March 14, 2017
A New Strategy Against ISIS and al Qaeda
The Trump administration is set to supersize President Obama’s strategy to defeat Islamic State, sending more American forces to the region and lifting restraints on direct participation in combat and when to use armed force. Yet any victory under the current approach will be ephemeral. Even if American proxies, backed by U.S. military forces, wrest Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, away from ISIS, success will be fleeting.
The most important error is the near-exclusive focus on Islamic State at the expense of serious efforts against al Qaeda. Destroying ISIS is necessary but not sufficient. As the Obama administration turned its attention toward ISIS, al Qaeda learned from its failures. It has temporarily deprioritized spectacular attacks on the global stage and focused on embedding itself within Sunni communities in Syria, Yemen, North Africa and elsewhere to develop long-term strength and resilience.
Al Qaeda also has become more cautious in imposing its radical version of Shariah. It now indoctrinates populations over years rather than forcing immediate compliance with strict Islamic law. It does not demand that fighters place themselves formally and publicly under its command. Its affiliates in Syria do not even insist that local groups accept its ideology as long as they fight common foes. Al Qaeda today introduces its beliefs slowly and carefully, and the false message that it is more moderate than ISIS resonates around the world.
For more information, read the related report.