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Siepert_Policy Memo

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Siepert_Policy Memo

  1. 1. POLICY MEMO TO: Ambassador Susan Rice FROM: Zoe Siepert DATE: May 3, 2016 RE: Countering ISIS in the Middle East EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: ISIS is a militant group with roots in Iraq with aims of creating a “pan-Muslim caliphate” (Lynch, 2015). ISIS tries to achieve this goal by committing exceptional acts of violence throughout the world, most notably in Paris and Belgium. The exisiting policy of the United States on ISIS is one of containment meaning contain ISIS where they are now and eventually aim to destroy them without use of American boots on the ground. My policy recommendation is developing a global coalition of world and regional powers to address key issues in hopes of defeating ISIS. The current policy fails to address the root causes of the ISIS phenomenon. Any plan to defeat ISIS must address why ISIS came to be in the first place, because it was “driven by a massive population increase, critical youth unemployment, failed economic development, corruption, and imbalanced income distribution” (Cordesman, 2016). The United States has many key interests in the region. The United States is concerned about how policy in the region will affect our allies there, mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia. A more recent interest is Iran’s nonproliferation, which will remain a key interest for some time. Global stability is also one of the United States main goals. By developing a global coalition, peace and stability are possible in the MENA region.
  2. 2. The coalition I recommend will lead to a decisive victory against ISIS because it addresses many of the economic issues surrounding the creation of ISIS. It also targets ISIS’ funding directly, which, over time, should lead to the destruction of ISIS. I believe there will be global support for this plan from most countries because there are no countries that out right support ISIS. The only country that could cause an issue would be Russia. By ensuring Russia that the defeat of ISIS benefits them as well and steering clear of any Russia troops in the region, it should not be an issue anymore. BACKGROUND: ISIS, or the Islamic State, was created from the “2011-2014 sectarian nature of the Nuri al-Maliki government in Baghdad” (Lynch, 2015). ISIS has its roots in Iraq and started as a “local movement aimed at redrawing the lines in the Middle East to establish a state that more closely the historic concept of Bilad al-Sham, or Greater Syria” (Hillegass, 2016). However since 2014, ISIS has rebranded itself simple as the Islamic State (Hillegass, 2016). ISIS’ main goal is a “pan-Muslim caliphate by 2020” (Lynch, 2015). Today, ISIS is a “transnational Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group that controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, has adherents in several other countries, and disrupts regional and international security with violence and terrorism” (Cronin, 2016). EXISITING U.S. POLICY: President Obama’s policy on ISIS has been relatively consistent since 2014. He has repeatedly stated that the main “goals of U.S. strategy are to “degrade and ultimately
  3. 3. defeat” the Islamic State using various means including “U.S. direct military action and support for local partner forces” (Cronin, 2016). His strategy includes; “supporting effective governance in Iraq; denying ISIS safe-haven; building partner capacity; enhancing intelligence collection; disrupting ISIS finances; exposing ISIS' true nature; disrupting the flow of foreign fighters; protecting the homeland; and humanitarian support” (Hof, 2014). President Obama’s strategy is one of containment and his administration understands that “any long-term success must come by way of real political and economic reforms in Baghdad that credibly enfranchise alienated Sunni tribes now supporting ISIS in western Iraq” (Lynch, 2015). WHY EXISTING POLICY NEEDS TO BE RE-EVALUATED: The current U.S. strategy fails to acknowledge the root of the problem. Any policy decision must understand that while the fight against ISIS is an “ideological battle … it is also driven by a massive population increase, critical youth unemployment, failed economic development, corruption, and imbalanced income distribution” (Cordesman, 2016). There is also a lack of coherent strategy from the world powers, which is necessary in halting ISIS. There is simply “not enough will or skill in the region or abroad to mobilize any kind of grand and sustained coalition against ISIS that might bring about some determinative victory” (Miller, 2016). THE U.S.’S NATIONAL INTERESTS IN THE REGION:
  4. 4. The Middle East is critically important to rest of the world because of its abundance of natural resources. Oil and gas are two of the main exports from the region. Even though the ‘U.S. crude oil imports are “now only 8.2% of U.S. imports,” many of America’s trading partners in Europe and Asia are dependent on the region for these resources (Cordesman, 2016). Another key interest in the region is Israel. The United States has supported the state of Israel for many decades and will presumably continue for the foreseeable future. Out of any country in the region, Israel receives the most financial support for the United States. Other than financial support, the U.S also provides support for Israel thru “a mix of arms sales, intelligence and security cooperation, and diplomatic support” (Byman, 2016). One of the United States key interests around the world is promoting democracy and liberal principles. The Middle East region is one with few democracies, which is something the United States has tried to change for many decades. The United States also has strong ties with Saudi Arabia, which will be sure to influence the U.S. interests in the region. Anti-Communism “cemented” this relationship because of shared interest in keeping Communism out of the region (Byman, 2016). MY POLICY RECOMMENDATION: I recommend developing a cohesive plan to contain and eventually destroy ISIS with other global and regional powers. Without a consistent global plan, ISIS will continue to wreak havoc in the Middle East. The United States will “need to build a broader coalition that includes the West, Sunni States including Turkey, and also Iran and
