129 murdered in Paris on November 13th, 43 killed in Lebanon one day earlier, and hundreds more killed since the beginning of 2015 – all these deaths were at the hands of the terrorist organization ISIS. As the dead were mourned and awareness of the bloodshed spread, the Islamic state only gained more power world-wide.
Yesterday, SIPA hosted a panel called “ISIS after Paris” which discussed ISIS’s ever growing influence despite the western world’s plans to contain it. Although the panelists were all very knowledgeable about the subject, the discussion stayed fairly broad and hypothetical.
The first speaker, Stuart Gottlieb, is a professor in the school of international affairs. He previously worked for the US Senate and participated in multiple campaigns. Gottlieb focused his speech on the US’s past strategies against ISIS. He critiqued how Obama has been dealing with this issue during his presidency. In 2010, Obama announced that he had a plan to “degrade and destroy ISIS”, but Gottlieb pointed out that his plan was more one of containment than degradation. Although criticizing Obama’s inefficiency, Gottlieb believes that the US’s only feasible option to defeat Islamic State would be to undermine their own moral values and attack civilians. Although this seems controversial, its hard to find a logical solution to a group who’s motto is “by any means necessary.”
Austin Long is currently an associate professor at the SIPA, but also has a background in the US military, serving as an analyst and adviser during the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He argued that the US could easily send troops to Syria and take over the region, but that the real problem remained in finding a regional political power to rule the area.
Dipali Mukhopadhyay, the third panelist and a member of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, jumped in and said that our best bet for a regional political power which could eventually control the region is the southern Syrian resistance group. But she continued by saying that the southern band of resistance doesn’t have the political or economic savvy to govern the whole region.
The last speaker, Jason Healey, talked about how drones aren’t a feasible option to take down ISIS. He pointed out that if you bomb a factory, they can always be rebuilt or products can be created from another factory. Although such destructions represent minor setbacks, they won’t bring the whole organization down. It’s the same with ISIS – the US can bomb them or take out their leader, but it won’t be enough to bring them down. If anything, it would only make their hatred towards the western world grow.
Although this panel was informative, none of the scholars actually came up with a concrete solution. And, at the end of the day, that OK. As long as we continue to collaborate and hear each other’s ideas, we will get closer and closer to the answer. But the point of the panel was more to remind us that this hyper complex problem isn’t going to solve itself over night. We still have work to do and – as Long said – “there is no silver bullet.”
As for the mood of the event, I thought the panelists presented the subject very well. They talked in a comprehensible fashion and didn’t stray off their point too much while keeping the mood fairly light – which is quite hard to do when talking about such a grim subject. Long and Healey dominated the conversation, but this didn’t seem abnormal seeing as they were the two with experience in US military operations in the Middle East.
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