ISIS Starting to Look Like a Real Government

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Stephen Walt is growing pessimistic about our current limited effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS:

He added that now, after almost a year of American airstrikes on the group, it is becoming clear that “only a large-scale foreign intervention is likely to roll back and ultimately eliminate the Islamic State.”

….This is mostly because many Sunnis in both countries who live under the group see no viable alternative, especially not in a return to rule by the governments of Syria and Iraq. Sunnis in Iraq remain broadly hostile to the Shiite-controlled central government. As for Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has presided over a civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people and basically dislocated half the population.

In other words, ISIS may be brutal, but at least they’re not corrupt. “You can travel from Raqqa to Mosul and no one will dare to stop you even if you carry $1 million,” said one resident. “No one would dare to take even one dollar.”

Sadly, in the Middle East that counts for a lot. If, in the end, the Shiite troops of Iraq simply don’t care enough about the Sunni areas to risk their lives getting it back, and if the Sunnis who live under ISIS actively prefer brutal Sunni rule to the corrupt Shiite rule of Baghdad, then ISIS wins. Unless, of course, we undertake Walt’s “large-scale foreign intervention.”

And obviously there’s only one country that can do that. Right now, everyone thinks the Iran treaty is going to be the big foreign policy issue of next year’s election. Maybe. But I think interest will fade after it’s a done deal. Instead, ISIS will probably dominate the conversation, and Republicans will have to put up or shut up. If President Obama’s limited strategy of training and airstrikes isn’t working, are they willing to commit to a large-scale intervention using ground troops? That’s likely to be the big foreign policy issue of the election.

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