George Petrolekas is on the Board of Directors of the CDA Institute and co-author of the 2013 and 2014 Strategic Outlook for Canada. Mr. Petrolekas served with NATO, in Bosnia, and Afghanistan and as an advisor to senior NATO commanders.
Since August, the United States has been conducting airstrikes in Iraq to stem the advance of ISIS, and a coalition of nations joined the United States air campaign in the months that followed.
Since, more than 600 sorties have occurred, and while the pace of the IS military advances seemed to have been checked, and its mobility restricted, there is no discernible achievement in the goals to destroy the IS in Iraq and degrade it in Syria. The distinction in goals driven by a boundary is part of the problem when IS itself, the ultimate target, straddles parts of both nations.
From the beginning, it was obvious that airpower alone could not defeat the IS.
That has provoked discussions in Washington about the further use of ground troops, but only in possible advisory roles. Trial balloons on expanding the fight to include the toppling of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, new investments in rebuilding the Iraqi Army, and creating a somewhat trustworthy Syrian resistance have been floated. To expand the fight against Mr. Assad is to lose sight of the aim – that being the destruction of the Islamic state.
For some, solving Sunni marginalization in Iraq is the pre-requisite to re-training the Iraqi Army. At this point, the historiography of ISIS, while academically interesting, is a peripheral matter. Whether IS metastasized from the former al-Qaeda in Iraq, or is a result of complex post-colonial Arab divisions, doesn't matter. It's like saying Versailles gave birth to the Nazi's.
It's the Nazi's twin we now face, not the errors of Versailles.
At the concentration camp museum at Dachau, is an image, of a long deep trench being dug by Jews that in short order would become their mass grave. Line upon line of these souls are then walked to the edge of precipice, forced to kneel and wait for an SS officer to come down the line and shoot them in the back of the head, one after another.
The same acts and imagery are being replicated daily; of prisoners cuffed and lined up for slaughter, and elsewhere Christians, Yazidi's, Shias, and Kurds have their homes marked and looted – a first step to their extinction.
The fight against the IS is not about Iraq, nor about Assad's Syria. It is about destroying an evolving state which if it continues to legitimize itself through dominion or conquest will destabilize the Middle East, redrawing boundaries in its wake.
What we consider as inhuman is entirely logical and normal for them. A young teen released from their captivity said "well, they don't just kill without reason; they kill people because they have been proven to be apostates." It's an entirely legal, rational process in their view. Nazi Germany's racial courts would have fit in perfectly in their codified system of beliefs.
To categorize the IS as a terrorist entity is to woefully misunderstand them. The movement and the ideology doesn't seek to disrupt states, it seeks to be the state.
The IS operates as a government, it has ministries and it has regional governors over and above its military wing. It has an organized economic system raking in millions of dollars a day; monies which fund its military ambitions. It is not our intervention that will cause a next generation of hate. Paradoxically it is our non-intervention which will enable schools to function as jihadist incubators and the ISIS's abnormal attraction for foreign fighters that will.
Without attacking the cause however, there will be no end to refugees, no end to wounded, no end to the enslaved and no end to the raped. No end to human suffering and no end to the displaced.
The Obama plan was not a strategy, it was a proposal in development depending on a menu of ill-defined options: That the Iraqi Army might finally show some spine or other Arab States would contribute a ground force; an absurd suggestion that a year from now opposition fighters from Syria – after being somehow vetted to ensure their moderation – and trained in Turkey would be reintroduced into Syria.
That is not a strategy designed to deliver victory and, thus, for the moment, we are bombing for limited objectives with no end in sight. It is entirely disjointed. Half the coalition will only strike in Iraq, respecting boundaries that exist only in international legal geography, with only the U.S and Gulf state members attacking IS targets in Syria. Canada should not make that distinction and consider accepting targets in Syrian territory.
Striking the IS in eastern and northern Syria is in no way expanding the fight against Assad as that regime does not exercise any form of sovereignty there.
The President insists on no U.S. troops in combat roles, (as do all other Western leaders) while his top mililtary commander has difficulty seeing how the Iraqi Army, even with training, could take Mosul on its own. Even with the most optimistic outcome in Iraq that only takes care of half the problem. There are other considerations to bear in mind too.
Kobani, the city that has been under siege since mid-Sep, is still being contested despite U.S. airstrikes supporting Kurds defending what is left of the city. If Kobani, once a city of 50,000 inhabitants has required over two and half months to defeat IS fighters, imagine how long Mosul, and Raqqah might take.
Canada is playing a part in this coalition, but as a consumer of other nation's strategy, rather than a producer of strategy, Canada choices are limited to what, where, when and how it will participate.
The fight against the IS is necessary, but in February, 2015, when one month is left in the six month parliamentary authorization, Canada should carefully gauge if the air campaign is working and determine if the incomplete elements of the Obama strategy – the rehabilitation of the Iraqi Army or the emergence of a credible ground force to tackle the IS in Syria and Iraq – is in the offing.
If not, we should then bring our fighters back home.