U.S. Must Anticipate Game Changers in Fight Against Islamic State

U.S. Must Anticipate Game Changers in Fight Against Islamic State
Fighters of the Islamic State waving the group's flag from a damaged display of a government fighter jet following the battle for the Tabqa air base, Raqqa, Syria, photo post Aug. 27, 2014 (AP photo/ Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group).

President Barack Obama has set his course for the U.S. conflict with the so-called Islamic State (IS). The deep roots of the extremist organization, the chaotic conditions in Iraq and Syria, and Obama’s determination to limit American involvement will make this a long slog. Months, even years will pass with few demonstrable gains. Whoever moves into the White House after Obama will inherit the crisis. Over time, though, the situation will undergo major shifts, each forcing the United States to re-examine its strategy. To be ready to exploit opportunities and avoid risks, American leaders must anticipate what the big “game changers” in the conflict may be and what they may mean.

At this point there seems to be five plausible game changers: a significant shift in U.S. domestic attitudes toward military interventions; a terrorist attack inside the U.S.; the collapse of the Iraqi government; the consolidation of IS into a functional political movement; or a major outside crisis that draws U.S. attention away from the Middle East.

The first two of these would drive the U.S. toward a more aggressive stance involving more direct action, potentially including the involvement of American troops in combat. For example, there might be a major shift in domestic U.S. politics, particularly within the Republican Party. Today the GOP is deeply divided on national security. One group—commonly called “neoconservatives” even though the label is not entirely accurate—is the heir of the Reagan approach based on active global leadership bolstered by a strong defense. They have been highly critical of Obama's lack of assertiveness and hesitancy to use military force. The other Republican faction combines libertarians, traditional advocates of “small government” and the Tea Party movement. This group favors some degree of strategic retrenchment and a diminished commitment to the security of other nations to allow cutting the defense budget. The Democratic Party has its own equivalent divisions between liberal interventionists and anti-militarists.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review