  5. 5. Syria” (Ricks, 2015). At some point this coalition must commit combat troops to the region, particularly after ISIS is destroyed so another organization like ISIS cannot be created. The coalition must start by weakening ISIS’ global image and making it look unappealing to any potential new members. Governments around the world must “accept that there is a rational economic basis, which motivates terrorism, and many youths are radicalized by unemployment and despair over their perceived lack of social mobility” (Ricks, 2015). Byman suggests weakening the affiliates “by portraying the core group as out of touch with local grievances,” which can be done by exposing “how ISIS spends its money” (Hillegass, 2016). Targeting its sources of funding will also prove to be useful because without a constant flow of funding, ISIS cannot operate. The coalition will also need to “help Muslim governments learn how to counter the new forms messaging used by groups like ISIS, support the reforms necessary to bring stability, provide aid when it can be a catalyst that will help states help themselves, support the fight against extremism, cooperate in counterterrorism, seek to end the conflicts in the region, and provide humanitarian aid” (Cordesman, 2016). HOW MY POLICY RECOMMENDATION ADVANCES U.S.’S INTERESTS: One of the United States main interests in the region, and the world as a whole, is stability. By containing and eventually destroying ISIS, stability in the region is much more likely. The United States is also very interested in promoting liberal democracies around the world and by defeating ISIS there is more likelihood that democracy could flourish in the region.
  6. 6. HOW OTHER ACTORS ARE LIKELY TO RESPOND: As of right now, there are no states that openly support ISIS, which should mean there will be wide spread support for this coalition. With my policy recommendation, many world and regional powers would participate which may upset countries that choose not to participate. Russia would probably not be willing to join an U.S.-led coalition, which could present problems down the road. However, by avoiding Russian troops in the region and reassuring Russia that the defeat of ISIS will benefit them as well, may help in avoiding any potential conflicts with Russia over the coalition. POTENTIAL RISKS AND DRAWBACKS TO MY RECOMMENDATION: There are a few potential risks and drawbacks to my recommendation as there are with any policy decision. There is a risk for ISIS to strike on American soil. There is also a risk of citizens of Muslim majority countries opposing reforms done by Western countries. History has shown us that when the U.S. intervenes in the region, we are met with anger and hostility. But in the case of ISIS, the region cannot defeat them without U.S. support. There could also be outcry from Americans who are not supportive of putting American boots on the ground. WAYS TO MINIMIZE THOSE RISKS: Despite the risk of ISIS attacking the U.S., “U.S. military and intelligence activity suggests that Washington views it as a serious regional menace but not a group capable of carrying out large-scale international terrorism” (Lynch, 2015). Therefore the risk of ISIS attacking the United States is low enough that it is not a serious threat. Many in the
  7. 7. region want the United States help in defeating ISIS and by including them in the coalition, there should be minimal anger at the U.S. involvement. There will also be only a small amount of American troops sent to fight ISIS because there will be many other countries who will also send troops. WORKS CITED: Byman, Daniel L. "Shifting U.S. Interests in the Middle East." Middle East Politics and Policy. Brookings Institute, 02 Mar. 2016. <http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/markaz/posts/2016/03/02-shifting-us-interests- middle-east-byman>. Cordesman, Anthony H. "Rethinking the Wars Against ISIS and the U.S. Strategy for Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency." Center for Strategic and International Studies. CSIS, 28 Sept. 2015. <http://csis.org/publication/rethinking-wars-against-isis-and-us-strategy-counter- terrorism-and-counter-insurgency>. Cordesman, Anthony H. "The U.S., the West, and Islam: The Real Meaning of ISIS's Expansion into Turkey, Afghanistan, and Indonesia." Center for Strategic and International Studies. CSIS, 15 Jan. 2016. <http://csis.org/publication/us-west- and-islam-real-meaning-isiss-expansion-turkey-afghanistan-and-indonesia>. Cronin, Audrey K. "ISIS Is Not a Terrorist Group." Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs, 14 Jan. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/isis-not-terrorist- group>.
  8. 8. Hillegass, Kathryn. "Exploiting the Inherent Seam in the Islamic State." Georgetown Security Studies Review. Georgetown University, 13 Mar. 2016. <http://georgetownsecuritystudiesreview.org/2016/03/13/exploiting-the-inherent- seam-in-the-islamic-state/>. Hof, Frederic C. "Countering ISIS: Obama Administration Strategy." Atlantic Council. Atlantic Council, 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/countering-isis-obama- administration-strategy>. Lynch III, Thomas F. "The U.S. Military and Countering ISIS." Middle East Institute. MEI, 01 Oct. 2015. <http://www.mei.edu/content/article/us-military-and- countering-isis>. Miller, Aaron D. "The Problem With ISIS." Wilson Center. Wilson Center, 18 Feb. 2016. <https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/the-problem-isis>. Ricks, Thomas E. "Some Thoughts on Countering ISIS: We Need a Coalition Fighting Not Just in Iraq but across Much of the Middle East." Some Thoughts on Countering ISIS We Need a Coalition Fighting Not Just in Iraq but across Much of the Middle East. Foreign Policy, 7 May 2015. <http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/05/07/some-thoughts-on-countering-isis-we-need- a-coalition-fighting-not-just-in-iraq-but-across-much-of-the-middle-east/>.

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