What Should the U.S. Do About ISIL?

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Before joining the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Associate Professor Margaret E. Kosal served as science and technology advisor within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In 2014, she took leave to serve as an advisor to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army as part of his inaugural Strategic Studies Group. She comments in the aftermath of the ISIL attack in Paris:

In October 2014, the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired U.S. Marine Corps General James “Hoss” Cartwright, spoke on campus. When asked about ISIL and what it would take to deal with the instability and the forces driving radical Islamism in the Middle East, he responded “think 50 to 100 years.” It will take that much time to address the underlying political, social, historical, and economic drivers across the Middle East and North Africa. The rise of ISIL, which is increasingly being referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh, is a reactive political and theological backlash to modernity and to regional politics that are largely beyond the United States and Europe.

The U.S. has a role in the region in relation to our allies and to global security, nonetheless, especially in an age of increasing global connectivity and movement. Since August 2014, the U.S. strategy against Daesh has looked like one of containment and degradation through air strikes. The U.S.-led military coalition has conducted over 8,000 airstrikes. Daesh is not able to come anywhere close to matching U.S. military capabilities and has resorted to asymmetric tactics to have an impact and to terrorize civilians.

In response to the attacks by Daesh on Paris and Beirut and to the downing of a Russian airliner, 60% of Americans want the U.S. to do more to combat the insurgent group. At the same time, 76% oppose deploying conventional ground troops. That disconnect highlights the challenges of domestic politics for U.S. foreign policy. Furthermore, the military ─ and those operations would fall primarily on ground troops and due to numbers and capabilities, would fall primarily on the U.S. Army, whether Special Operations Forces [SOF] or conventional troops ─ can’t do it all. It’s also not a game of ‘point the finger’ at the State Department, who has fewer numbers, smaller budgets, and less capacity.

The U.S. and our allies need to balance short-term goals and actions with the need for long term strategy. This administration and subsequent ones will also have to convince the U.S. public that those actions are worth taking.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Rachel Miles
  • Created:11/18/2015
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016


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