OPED: Employ new strategy against IS
Twin terrorist bombings in Beirut; an explosion in Ankara; a Russian plane brought down in Egypt; and 129 dead in Paris. All this after the death of up to 17,000 Iraqis and the dislocation of millions of Syrians within the caliphate that the Islamic State, or ISIS, first brutally established in eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the latest U.S. response, 50 Special Forces were sent to Syria.
ISIS is certainly a threat as an international terrorist organization — but it is more than that, something much more consequential. ISIS is an aspiring rogue state that now occupies land the size of Belgium and controls a population of 6 million, equivalent to Norway's.
Accordingly, this demands a different U.S. strategic approach than the 50 Special Forces represent.
With reported assets of $2 billion and an annual revenue flow of $600 million, ISIS' diverse financial portfolio runs from oil field profits to taxes, ransom to theft. The revenue flows into governmental institutions overseen by administrative bureaucracies that run judicial and law enforcement systems, along with providing state services.
Even as its "state" is being attacked on the battlefield, ISIS has now undertaken a foreign policy of state-sponsored terrorism, just as Libya did under Gadhafi. U.S. strategy must change from looking at ISIS as just an international terrorist organization to be disrupted, but rather as a would-be state to be defeated.
To not do so would be to risk being reactive to its global terrorist strikes. We would have the wrong military and diplomatic response because we lack the correct strategic approach with well-defined benchmarks for measuring success within it.
Viewing ISIS as the very dangerous, ideologically driven wannabe state that it is means changing from an "anti-terrorist" to a "balance of power" strategy, requiring two significant adjustments in our approach.
The first change is in military targeting. The primary focus of our air power has been upon the tactical battlefield that helps the Kurds/Baghdadi ground forces in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, anti-Assad forces in Syria that are intended to cause ISIS to suffer military losses and lose territory.
But our priority must be to destroy the supporting infrastructure and governmental institutions that undergird the viability of the ISIS-proto-state, from its revenues to its leadership.
This includes priority targeting of the oil fields ISIS controls for immense profits in northeast Syria and the bureaucratic headquarters identified in Raqqa, the "capitol" of the illegitimate ISIS state. This is the basis of ISIS' power and it is why its leaders established their caliphate first, before trying to destabilize other states.
Second, and most importantly, we must lead diplomatically in bringing about the necessary "alliance of convenience" among those states opposed to ISIS — most significantly, those that are often adversarial to U.S. interests. This is the balance of power strategy that is absolutely essential to end the state of ISIS.
Iran, which has 3,000 casualties from fighting in Syria, and Russia are opposed to ISIS' goals but have other competing interests to ours in the broken Syrian nation. Their interests begin with protecting the regime of Bashar al-Assad and retaining influence in the area.
But Assad does not directly target the United States, and the deal among competing nations' interests will need to include a longer-term transition for the brutal dictator than desired, among other compromises.
Absent bringing unity to an array of states, uncoordinated in their efforts to end ISIS' power base, there is no military solution that protects our interests in ending the would-be ISIS state at acceptable cost.
From securing Sunni cooperation with Iraq's Shia government to intelligence coordination with Russia (not just combat air de-confliction), the United States must build the alliance to remove ISIS.
Turkey to Saudi Arabia, NATO to Jordan, all are linchpins in providing the balance of state power necessary to do so (even today, Egypt has failed to provide the intelligence behind ISIS' downing of the Russian airliner over its soil).
Included are the states that have both the purpose and means to shoulder the ground confrontation against our common adversary — if we also account for their interests in doing so.
We were slow to address Syria's dismantlement with a reluctance to provide small arms to the more moderate anti-Assad rebels; we waited months to respond to the ISIS threat even after it was 60 miles from Baghdad.
We cannot sub-contract out our national security, but nor do we need to shoulder all the means to secure it — if we have the right strategy and provide the needed leadership to build the necessary coalition.
ISIS as a true rogue state endangers our interests, and other nations agree that it is a danger to theirs also. It is why the change to a "balance of power" strategy under a U.S.-led alliance is what is needed for ISIS' demise at acceptable cost to U.S. interests.
Joe Sestak is a former Navy Admiral and Congressman. He is a candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 2016.