U.S. has supporting, rather than leading, role in battling ISIS [Commentary]

Any success in minimizing the threat of ISIS hinges on democracy in Syria and whether Iraq has trust and confidence in its leadership

September 11, 2014|By Zainab Chaudry

Last night, in a televised address to the nation, President Barack Obama outlined his administration's strategy for battling the terrorist group ISIS. While I support and even welcome part of his remarks — such as his firm distancing of ISIS from the true tenets of Islam, his admission that the majority of ISIS' victims have been other Muslims and his commitment of U.S. support for Syrian rebels fighting Bashar Assad's regime — there are some issues that cause concern.

We must acknowledge that ISIS is born partly as a result of extensive destabilization in the region caused by America's and Britain's 2003 invasion of Iraq in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist group also originates, to some degree, from global inaction in response to the three-year-long civil war in Syria that has thus far claimed more than 200,000 lives and forced millions of refugees into neighboring countries.

The self-congratulatory tone of President Obama's remarks regarding success in eliminating terrorist threats in Pakistan and Yemen contrasts sharply with his omission that these victories were largely due to U.S. drone strikes that also targeted and killed scores of innocent civilians — including women and children shrugged off as collateral damage.

Not only are these casualties unconscionable, they also increase anti-American sentiment abroad and are leveraged by adversaries to justify further attacks on Americans and U.S. interests. We must seek full transparency in the expanded airstrikes and stepped up military campaign against ISIS that President Obama highlighted last night as part of his multi-faceted strategy. American forces cannot indiscriminately target innocent civilians as they have done in Pakistan and Yemen.

A significant source for strife and sectarian violence in the region is that many religious and ethnic groups in Iraq feel that they are not adequately represented by the Iraqi parliament. Announcing the establishment of a new government in Iraq brings promise, but also great responsibility. Newly appointed Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and the broad coalition that President Obama referred to multiple times throughout his remarks (but did not share specifics on), must include key representation of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds in order for it to be successful and effective.

President Obama also announced that 450 additional non-combat American troops will be deployed to the region to train and provide support to fortify the new government and military. He stressed this is not a "boots on the ground" operation. Although efforts to eliminate the global threat ISIS poses will not be a short-term operation, the Obama administration must lay out a firm timeline with clear goals and concise deadlines. We must not again be indefinitely drawn into a prolonged conflict in the region.

Ultimately, the United States has a supportive role rather than a lead role in resolving this conflict. Any success in minimizing and eliminating the threat of ISIS largely lies in the ability of moderate Syrian rebels to gain power in Syria and secure democracy, and in the ability of the Iraqi government — with the assistance and support of allies — to establish trust and confidence in its leadership.

Zainab Chaudry is a Maryland native. She is the the Maryland Outreach Manager for the Council on American Islamic Ralations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. Her email is zchaudry@cair.com.

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