In a couple of months, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States of America. There are many thoughts to consider and sort out regarding the new president-elect, but perhaps one of the most important is regarding foreign affairs—the domain of control the president can act most completely over. There is cause for concern that this might entail the more muscular foreign policy Trump has himself espoused, which would likely mean fighting ISIS with American troops in the Middle East.
There is an undeniable need to defeat ISIS extremists, and there is little doubt by most military commanders in the theater that they will be defeated, but patience does not appear to be a Trump virtue. He has publicly declared a plan to “defeat” IS within 30 days of getting elected.
Currently, ISIS is being rolled back by Turkish-backed rebels, and Kurdish militias are 17 km from their capital of Raqqa. However, insurgent tactics and a complete disregard for civilian life makes progress against IS slow going, and it will not likely be complete by the time Trump takes office.
To understand why American intervention in Iraq would undermine our interests there, it is necessary to understand why ISIS should have never existed in the first place. It is understandable that a power vacuum in Syria would be fertile grounds for a successful insurgency like Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but a full-blown caliphate only came about after Iraqi security forces were embarrassingly routed from the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest and home to over 2 million people, by their ragtag army.
Of course, during the self-aggrandizing and recruiting, no mention had been given to the corrupt and demoralized state of the Iraqi army and police, who fled from battle in many cases. The country has come very far since ISIS was bearing down on Baghdad, evolving from an ineffective paper army. Now, Iraqi forces are fighting to reclaim Mosul, and Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has been making sure that it is Iraqis on the ground fighting.
He has threatened Turkey for crossing into Iraq, refused US Apaches and ground troops, kept Iranian-backed militias at arm’s length, and has prompted a war on corruption within the Iraqi government. What is currently going on in Iraq is important for more than just the short term goal of killing off the Islamic State, it is important for preventing a “next time”. It is a rebuilding of trust in the viability of the Iraqi security forces, giving important firsthand experience combatting insurgents to Iraqi forces.
It is a moment that carries with it national pride and purpose, testing the resolve of the Iraqi people against an enemy with no respect for life. Success will come in part from military success, but the rest will come in the form of political reform, the impetus for which has never been higher; the stakes involved are on full display.
US intervention in Iraq would cheapen the victory over ISIS, and reinforce the idea that Iraq is a helpless state, unable to fight its own battles. Airstrikes might come across as a prop-up, but it is Iraqis who are on the ground, fighting and dying for their country. If the testimony of families liberated are any indication of popular opinion, Sunni Iraqis are galvanized against a common enemy as well. A secure Iraqi state would contain the territorial spread of ISIS outside Syria, and rebels within the country.
As for Syria, there is no winning, only damage mitigation. Let Russia become Al-Qaeda’s new favorite target, let the world witness the true face of Vladimir Putin, and let Assad gloat over every inch of the rubble and ash reclaimed. Taking on the task of rebuilding a whole new state from dust is not worth the moral compass that will soon be lost in the smoke of the chemical fire that is Syria, nor the American lives and money that would be lost in the process. Though Trump has abandoned many of his campaign keystones, the possibility of intervention still looms large, and the stakes of navigating the minefield of the Middle East have never been higher.
Austin Georgiades is a contributor for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.