There are parallels between international Jihadism based in ISIS and international Communism based in the USSR. Like Communism, Jihadism appeals the young, to the idealistic, to men and women all over the planet who believe that Western Capitalism is evil. There was once a romance associated with Communism, as there is now with the notion of a fundamentalist Muslim caliphate. In some ways, the current out-migration of young idealists to Syria is similar to the movement of young idealists to Spain in 1937.
International Communism supported by the USSR was the foreign policy challenge we faced at the end of the Second World War. Our approach was first suggested by George F. Kennan in 1946 – “containment”. Kennan counseled that the best way to deal with a belligerent Soviet Union and international Communism was to arm allies on the periphery of the USSR’s empire, to operate through clandestine means in countries that were likely to ally with the USSR, to oppose the USSR on every diplomatic front, to invest in propaganda. But, direct military engagement by the American military – war – was to be avoided as counter-productive.
The question is whether containment would work against ISIS. I think it would. In fact, I’m guessing that the State Department has already sold the policy to the Obama Administration. I am convinced that wiser heads have already understood the perils of a direct American invasion. Any talk of such is mere sabre rattling. It would be incredibly stupid, as was G.W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.
There is nothing to be gained by “eliminating” the country calling itself ISIS. As opposed to an amorphous international entity like Al Qaeda, ISIS wants to be considered a country with a geographic identity and the rights of sovereignty – a much easier foe to confront than a shadowy, underground movement. Nor do they pose anything like a real threat to the USA, certainly far less than the awesome Red Army, the KGB, the GRU, and Soviet ICBMs.
Our Middle East policy has already changed from a singular focus on the defense of Israel, a stance that has been troublesome since 1948, to supporting the countries surrounding ISIS in their need to contain the threat. I have little doubt that there are some in the State Department who see strategic advantages to ISIS’s cancerous presence.The longer ISIS exists to threaten its neighbors, they less their neighbors will be concerned about Israel, the USA, and the influence of Western capital. ISIS’s belligerence will preoccupy the Turks and Saudis and Gulf Arabs and Iranians and Jordanians and Kurds and Israelis and Lebanese and “Syraqis” and Egyptians for at least a generation.
I am prepared for another version of the Cold War, perhaps spanning generations, between the USA and ISIS.