A Military Campaign Alone Is Not the Solution to ISIS
16 Sep 2014
American leadership is essential for peace in the Middle East. The US can show how a better future can be attained through political unity, religious pluralism and free-market capitalism says Ed Husain.
It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. More than 90 years after World War I, we are still dealing with the consequences of the flawed British and French plans for the Middle East after the destruction of Turkish leadership in the region.
America cannot afford to make the mistakes the Europeans did then. In the absence of any regional leadership body for Arabs, America has fostered a culture of dependency on US protection of Middle East states. Arabs want America to bail them out at every point, while neglecting the development of a European Union-style body for the region that can create a common security policy and address the ideological challenges posed by Islamists and jihadists to the unsustainable status quo.
America's return to the region is welcome, but wars don't create peace.
After all the talk of a "pivot to Asia," America's return to the Middle East is welcome, but wars do not create peace. Killing Bin Laden did not destroy terrorism and killing ISIS fighters will not bring stability. American leadership and soft power in the Middle East should be invested in three areas:
First, those in Muslim communities globally who oppose extremism and terrorism desperately require financial support, such as this American and Turkish initiative to reverse the ideological appeal of al-Qaeda.
Second, a combination of theology and political ideology makes ISIS relevant, different and in a position to offer a message that resonates with frustrated youth. The US and its Muslim allies need to coordinate a global response to this ideology on university campuses, mosques, media outlets, the Internet, prisons, social media and now, refugee camps. Radicalisation and recruitment can be disrupted, but little will happen unless US leadership mobilises Arab influencers.
Finally, ISIS is only one symptom of a deeper problem in the Middle East. After ISIS, another terror grouping will emerge. The region's many problems require new thinking and new regional answers. Unification of the Middle East helps rebut the notion that only a caliphate is the answer to Muslim problems. An EU-version of leadership in the Middle East helps create prosperity for a region filled with high unemployment and low capital for entrepreneurial investment, but this also offers a better narrative than the radicals.
Unless we think differently and for the longer term, then we will continue to be on the defensive in fighting jihadists. American leadership is needed to show the Middle East how a better future can be attained through political unity, religious pluralism and free-market capitalism.
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