Recent advances by the Sunni Muslim extremist group now known as the Islamic State, formerly ISIL or ISIS, have caused great concern throughout the world and particularly in the United States. They now control a considerable amount of territory between Iraq and Syria, have beheaded American journalist James Foley, and threaten the Iraqi government in Baghdad that the American military spent countless resources, including money and lives, to procure. President Obama made a statement as late as August 28th admitting he had no plan on how to approach the issue. Although the rapid rise and considerable territory conquered by the Islamic State may seem intimidating, there is simply no need for the American military to become yet another component of an already multifaceted conflict.
In addition to the historical case made over the past eleven years with the Iraq invasion, there are several reasons that intervention against the Islamic State by the United States will not be successful. The most obvious is the lack of political capital. Due to the quagmire in Iraq from 2003-11 and the opposition from the anti-war left that has hitherto had trouble keeping the president accountable on foreign policy issues, President Obama has had to repeat the phrase “no boots on the ground” in a vain attempt to quell fears of the start of what would be a third war in Iraq in the past quarter-century. This, however, is apparently not the case, and many wars in the past, particularly the ones in which the United States is involved in, have seen minor deployments escalate rapidly into full-fledged wars. Even in an air-only campaign, there would be the issue of not being able to hit targets in Syria, where much of the Islamic State-controlled territory lies, due to opposition from Damascus.
Then there’s the issue of corruption in American-procured governments. The Iraqi democracy, formed by over a trillion dollars and a million lives lost in the process, ranks as the seventh most corrupt in the world and has failed to represent both major sects of Islam: Shia and Sunni. The latter, comprising nearly 90% of the worldwide Muslim population but a minority of the Iraqi Muslim population, is also a minority with little power in the first Shia-led government in nearly a millennium. This lack of Sunni representation has galvanized many Islamic State fighters into going against the Baghdad government.
When combined with the fact that Afghanistan is tied for first with North Korea and Somalia in the same corruption rankings, one would be hard-pressed to find an argument as to how U.S. intervention in the Middle East can somehow fix things. One might make the case that since the Islamic State is not a formal state, it can be eliminated completely and the Iraq-Syria border reinstated without the need for nation-building. However, even if this were to be the case, it would not solve the underlying problems of Sunni under-representation in the Iraqi and Syrian governments, nor would it be necessary for the American military to intervene to accomplish this due to the fact that Iraq, Syria, and Iran all actively oppose the Islamic State.
The Middle Eastern powers can achieve long-term stability better without intervention from the other side of the world. With little political latitude for engagement and a simple lack of necessity, it is best for President Obama and the American military to let the Middle East settle their own scores and focus on the many issues here at home.