Is the United States winning or losing in the Middle East? The answers are confusing and mixed.
Measured from purely military considerations, no one can deny that ISIS is being ground down. Their military leaders have been decimated by drones and direct attacks. Their organized forces are on the run or embattled in losing situations throughout the region. While there are still areas between Syria and Iraq under ISIS control, it is only a matter of time before military operations will strangle the organized ISIS forces and eliminate its military capabilities.
However, the military defeat of ISIS is only a fraction of the puzzle facing the United States and its allies in the Middle East. With its theological underpinnings, ISIS is not just a political entity with military power, capable of being defeated or eradicated by military force, or of being overhauled and reorganized by a dominating captor, such as the allied powers did with the German Reich and the Empire of Japan following the last world war.
Underlying ISIS, at the foundation of its existence, is the fundamental belief of Islam. While foreign powers may consider such to be radical jihadism, to the Muslim follower it is part of an intangible ideology or system of belief ingrained in Islam from the biblical times of the Prophet Mohammad.
Whether the physical entity of ISIS as we know it today survives is irrelevant to the survival of the fundamental ideology of its followers. Radical jihadism is a condition of the mind, and thoughts are incapable of being conquered and overturned by force. Converting the followers of today’s ISIS to another way of thinking is the only way of eliminating a distorted ideology, and this can only be achieved through means other than military force. It is a problem within Islam, and must be solved from within Islam. As is becoming increasingly obvious, for any entity from without Islam to attempt to impose a solution, whether it be by carrot or stick, serves only to exacerbate the situation and prolong the dissention.
The United States has proved itself to be singularly incapable in this area. Our only methods of persuasion towards cultures who refuse to embrace our ways of governance purely on our say-so have been by the brute force of our military or the economic influence of our wealth. When these methods do not work, we historically have been at a loss to know how to react.
For examples of how we have repeatedly demonstrated our inability in this area, one need look only to the consequences when our decision to prop up the Shah of Iran turned out to be wrong, when our attempts to form a balanced secular government in Iraq failed, when we bungled attempts to influence the emerging governments of Egypt and Libya, and in our continuing futile attempts to organize a viable government in Afghanistan. We – individually and as a nation -- do not know what to do when power and money are not sufficient to carry the day.
The only way out of this mess is to scrap completely everything that we have been doing, and start over. Defeating the essence of ISIS is not a matter of the proper application of force or military power, or of the effective exertion of economic sanctions, or of more effective diplomatic intervention into the internal affairs of errant governments. The eventual solution will be one that eliminates direct military intervention entirely, reduces diplomatic interference to zero, gets all foreign interests out of Middle East functions completely, and treats Islamic terrorists of any brand as international criminals.
This is not a partisan issue. The present political landscape does not offer a choice between right and wrong in the Middle East, but only choices between wrong and worse. While Trump’s announced policies would lead to disaster much faster and with greater potential for catastrophic results, Clinton’s policies are also destined to fail.
Both sides must recognize that success will not come until we get out of the way while Islam cleans its own house.