Voice of America quotes Brent Scowcroft Center Resident Senior Fellow for Middle East Security Bilal Y. Saab and Rafik Hariri Center Resident Fellow Faysal Itani on the US strategy for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and why a broad coalition is needed to adequately combat the threat:

“There has been some confusion on the part of this administration in terms of what the real objective is,” said Bilal Y. Saab, an expert on Middle East security at the Atlantic Council.  

“When we talk about defeat, ultimately we really want to talk about defeat of the ideology.  So it’s beyond the movement of ISIS itself,” Saab said. 

That, he said, will require fixing the broken political systems in Iraq and Syria and providing opportunities for disenfranchised youth.

“These things need a lot of time,” he said. “But you really can’t stay on the sidelines and wait for them to materialize because the enemy, meanwhile, will grow, adapt and acquire new capabilities. And that’s exactly what you want to try to prevent.”

In the interim, he believes the U.S. should continue airstrikes to disrupt IS and keep it on the run.

“Essentially, what Washington is trying to do right now is buy itself some really precious time so that the politics get fixed or at least put on the right track,” he said.


The Atlantic Council’s Faysal Itani does not see Gulf countries participating militarily in Syria and Iraq.

“Where they have strength or an advantage is in their resources, their financial clout, and in the fact that there has been quite an extensive intelligence outreach between the Saudi and the Qatari security agencies and many of the fighting groups active in Iraq and Syria,” he said.

One other neighbor stands to play a key role in the fight against Islamists in Iraq and Syria:  Iran, which has been blamed not only for fueling Iraq’s civil strife through its support of the Maliki government and, more broadly, for driving the Shia-Sunni divide that has destabilized the entire Middle East.

“What many, if not most, analysts don’t know is that Iran and the United States tacitly cooperated in their fight against Al Qaida in Iraq in the past and they are doing the same today with ISIS,” said Atlantic Council’s Saab. 

“Is there a risk of the United States being perceived as siding with the Shiites? Absolutely,” Saab said.  “But should policy be at the mercy of perception? Absolutely not.”

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