Although the threat of the Islamic State is extremely serious and failing to derail its spread would threaten global security interests of all countries in addition to the risks it already poses to the regional stability of the Middle East, the Islamic State is only one threat among many. From Republican war hawks to President Obama, overzealous political leaders are on the verge of inappropriately reacting to the Islamic State threat by seeking to eliminate the Islamic State, which is a strategic nightmare of a mission doomed to failure.
First of all, eliminating the Islamic State as an organization would likely require a great deal of commitment in terms of resources, effort, and time on behalf of the United States and all of its partners. If this means an entrenchment of American forces, doing so would put America in the same position we were in during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, i.e. US military forces be overextended and bogged down in their pursuit of Islamic State members. The United States and the world cannot, under any circumstance, afford to make the same costly mistakes as the George W. Bush Administration did. Seeking to break the operational capacity of the Islamic State through airstrikes and the support of regional security forces, which in the long-term are needed to address all terrorist threats, the US would be able to minimize the Islamic State threat while retaining the freedom needed to address other threats.
Second, the Islamic State is hardly the only terrorist threat in the Middle East, or even in Iraq and Syria for that matter. For example, the Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front operates in Syria against the Assad regime, thus a decline in the Islamic State creates a potential expansion opportunity for this and other startup terrorist groups. Terrorists groups are like wild fire, instead of building communities, they leave a path of destruction even as they die out. In other words, a war against the Islamic State, like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, cannot be treated as a war with traditional nation-state in regards to capturing and holding territory. After all, terrorist organizations are highly mobile, thus it takes far too many troops to secure any territories that terrorist organizations might operate within. The only means of securing liberated territory from falling back into the hands of any extremist organization is for moderate local security forces to fill the power vacuum on the ground as the operation capacity of such grounds is sufficiently degraded.
Third, the empowerment of individuals taking on extreme political ideologies and policies throughout countries around the world in recent years has created internal instability and external threats. Inside countries like the US, extreme polarization threatens national stability thanks to the dysfunction and reckless hardliner policies it fosters as seen in the Edward Snowden NSA revelations and the handling of the fallout of the Great Recession throughout the world. In Russia, dormant Soviet-era thinking has been awoken and former Soviet leaders empowered by events like the Ukraine Crisis, thus a revival of the Cold War world order is unfolding. Although the US and its allies have always been threatened by other nation-states, such threats were seen as minimal thanks to the successes of our International Community to the point war with other nations seemed a trivial threat until recently. Because persistent threats like crime and terrorism are always overshadowed by conflict between nations imposing credible threats to each other, the US must not sacrifice its ability to deal with Russia, and perhaps China, in order to over engage the Islamic State or any of the many other global terrorist threats.
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