Small Wars Journal

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

Competing Visions for Syria and Iraq: The Myth of an Anti-ISIS Grand Coalition - The Institute for the Study of War

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute conducted an intensive multi-week planning 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. ISW and CTP will publish the findings of this exercise in multiple reports. The first report examined America’s global grand strategic objectives as they relate to the threat from ISIS and al Qaeda.[1] This second report defines American strategic objectives in Iraq and Syria, identify the minimum necessary conditions for ending the conflicts there, and compare U.S. objectives with those of Iran, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in order to understand actual convergences and divergences. The differences mean that the U.S. cannot rely heavily on international partners to achieve its objectives. 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…

Read the second report.


This is unintentional comedy. Summarized in a sentence, anything that threatens U.S. dominance in world affairs is characterized as an existential threat to the U.S. Every major event counter to U.S. interests is highlighted as a "symptom of the collapsing world order": failure of the Arab Spring revolutions to produce enduring democratic governments (no credit to a history of authoritarian or despotic governments in said countries), ISIS taking advantage of weak governments and internal conflict to establish a proto-state on Syrian and Iraqi territory (*that's* never happened before....), Russia annexing choice parts of Ukraine, Iran flexing military muscle in the Strait of Hormuz, China doing likewise in the South China Sea, North Korea defying the world and testing both missiles and nuclear weapons at will...lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

The second report is just as entertaining. Basically, the U.S. must eradicate the radical Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq, and bend all other parties to her will, even in the face of active opposition from those same parties. Somehow, this can happen without "prejudging" military commitment -- the third installment will tell us how. (Traditionally, that sort of cooperation, if not coerced, is bought -- going to be expensive either way.)

Mind, none of these events align with American interests, nor those of her allies or the West at large, but there's a long way from regional civil wars and countries exercising what they see as their interests, and an existential threat to the U.S. And the most welcome strategic debate ought to at least include an examination of where the cost of getting everything our own way becomes detrimental to our interests.