Juan Cole argues that containment is the superior strategy for answering the challenge posed by ISIS, noting that “the most effective campaigns in which the US air force has been involved have been more or less defensive”:
A minimalist, defensible position for the US could have been to say that the US will intervene aerially to ensure that Erbil and Baghdad don’t fall, but that recovering the Sunni Arab areas that Nouri al-Maliki had alienated was up to Iraqi politicans and forces. And a minimalist strategy could have simply ignored the Syrian side of the border. It is true that ISIL has a big base in Raqqah and uses its Syrian assets to support its operations in Iraq. But ISIL successes in Iraq were in any case not mainly military but rather political. Since this is so, the military position of ISIL in Syria isn’t really so central to its taking of Mosul, Tikrit, etc. Nor would holding Raqqah help it to hold Mosul if Mosul turned against it.
The US was very good in the Cold War at containing Stalinism but very bad at defeating a guerrilla group like the Vietcong. It was the former that mattered in the end.
He’s right. And I say that not from any ideological position, but simply by observing US policy failure this past decade. To try and do the same thing again when it didn’t work before is the mark of insanity. Jane Harman wants to go to war with the ideology of extremism, rather than the terror groups themselves:
What’s much more challenging is to confront—and defuse—the ideologies that underpin these groups. The jargon for this is “countering violent extremism” (CVE), a crucial part of the strategy that’s underfunded and hard as all get-out to accomplish. If we lump both al Qaeda and ISIL into one bucket labeled “terror,” we’ll never pull it off.