January 20, 2016

U.S. Grand Strategy: Destroying ISIS and al Qaeda

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute conducted an intensive multi-week exercise to frame, design, and evaluate potential courses of action that the United States could pursue to defeat the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria. The planning group weighed the national security interests of the United States, its partners, its rivals, and its enemies operating in or influencing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. It considered how current policies and interests are interacting in this complex environment. It identified the minimum endstates that would satisfy American national security requirements as well as the likely outcomes of current policies. The group also assessed the threat posed by al Qaeda and ISIS to the United States, both in the immediate and long term, and tested the probable outcomes of several potential courses of action that the United States could pursue in Iraq and Syria.

ISW and CTP will publish the findings of this exercise in multiple reports. This first report examines America’s global grand strategic objectives as they relate to the threat from ISIS and al Qaeda. It considers the nature of those enemy groups in depth and in their global context. The second report defines American strategic objectives in Iraq and Syria, along with those of Iran, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and articulates the minimum required conditions of military-political resolutions to conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Subsequent reports will provide a detailed assessment of the situation on the ground in Syria and present the planning group’s evaluation of several courses of action.


1. Al Qaeda and ISIS: Existential Threats to the U.S. and Europe

2. Competing Visions for Syria and Iraq: The Myth of an Anti-ISIS Grand Coalition

3. Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS: Sources of Strength

4. America's Way Ahead in Syria