Daniel L. Davis
Security, Middle East
The United States has expended enormous resources and sacrificed many of its service members to a mission that has resulted in a net loss to America.
If the intent of President Trump’s “America first” foreign policy is to “put the interests of the American people and American security above all else,” events currently playing out in Syria expose it as a failed policy. While the goal of defending American citizens and interests from the Islamic State (ISIS) has always been entirely valid, the way Washington has pursued that objective has diminished American security, not preserved it.
On the surface it may appear to have been a smart move: to combat ISIS, the United States would support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in their drive to retake Mosul and support the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to capture ISIS’ stronghold of Raqqa. But it shouldn’t have taken much analysis to see the plan had little chance of long-term success for America.
At a fundamental level, it has been plain from the beginning that ISIS was never going to be a viable political entity that could maintain the territory it seized from a fatally weak Iraqi military in June 2014. ISIS fighters were excellent at slaughtering civilians and prisoners, but with no administrative ability whatsoever, their demise was ordained before the dust had settled from their original conquest.
A wise U.S. policy at the time would have been to contain the ISIS threat to its geographic footprint and demonstrate patience as the Islamic terror group was slowly squeezed to death by the many regional powers that had both the motive and the means to destroy ISIS.
In Iraq, the government in Baghdad had existential motivation to recover from their 2014 debacle, reform its military, and retake its territory. While it would have taken longer for them to eliminate ISIS, the combination of the ISF and the Shia militias would have eventually ground the Islamic State out of existence.
Things were even more complicated in Syria, and the forces opposed to ISIS were larger in number and greater in power. The regime in Syria, the Russian and Iranian armed forces, Turkey, and numerous rebel groups all opposed ISIS, would eventually have succeeded in wiping out ISIS without any U.S. involvement.