When we hear reports of the imposition of sharia law or see videos of summary executions, it can be easy to feel that the United States should do everything in its power to immediately stop the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, from continuing to commit atrocities. Many want to see the U.S. military take more direct action against ISIS: notably, an increase in the number of air strikes and the deployment of ground forces. As justified as an escalation of military involvement by the United States seems, foreign intervention is not the path to lasting peace in the Middle East.
The true strength of ISIS lies in its ability to recruit young jihadists from all over the world to come fight its battles in Iraq and Syria. These recruits come from diverse backgrounds, but they are united in their belief that ISIS represents a greater cause. For these soldiers, joining ISIS is an opportunity to commit to something more important than their individual lives.
Full-scale confrontation of ISIS by the U.S. military would only bolster this view amongst radicals that joining ISIS is a chance to fight the good fight. Strong anti-American feelings are already prevalent in much of the Middle East in large part because of the damage that has been caused by war after war over the last quarter century. In the Iraq War alone, conservative estimates indicate that over 100,000 civilians were killed in acts of violence. Death and destruction on that magnitude have caused feelings of resentment and hostility towards the United States amongst many Middle Easterners. Establishing the United States as a clear enemy and threat to ISIS by launching another war will only magnify these feelings and will encourage young radicals to join in greater numbers to defend the Islamic State from the perceived invader.
The United States will not be able to destroy ISIS through air strikes alone, and the public does not support fighting another ground war in Iraq. As such, the United States should limit or cease its attacks on ISIS. Because the United States cannot defeat ISIS with only air power, continued strikes will serve only to rally more jihadists to defend the Islamic State. Instead of pressing forward with military operations, the United States should channel the funds it is currently using to conduct air strikes into humanitarian aid for affected persons. Medicine, food and water deliveries should all be increased and support for refugees should be established.
This means working with other Middle Eastern countries and providing the resources they need to create healthy refugee camps. Perhaps this even means that the United States should begin accepting refugees itself. If the United States follows this path towards peace, anti-Western ideas that have been ingrained in many minds will begin to dissipate, and Middle Eastern countries will be much more likely to work with the United States on issues of regional security. Additionally, better relations will hinder ISIS’s ability to recruit, and it will become much more vulnerable to attacks by neighboring nations. . While the option of no military action poses its risks, it presents a much better answer for the long-term degradation of radical Islam in the Middle East and the eventual destruction of ISIS.