The Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter asks if the U.S. is prepared to stay involved in a multi-decade regional Middle East power struggle.
U.S. and Western officials like to portray the campaign to defeat ISIS as a struggle between the civilized world and a monstrous terrorist organization. As with most wartime narratives throughout history, that portrayal greatly oversimplifies matters. The war against ISIS actually involves numerous factions, each with its own policy agenda. The American people need to grasp the extent of the complexity, lest the United States drift into an endless war with no coherent, attainable objective. Admonitions from U.S. military and political leaders that the anti-ISIS mission will be a very long one—perhaps lasting three decades or more—should sound alarm bells about the likelihood of policy drift.
An especially important factor is the need to understand the number of players in this conflict and their conflicting agendas. Washington’s attempt to assemble a broad international coalition against ISIS largely ignores that factor—which could be a fatal blunder. In addition to the United States and its European allies, there are at least five major factions involved in the turmoil afflicting Iraq and Syria.