As the International Community takes on the challenge of engineering a proper international response to the Islamic State threat, it is important to fully consider the state of the global community. Unfortunately, the world has not fully come together as part of a comprehensive, effective effort to police global terrorism as was envisioned following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Frankly, there are far more, far worse challenges and far greater divisions than there were thirteen years ago. As such, building a regional and global coalition in order to just accomplish the stated goal of eliminating the Islamic State threat will take some time and a great deal of diplomatic effort to forge a functional alliance, though we are on our way to doing just that.
Considering the Ukraine Crisis, which is the former most pressing international issue of the day, the framing of Russia’s interference in Ukraine’s domestic policies and military support of pro-Russian rebels as unacceptable to international norms makes the US and the rest of the West appear hypocritical when it comes to addressing the Islamic State in Syria. As such, it is easy for anti-Western actors to use intervention inside Syria to frame such actions as illegitimate and threatening. While the support and involvement of the Arab League is absolutely necessary to afford US and Western involvement in the Middle East a large degree of legitimacy, i.e. Syria is directly threatening the national security interests of its neighbors and they have a right to defend themselves with ally support, simply because everyone says something is right does not make it right.
Framing US and Western intervention against credible threats in unwilling nations matters, because countries like Russia use poorly justified invasions of countries like Afghanistan and Iraq to legitimize their inappropriate action, such as Russia’s heavy-handed 2008 invasion of Georgia. Although Russia will do as it pleases, failure to properly legitimize action in Syria allows countries like Russia to both disarm criticism of their policies and undermine the overall legitimacy of the West in the eyes of those it is trying to incorporate into its sphere of influence and/or those who might otherwise support Western initiatives. For terrorists and other threats, the apparent hypocrisy of the West and regional governments is a great way of silencing support for anti-terrorism efforts while it serves as a selling point when it comes to recruitment.
More importantly, the empowerment of Soviet thinking over modern views on international norms has tangible consequences. Although the West is now forced to openly recognize the threat of former Cold War-era hardliners, both in Russia and in the West, the reality that Russia is now a credible threat means the world must be prepared to deal with that threat and take action as needed. The prevailing wisdom over the past couple of decades has driven the intertwining of the economies of all nations, including those that have conflicting noneconomic interests, because interdependency would supposedly discourage military conflict. In reality, it has often forced nations to suppress national interests for the sake of the stability of the global economy, thus the failure to address those interests has allowed what would have been mild diplomatic conflicts to fester into potential flash points for war and economic ruin.
At the same time, the interdependency of the global economy means it is far harder to discourage rogue behavior without hurting our own economies, which is a reality that will only drive more conflicts unless we address unresolved grievances and build healthier global relationships. This is especially true given the world is still dealing with the ripple effects of the Great Recession while a majority of developed countries are struggling to cope with mounting national debt as well as significant wealth distribution issues that have left Westerns too few jobs with too little pay. Addressing these economic realities will properly hinge on a major recalibration of the domestic economies of the developed world as well as the global economy. As such, economic issues are probably more pressing to average citizens than dealing with the Islamic States. Even though the political world has a bad habit of over focusing on one critical issue to the detrimental of other major issues, the governments of the world need strategies to adequately address a number of these critical issues in a parallel fashion. There is only so much to do on a issue at any given moment, thus the attention of global leaders must toggle between the global economy and the Islamic States, which hopefully will lead to a coalition capable of dealing with other ongoing terrorist threats, while they cannot ignore unresolved issues with Russian and Chinese dominance, among many, many others issues.
In the Middle East, there is not only political conflicts both inside nations and between nations as seen in Westerners countries, there are also far stronger social conflicts thanks to ethnic and tribal divisions/connections. Consequently, all parties in the Middle East are always going to be reluctant to support an international effort against terrorism. Many elements of governments and ruling classes even support what others consider to be terrorist groups to serve their own interests, which the West has done as well. In the eyes of many, the Islamic State is a terrorist organization, yet it is not seen as serious of a threat as Western intervention in the eyes of others. Along with a vast web of cultural issues, the many conflicting perspectives and interests of the Middle East make it very difficult to declare any group of Muslims an enemy of Islam, thus it is challenging to garner the support of Muslims in a global war on terrorism. Given that, the broadly despised Islamic State could be a catalyst that helps the Middle East recognize the error in supporting/ignoring terrorism. Given the state of the global community, this is absolutely necessary as the US and West cannot over commitment recourses in the Middle East.
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