By James Hess, Ph.D.
Faculty Director and Associate Professor of Intelligence Studies at American Military University
President-elect Donald Trump’s overarching plan to defeat ISIL calls for the following:
- Peace through strength will be at the center of U.S. foreign policy. We will achieve a stable, peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.
- Advance America’s core national interests, promote regional stability, and produce an easing of tensions in the world. Work with Congress to fully repeal the defense sequester and submit a new budget to rebuild the U.S. military.
- Rebuild the military, enhance and improve intelligence and cyber capabilities.
- End the current strategy of nation-building and regime change.
- Ensure national security procedures and refugee policy takes into account the security of the American people.
These points are important to overall foreign policy and affect the fight against ISIL. Strengthening military, intelligence and cyber capabilities is certainly important. It is also noteworthy that Trump plans to take steps to ensure the screening of refugees relocating from countries where ISIL operates.
An excellent study by the U.S. Army War College discusses the need and the challenges associated with a full-governance approach to counterinsurgencies. While this study is not specific to counterterrorism or ISIL, it examines the challenges U.S. operations faced in Vietnam and Afghanistan with a full-government approach.
Not surprisingly, the study emphasizes the need for strong leadership and unity of command. While Trump’s plan calls for increasing or strengthening specific capabilities to conduct operations against ISIL, the lesson of unity of effort needs to be reinforced.
Work with Middle East Allies to Defeat ISIL
Trump’s plan calls for working with “our Arab allies and friends in the Middle East in the fight against ISIS.” This action is a given and essential to any operation against ISIL. Since ISIL’s ideology specifically denounces the current leaders of Muslim countries, any effort against ISIL must incorporate those leaders and countries to create Muslim resistance to ISIL’s ideology.
Foreign Affairs recently published an article by Mara Revkin, reviewing social media comments from ISIL leaders since Trump’s victory. Most of the comments express ISIL’s pleasure that Trump won. ISIL feels that Trump will enhance their recruiting efforts as a result of misguided military campaigns against ISIL.
Moderate Muslims Must Reject ISIL’s Claim of a Crusade against Islam
Maintaining a strong alliance with Muslim countries will thwart ISIL’s efforts to convince moderate Muslims that Trump is organizing a “crusade” against Islam. The crusade charge would revive ISIL’s Dabiq narrative in which the apocalyptic battle between Christianity and Islam will be fought near the Syrian town of Dabiq.
Under Trump’s plan, the United States will pursue “aggressive joint and coalition military operations” to destroy ISIL. The U.S. would also boost international cooperation to cut off ISIL funding and expand intelligence sharing and cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable its propaganda and recruiting efforts.
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have already discussed an alliance between the two nations to combat ISIL. Perhaps Trump has already begun this stage of his plan.
Although it is too early to say that Trump has built his coalition against ISIL, it is certainly an important aspect in defeating the terrorist organization. Counterterrorism operations are most effective when the terrorists and their ideologies are marginalized.
As long as the U.S.-led coalition focuses on both combat operations and efforts to defeat ISIL’s ideology, and incorporates sound unity of effort, there is a good chance that would-be ISIL recruits and its financial backers will take notice.
Key to Victory Is Defeating ISIL’s Radical Islamist Ideology
Trump’s plan also calls for defeating the ideology of radical Islamic terrorism “just as we won the Cold War.” This is the most important element in Trump’s plan. The ideology of ISIL feeds the strategy, tactics, recruitment, financing and every other aspect of ISIL’s efforts.
Demonstrating that ISIL’s ideology is not based on the consensus of the Umma (community of believers) is more powerful than any weapon deployed on the battlefield. The consensus of the community is inherent in Shari’a law. By confirming the importance of traditional Islamic jurisprudence, Trump will have the ability “to crush and destroy ISIL.”
Trump’s plan to defeat ISIL is sound, but it should be deployed with great care. Deploying military forces without clear and concise efforts and objectives provide would-be recruits with a powerful reason to join ISIL. If Trump develops clear goals and objectives while building a coalition and facilitating the denouncement of ISIL’s ideology, the plan has the potential to achieve its goal.
About the Author
Dr. James Hess received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University where he studied improving analytical methodologies in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism environments. He is currently studying the relationship between Islamic jurisprudence and terrorism as an International Relations Research Fellow with the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.