusively of the Western powers, it would be the worst way ever to fight ISIS.

Key questions

And here comes the key question on tactics and strategy: What are they? The chosen tactics apparently consist of bombing the ISIS positions until the complete extermination of the last terrorist. At the same time, according to the Syrian foreign minister’s statement made on Saturday, “the United States has informed Syria that it would conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State for three years.” So, if the U.S. is going to bomb Syria for three years, and presumably it will bomb Iraqi territory for the same period of time, the airstrikes are both the tactics and the strategy of the U.S. lead coalition in its war with ISIS. If so, the prospects seem far from being positive. What’s worse, the U.S. is far from abandoning arms shipments to so called moderate Syrian rebels practice, as they are supposed to fight with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while the same moderate but totally demoralized Syrian rebels, having lost trust in their leaders, little by little join the ISIS with the Western arms in their hands. The obvious contradiction within the approach testifies to the fact that the U.S. has no well worked out strategy.
The chosen approach seems to be ad hoc and seems to be designed to reduce the intensity of the symptoms but not to eradicate the disease. If the international community stocks to the same approach, little can be done to curb the spreading threat.

Despite all the pledges that U.S. boots would not set foot on the ground, I feel that there is still a high probability that American soldiers will have to land in the Middle East once again. The deployment of the U.S. military contingency would be significant for the airstrikes. However, the joint military ground operations of the coalition could turn into a rather unpredictable affair.

A possible option could be to promote joint airstrikes with limited ground involvement by U.S. forces and some reliable Middle Eastern forces. Perhaps it would also be possible to include Iranian ground forces, which could be eligible and effective.

As a whole, this scenario of a broad air and land operation would have a good enough prospect in terms of countering the terrorist group. It would be especially effective in the case of Turkey’a active involvement amid its confrontation with the Kurds. Both the Turkish government and the PKK should remember that in a joint fight against ISIS they are on the same side. The U.S. should use its influence on the PPK to make them hold over their fight with Turkey.

Not enough

But even all these efforts won’t be enough; civil casualties that are inevitable in airstrikes won’t add sympathy in the hearts of the victim’s relatives towards the coalition forces. Missiles cannot bomb out the ideas propagated by the ISIS ideologists. The inability to bring all pieces of the global puzzle together due to existing contradictions between the major powers and clashes of geopolitical interest undermines all the international efforts. There is not enough congruence on actions, on taking measures and steps and adequate estimations of how each powerful member of the international community can be useful in the fight on the most dangerous evil of the century.

Russia’s military supplies to Syria and Iraq, the Iranian intentions to assist to the coalition forces, the European countries joining the coalition forces, measures taken inside Western and Middle Eastern countries preventing the spread of the ISIS, its cells and ideas as well as measures to cut the flows of the terrorist group partisans leaving their homes to join ISIS on the ground should all be a part of a well thought out international strategy. It’s important to remember that the ISIS problem is not limited by the Iraq or Syria. The beheading of a French alpinist in Algeria has shown the true scale of the disaster. Furthermore, the Middle Eastern countries should think deeper on how to cut the air supply to ISIS and other extremists.

Such questions as “Why does the ISIS ideology attract people?” and “How did the significant spread of ISIS become possible?” should be answered and the adequate measures and decisions should be taken. The same question should be raised in Western societies and appropriate answers should be found, the right conclusions should be drawn and decisions should be taken. Their foreign policy approaches towards the Middle East should be thought over.

Summing up, the only absolutely positive scenario could be realized if the international community finally understands that we are sharing the same planet and we have one huge common disaster to be managed together. There is no place and time for bravura speeches or mutual accusations. The geopolitical games and ideological contradictions should not withstand the voice of reason or sense of self-preservation. To crown it all, broad international cooperation on the basis of mutual trust and partnership should be in no way limited to the military issues, if we want it to be efficient in the most positive way. The broad international coalition should concentrate on the military cooperation, military fight and philosophical and mental struggle with ISIS that is complicated, sophisticated and time-consuming.

The now existing coalition could raze Syria and Iraq to the ground, but the ideology will remain standing and could even strengthen.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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