Posted by Annie-Marie Gergi on June 25, 2015 in Blog

On June 17, 2015 an Armed Services Committee held a hearing on U.S. Policy and Strategy in the Middle East. The hearing was chaired by Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and the witnesses in attendance were the Honorable Ashton B. Carter, U.S. Secretary of Defense, along with General Martin E. Dempsey, USA Chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staffs.

The hearing focused on U.S. strategy towards ISIL, and congressional repeatedly stated their concerns about the inefficiency of U.S. strategy. There seemed to be a shared understanding among all congressional members in attendance of the gravity of the situation facing both Iraq and Syria. Accordingly, the witnesses have recommended a complex strategy to confront ISIL and tackle the challenges facing the two-warn countries.

Obama’s decision to send additional 450 U.S. specialist troops to Iraq was seen as tackling some shortcomings in American strategy.  Some raised fears that there is a creeping involvement of the U.S. in Iraq without the parallel development of an effective strategy. Still the witnesses supported this decision by explaining that the troops would be placed in Taqaddam, a crucial location in terms of recruiting Sunni forces. Both General Dempsey and Secretary Carter stressed the importance of setting up training sites in this location and the impact that it would have in the recruitment of Sunni soldiers.

There is a real sense of skepticism with regards to U.S. strategy towards the Middle East. Chairman Thornberry noted that ‘hope is not a strategy’ and urged the witnesses to act based on the realities in the region. He emphasized that although we cannot pursue a strategy based on what we hope would happen, we equally cannot throw kinetic force at the conflict and expect a solution. The lesson of Iraq is that a sole military solution would produce the opposite results from the intended consequences.

It is time for ISIL to be reexamined as an organization. It has acquired a vast amount of land, which makes it different to other extremist organizations such as Al Qaeda. ISIL has been able to put be seen as successful in carrying out its goals with an ideology that is, unfortunately, attracting support. In its response the U.S. and others seem to be focused on the influx of foreign fighters into and out of the region, when really the should focus our attention on ISIL fighters entering the next conflict zone and increasing sectarian strife across the region, bringing their ideology with them. 

The strategy must go beyond simply defeating ISIL, but rather examine the broader challenge of trying to prevent the spread of sectarian strife. The divisions throughout the Middle East that have been opened up in the recent decade and exacerbated by groups like ISIL will have a lasting impact.  U.S. strategy toward the Middle East should not only address the threat of groups like ISIL but work on restoring stability and unity to increasingly divided states. 


Annie-Marie Gergi is an intern with the Arab American Institute