ISIS may have a point. Yeah, I know how that sounds. But hear me out.
One of ISIS’s main positions is their opposition to the Sykes-Picot borders imposed upon Middle Eastern states (or their colonial predecessors) after World War I. This is a case of a broken clock being right twice a day- although it can’t be proven (as it never happened), it’s almost certain that a Middle East in which borders are based on ethnic groups, rather than the jumbled mess that they are today, would be a significantly more stable area. The effect of ethnic fragmentation on political stability and development has been studied for years, and besides, it’s intuitive enough. It’s not difficult to imagine that nations sharing a common culture, language and goals would benefit from greater stability. Moreover, popular opposition to the Sykes-Picot borders among Middle Easterners spreads far beyond ISIS- in fact, it’s pretty much the one thing ISIS and the Kurds agree on.
ISIS is a result of political instability in the Middle East- in a world without Sykes-Picot, there probably would never been an ISIS. Interestingly, ISIS’s proposed solution would only exacerbate the current instability- hey, let’s take a bunch of fragmented countries, dissolve the borders and cram even more incompatible groups of people together. And while we’re at it, let’s impose a social code which no more than a tiny minority of the people living there agree with! Not to get all internet about it, but this theory brings to mind another historical figure.*
In an ideal world, the US would not need to intervene in Iraq. But that seems to be happening anyway, and they may as well try to do it “well.” The US seems to underestimate both popular opposition to the Sykes-Picot borders and the benefit that they could glean from using that opposition. An air campaign against a decentralized force such as ISIS requires the outlay of literally millions of dollars while targeting no more than a handful of ISIS fighters at a time. This is not a strategy. It is, at best, a stopgap. As we only really have the vaguest idea of what ISIS is and how it operates, we don’t have the option of targeting its leaders or its central organization. The best we can do is stop them from getting in and out of Syria and Iraq, to keep them out of cities and towns, and to thwart their progress by literally limiting their movement. Needless to say, these restrictions can only be applied on the ground.
Hypothetically, this situation leaves the US the option of collaborating with Iran (for which Obama will never be forgiven) or starting another ground invasion (for which Obama will never be forgiven, albeit by different people, myself included.)
Or does it? What if we used, say, a handful of elite troops from various Western nations to train individual groups of Kurdish, Shia, Sunni, Assyrian, Yazidi, Shabak, etc., fighters. These people are the natural enemies of ISIS and for once, the West could use the expertise of people who have been living in these areas for years. And, rather than using Western soldiers who are fighting for no more than a paycheck, healthcare and maybe a shot at college, these fighters would be fighting for their own nations- their land, their people, where they have lived, loved, worked and died for hundreds of years. There is too much at stake here to entrust it to robots or mercenaries.
* This is hyperbole, and, with a bit of luck, it will stay that way.