Longstanding weaknesses in the United States' four decades-old Middle East strategy mean new options are needed to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria; stabilize the Middle East and re-establish a sense of domestic security in the U.S. and Europe, according to a new report by RAND Corporation, the American global policy think tank based in California.
The report recommends the U.S. undertake a bottom-up review of its counter-ISIS strategy and offers three options for a strategic design.
It believes success against ISIS can best be achieved by removing the political, social and physical space ISIS needs to survive. This will, however, entail a long-term commitment, including the establishment of legitimate governance in Iraq and Syria. The latter is a complex problem for which there is little hope of immediate resolution.
"Any new strategy that fails to pursue long-term resolution of root cause issues will have to recognize the likelihood of continuing instability; the periodic recurrence of destabilizing, large-scale social violence and the continual reemergence of international terror groups like ISIS," said Ben Connable, lead author of the report and a senior international policy analyst at RAND.
Each of the options represents a broad strategic approach to defeating ISIS.
One option -- continuous counter-terror -- focuses on containing and suppressing ISIS while accepting ongoing instability in Iraq and Syria.
Another -- practical stability -- seeks to reestablish the pre-Arab Spring order in Iraq and Syria, building stable states at the probable expense of democracy and human rights.
The report, however, recommends a third option -- legitimated stability.
This approach pursues a long-term strategy that seeks to address the root causes of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. It seeks to reconcile disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations with their governments, thereby removing the conditions that allowed ISIS to emerge and thrive.
Other alternatives that fail to address root cause issues are likely to condemn the United States and its allies to continual crisis and unpredictable and unending reinvestment of resources, with little gain in security or reduction of international terror.