The “Pitiless” War: A Strategy After the Paris Attacks
On November 23, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Ambassador James Jeffrey, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, Matthew Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and Derek Chollet, counselor and senior advisor for security and defense policy at GMF, for a discussion on a strategy the United States and its allies should take to respond to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the increasing threat posed by ISIS. Reuters Foreign Policy Correspondent Arshad Mohammed moderated the discussion.
Jeffrey, currently the Philip Solondz distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, began the discussion by outlining the need for American ground forces to counter the major ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. With the U.S. possessing “total air superiority,” he believes two brigades, roughly 10,000 troops, based out of Turkey and Kurdistan would be necessary in any eventual ground war. In Jeffrey’s opinion, deploying meaningful American ground forces would serve as a “mark of commitment” and would send a signal to the many partners in the region that the United States is serious about this battle. Drawing on Jeffrey’s comments, Chollet, the former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, stated that we must ask ourselves what degree of risk the U.S. is willing to take, especially in terms of potential civilian casualties and unsavory partners that may be enlisted in this fight. Chollet warned against a reactionary response to Paris similar to 9/11, stating any proposed effort must be “sustainable over the long term.” Echoing this sentiment, Olsen warned of the danger of overreacting given the political season. In terms of what he would prescribe to counter ISIS, Olsen recommended that the U.S. improve our European partners’ ability to share intelligence. Olsen also emphasized that the gathering of this intelligence must “strike the right balance with civil liberties.”
— Kristina Wong (@kristina_wong) November 23, 2015
Shifting the focus to the upcoming visits to Washington and Moscow by French President Hollande, Jeffrey noted, “Russia’s military capabilities in the region are not even 1/10 of America’s” capabilities, and their tactics differ from ours in that they are “ruthlessly carpet-bombing” targets across Syria. In response to the Paris attacks, Jeffrey indicated that the U.S. provided France with the intelligence they needed to take out electricity and water infrastructure around Raqqa. With regard to the burgeoning anti-ISIS coalition, Chollet reminded the audience that each actor in this struggle has a different perspective of the conflict; most notably that Putin believes Assad is part of the solution and rather than the problem.
The discussion then moved to the role the Turkish border plays in this regional crisis. Jeffrey stated that, in his view, Turkey must confront three main security issues: ISIS, the Kurds, and a Russia and Iran-aligned Assad. Commenting on their military intentions, Jeffrey believes Turkey desires a no-fly zone and wants to be counted on to deliver if the United States becomes serious about taking on Assad. In response, Chollet stated there is a fear in Ankara the Kurds would be the ones to liberate the border region.
When discussing possible strategies to confront ISIS extremism in Europe and the U.S., Olsen believes the common thread between these terrorists is alienation rather than geography. When considering how you can craft an effective policy, Olsen believes it will require a long-term strategy to counter the message ISIS distributes. And in his view, Europe’s problem with ISIS-influenced radicalization is far more profound than in the United States.
"As long as Russia & rest of world have different views on Assad, I see very limited possibility for Russia to be part of solution" @gmfus
— Daniel Ibanez (@dnl340) November 23, 2015
Discussing President Obama’s evolving strategy to counter ISIS and Assad in his remaining fourteen months, Chollet believes there is a desire within the administration to intensify the current effort. In his view, Obama was greatly influenced by the unsustainable situations he inherited in 2009 and is determined not to leave his successor in a similar situation.
Related reading: Were West's assumptions about Islamic State wrong?