The War on ISIS: 6 Issues to Ponder Before Escalating the Fight


The National Interest - November 25, 2015

Shai Feldman is the Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and is a member of the Board of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The recent attacks in Paris have spurred a flood of demands to escalate the fight against ISIS. Now that the initial shock is over, it is time to explore in greater detail what such efforts should look like if their results are not to prove worse than the threat that ISIS currently poses. The following is an attempt to sketch a number of questions that should be pondered before a decision to further escalate the war is taken.

First, do the western potential partners to a “coalition of the willing” to defeat ISIS have the stomach for this fight? An effective war on ISIS requires capabilities and determination. Capabilities include both material resources and creativity in using them: high quality tactical and operational intelligence and planning as well as strategic thinking and the capacity to execute effectively the conclusions of such thinking. The defense communities of western countries are not lacking such capabilities. But do leaders and publics in the west have the determination to sustain the human and material costs of such a war?

When fighting is confined to the use of air power to bomb targets from high altitudes in order to reduce the risk that an airman will be captured by ISIS – no matter that the likelihood of killing innocent civilians is far greater when bombs are dropped from such heights – what does this tell us about the will to take on ISIS?... Read the Full Text