NYT Op-Ed: Don’t Defeat ISIS

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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It’s not as bad as it sounds: Remedying the conditions that caused ISIS are as important as its defeat.

Despite formerly holding a national security adviser post in Obama’s White House, Ramzy Mardini of the Atlantic Council leveled a stark warning on the administration’s pursuit of defeating ISIS in a recent op-ed for The New York Times.

“In parts of Iraq recaptured from the militants where I’ve traveled, signs of any central authority are nonexistent,” writes Mardini. “Instead, what has emerged from the conflict is a complex patchwork of ethnic, tribal and religious militias that claim fief over particular territories.”

The conditions for maintaining governance and preventing the rise of another ISIS-like element, or worse yet, elements, are simply not set yet, Mardini argues.

Mardini’s editorial comes as the U.S. backed Iraqi Security Forces complete the final stages of preparation for the assault on Mosul. ISIS seized the city of Mosul in 2014, shocking the world, and preempting an increase in the U.S. role in Iraq.

Since then, the U.S. has focused on building up the gutted Iraqi Security Forces, and has made taking territory back from the terrorist group its number one priority. Mardini’s op-ed highlights the underlying themes that gave rise to ISIS in the first place, and criticizes the administration for “wrongly prioritized the narrow, short-term military objective of defeating the Islamic State.”

“The strategy of containing ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been successful, taking territory from the group has been successful, making the group less dangerous has not been successful,” Nick Heras, Bacevich fellow at the Center for a New American Security, previously told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

After President Barack Obama withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, the Shiite led government pursued sectarian policies that severely divided the country. These policies isolated minority groups in Iraq, that fragmented any confidence of the Iraqi populace in the Baghdad led government.

Years later, the legacy of this fragmentation and the rise of ISIS has led to what Mardini calls “a complex patchwork of ethnic, tribal and religious militias that claim fief over particular territories.” These developments lead Mardini to conclude “the Baghdad government’s writ does not apply in most of Iraq.”

Focusing on territory shows a misunderstanding of the threat ISIS poses, director of the Critical Threats Project at AEI, Dr. Frederick Kagan, told TheDCNF earlier. Kagan explained that ISIS began as a highly effective terrorist organization in Iraq and can quite easily morph from a quasi-state back to its original form. “It’s as if we’ve decided by taking territory back, they won’t be terrorists anymore,” Kagan said.

Retired Army Gen. David Petreaus also parroted Mardini’s thinking in August, saying failure to stabilize post-ISIS Iraq could lead to the rise of another version of ISIS.  “The challenge of Mosul and Nineveh is the considerable number of ethnic groups, religious sects, tribes and other elements that make up the province.”

Ultimately, Petraeus warns the biggest challenge in Iraq is not the defeat of ISIS, but is “to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people.”

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