ISIS’ meteoric rise over the summer of 2014 has pushed presidential front runners to take the group as a serious threat – both domestically and internationally. The latest attack — a truck bombing — killed at least 67 people in a Shia neighborhood of Baghdad on Thursday. Republicans have also focused heavily on the ISIS issue because the current administration’s policy has not gone according to plan. The United States’ program to train Syrian rebels has faced numerous setbacks while the bombing campaign that started a year ago has only experienced limited success.
So what alternative plan have the contenders proposed?
The Florida senator suggested forming an army of regional powers to fight ISIS.
“The United States should use it position of leadership to pull together a Sunni army, a Sunni ground force made up of Egyptians and Jordanians and Saudis and other kingdoms to go in on the ground [Syria and Iraq] and confront Sunni terrorists,” Rubio told Fox News in March. He said the key was to hit ISIS at its core in Syria and Iraq.
This approach has been touted by various politicians in recent months. In fact, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi called for that exact thing in February only with one distinction. Rather than fight in Syria and Iraq, Sisi called for forming an Arab coalition to help protect Egypt from the ISIS threat in Libya. Egypt is currently facing serious internal security issues, particularly in Sinai, in addition to the ISIS threat in Libya.
That’s not the only pitfall, though. Back in April, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to fight the Houthis in Yemen. It quickly went about seeking partners to contribute ground troop. Egypt said no, leaving the relatively small military capacity of the United Arab Emirates to partner with Saudi ground troops and aerial support in Yemen. But an important caveat with the Yemen case is that the Houthis are Zaidi Shia. The people of Gulf Arab powers (all ruled by Sunni monarchs) may have a harder time throwing support behind a campaign that fights fellow Sunnis, even if it is ISIS that they’re fighting. It also doesn’t help that wealthy individuals in some of these Gulf states — mainly Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait — have funneled money to groups like ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
The former Arkansas governor’s plan is pretty simple. “When we have a threat, whether it is ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, whatever it is, we make it very clear that we plan to push back and destroy that threat to us,” Huckabee said in an interview with American Heartland with Dr. Grace. “And we won’t take 10 years doing it, we hopefully won’t even take 10 months, it will be like a 10 day exercise, because the fierceness of our forces would mean that we can absolutely guarantee the outcome of this film. That’s how America needs to operate in the world of foreign affairs, and foreign policy.”
The quick war trope has been trotted out before. Huckabee’s plan entails strong posturing toward America’s enemies followed by decisive military action. However, the United States already has what is widely considered the most formidable conventional army in the history of the world, and still wasn’t able to destroy oppositions firmly entrenched in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, wiping out groups entrenched among civilian populations around the world in 10 days would rack up millions of civilian deaths, or collateral damage, if you want to take the rose-tinted view.
In an interview with Sean Hannity in July, Christie focused on empowering regional allies to fight ISIS so that the U.S. wasn’t seen as an occupying force.
“We’ve got the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Emirates, who all see ISIS as an existential threat to their existence. They don’t want to live under a theocracy,” the New Jersey governor said, even though Saudi Arabia is a theocracy. “We need to be training them down to the battalion level. We need more human intelligence on the ground to let them know where to target ISIS. And we need to stand with them, supply them with the arms they need, the sophistication they need, let them fight the fight there.”Apart from the idea of forming an army of Arabs to fight ISIS, Christie argues for sending more arms to regional allies. President Obama ended a freeze on military aid to Egypt in March that provides them more than $1 billion. He’s also offered additional military aid to Saudi Arabia. But that doesn’t seem to have had any significant impact against ISIS’ continued reign of terror in Syria or Iraq.
The real estate mogul also has a seemingly simple solution to defeating ISIS. “I would knock out the source of their wealth, the primary sources of their wealth, which is oil,” he told MSNBC. “And in order to do that, you would have to put boots on the ground. I would knock the hell out of them, but I’d put a ring around it and I’d take the oil for our country.”
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said Wednesday that he disagreed with the current Republican frontrunner. “The problem we’ve had is we’ve had outcomes, but they’ve been only short-term outcomes because we haven’t properly looked at the political and economic side of it,” he said at a press briefing. “It has got to be three that come together. And if you don’t do that, it will not solve the problem, and that is what I continue to look at.”
The Wisconsin governor hasn’t laid out much of a plan to date. He did say, however, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.”
As Jim Geraghty writes in the National Review: “That is a terrible response. First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn’t quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups.”
After struggling with the question of whether or not he would have invaded Iraq in 2003, the former Florida governor has put together a plan more comprehensive than his competitors’. In a foreign policy speech Tuesday, Bush said the key to beating ISIS was to first remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and then unite the various rebel forces to fight ISIS.
This strategy has actually been expressed by a journalist who has done some of the best reporting on ISIS. In an interview this past July, Der Spiegel’s Christoph Reuter told a reporter, “There is no fast victory in Syria. The core problem is as long as Assad is there you will have no united front against Daesh [ISIS]. Once Assad is gone, everyone will be brought together to fight Daesh.”
He added: “Take out the [Assad] family first, which would help reunite the country, as well. In Iraq it’s much more complicated because you cannot change the mood of the Shiites.”
Of course, this is all easier said than done. To date, Assad has received military backing from Russia, Iran, and various Iranian proxies and, despite the recent nuclear deal, that isn’t likely to change.
Clearly none of these men are capable of running a home of four, let alone this country. Foreign policy has never been a forte of The American Taliban, and form these answers - they are not ready from prime time yet.
[Cross-posted from thinkprogress]