By Bonnie Kristian
The Islamic State is losing. While dreams of the caliphate may not be dead just yet, their condition is critical. ISIS-controlled territory is dramatically shrinking and has been for months; funding is down; and as winds change foreign-born fighters have begun to bolt. Turkish officials now are capturing AWOL militants by the dozen, as former ISIS fighters surrender in border towns, preferring to flee Syria even if it means jail time.
As with any such amorphous, non-state actor, it would be a fool’s errand to predict when ISIS will cease to be a major player in Mideast chaos, and with about a third of Mosul and all of Raqqa still in the terrorist group’s hands, it is far too soon to declare this chapter of the war on terror complete. Still, it is no exaggeration to say ISIS is losing, and, crucially, it can continue to lose without American intervention.
If there were ever a time for the United States to police the Middle East, that time has past. Now, let regional powers take responsibility for producing stability and, eventually, peace in their own neighborhood.
To be sure, this is a messy prospect. The regional powers have questionable and often competing goals, allegiances, and ideologies. Stability is not the same as freedom, and the absence of ISIS is not the presence of democracy. A local—and possibly political—solution lacks the imaginary tidiness of America swooping in, omniscient and omnipotent, with an explosive military intervention in which Washington bombs it all nice again.
But that tidiness is indeed imaginary. It ignores that the last decade and a half of U.S. foreign policy has been anything but tidy; that America is neither omniscient nor omnipotent; and that our military interventionism is too often reckless and counterproductive, creating more power vacuums and civilian suffering than it does anything resembling peace.
It ignores that our post-9/11 foreign policy is “utterly unhinged,” as Ret. Col. Andrew Bacevich, a military historian, bluntly says at Foreign Affairs. “So it remains today, with U.S. forces more or less permanently engaged in ongoing hostilities,” while the bipartisan Washington establishment remains stubbornly “oblivious to the possibility that in some parts of the world, U.S. forces may no longer be needed, whereas in others, their presence may be detrimental.”
The fight against ISIS is one of those latter places. For the United States to once again repeat the mistakes of the recent past—charging in for more regime change, more nation-building, and more unintended consequences—will be detrimental to the Middle East’s progress toward some semblance of safety. It’s time to let ISIS lose without us.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Hill on May 8, 2017. Read more HERE.