After the 9/11/2001 attacks al-Qaeda became our terrorist enemy. Today it is ISIS. If the pattern continues and we are able to weaken ISIS as we have al-Qaeda, another terrorist group will rise like “whack a mole” to take its place.
What must occur, according to a Dec. 15, 2015, Stratfor article, “Why the U.S. Cannot Leave the Middle East,” is that the U.S. government must come up with a strategy that is both “effective and sustainable.” Unless some rebalancing is done, the Middle Eastern crisis will continue to disrupt and destabilize both the European Union and the United States.
The U.S. has neither the resources nor public support to sustain long-term wars like we have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. Those wars raised our national debt, cost thousands of American lives and resulted in millions of deaths and injuries to the native populations in what has come to be called “collateral damage.”
Massive immigrant migrations are flowing out of the Middle East partly as a result of our invasion and then withdrawal from Iraq. These mass movements have increased pressure on the very structure and existence of the European community.
The fear and uncertainty engendered by Syrian and Iraqi exiles, coupled with terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, have pushed a portion of this nation into intolerance of Muslims and of immigrants. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has increased his popularity due to his highlighting of these fears.
Differences of opinion over immigration have contributed to the polarized divide between liberals and conservatives in this country. Additionally, the old structures of the Middle East created during and after World War I are crumbling, forging new forces and movements rising from its ruins.
Radical Islamist groups have found a place in the power vacuum created by the massive changes to old boundaries. Regional powers are becoming more involved. Power struggles for dominance are emerging between Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council. These nations are being forced to act because the U.S. is withdrawing from deep involvement in the region due to the high costs and U.S. public fatigue.
Parts of Syria and Iraq have been reshaped into ISIS. The civil war in Syria has created the Alawite (a Shia sect supported by Bashar al-Assad) rump along the coast. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council are fighting pro-Iranian Houthi forces in chaotic Yemen as well as ISIS to the north.
The United States, according to Stratfor, must reconsider its new strategy in the region. A new balance must be forged because terrorism is not going away for the foreseeable future. We must create a strategy that continues to get our regional allies to shoulder more of the burden and, at the same time, and in the right proportion, use Special Forces to tip the balance against radical Islam.
What the U.S. should do is to find a way to live in the tension between withdrawal and invasion. Neither extreme will protect us from terrorist attacks. The current U.S. strategy against IS has had some successes, but at a high cost. President Obama has also reversed his policy of complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. This change in direction comes as a result of the rise of IS in Iraq and Syria.
According to Stratfor, that cost is better and less expensive than reengagement with a massive military footprint.
What is certain is that the turmoil emanating from the Middle East will continue to roil the European Union and affect the U.S. during our election cycle and beyond. What is also certain is that the U.S. will continue to be involved in the Middle East long-term. A strategy must be developed that strikes a balance between invasion and withdrawal. At the same time we must develop a parallel strategy of balancing openness to immigration and concern for terrorist attacks in this country.
Expect 2016 to be tumultuous.