To Deter Islamic State, U.S. Must Discard Powell Doctrine

To Deter Islamic State, U.S. Must Discard Powell Doctrine
A U.S. Marine fighter jet aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, Sept. 10, 2015 (AP photo by Marko Drobnjakovic).

The conflict between the self-declared Islamic State and the civilized world has taken a chilling turn. While the extremists continue to fight both the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and the government of Iraq, they now have also demonstrated a deadly commitment to transnational terrorism. In the past several weeks, the Islamic State has claimed credit for bombings in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Lebanon as well as for downing a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai. It apparently orchestrated Friday’s complex terrorist attack in Paris, attempted ones in Belgium and Germany, and has threatened to unleash terrorism in the United States. Clearly one phase of the conflict with the Islamic State has given way to a new one.

Unsurprisingly, the Islamic State’s turn to transnational terrorism has fueled intense debate over the appropriate U.S. response. It certainly has given new intensity to what might be called the “war” position. Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney captured the thinking of this camp when he wrote, “Now is the time, not merely to contain the Islamic State, but to eradicate it once and for all.” The implication is that the United States must do whatever it takes to destroy the group.

On the other side of the debate, President Barack Obama has indicated that he might consider “intensification” of U.S. airstrikes and support to local forces fighting the Islamic State, but will not effect a major change in course. “We have the right strategy,” he said, “and we’re seeing it through.”

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