By KATIE AMANN
Capital News Service
LANSING – As the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria intensifies, some Michigan-based foreign policy and Middle East experts are expressing doubts about the effectiveness of airstrikes and the importance of international support in combating ISIS.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama said that the United States will continue a coordinated campaign of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria but that it cannot work alone and a coalition of countries offering aid and troops on the ground is essential.
A new study from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank in Washington, D.C., reported that the U.S. has already spent $780 to $930 million combating ISIS.
Ron Stockton, a professor of political science and a research associate at the University of Michigan Center for Middle East and North African Studies, said that the most important countries to recruit for the military coalition are Turkey and Saudi Arabia because of their proximity to Iraq and Syria. In addition, Saudi
Arabia is important because it could serve as a base for military training.
Stockton said that Qatar and Iran also could be important to the coalition.
However, he said that coordinating with the Syrian opposition, such as the Free Syrian Army, will probably have little impact because of the amount of resources and training the U.S. will have to provide them.
Russell Lucas, an associate professor of Arabic studies and director of global studies in the arts and humanities at Michigan State University, said the Turkish government “is going to be important in this if it decides to participate.”
He said Turkey is trying not to get involved because “it shares so much land adjacent to the Islamic State that it would very easily see blowback.”
The Turkish parliament has authorized the government to allow military incursions across the border into Iraq and Syria to combat Islamic State militants. The authorization permits foreign troops to be stationed in the country and to use Turkish military purposes.
However after the parliamentary vote, the English-language newspaper Today’s Zaman quoted the Turkish defense minister as saying that immediate action shouldn’t be expected.
According to Lucas, Jordan and Saudi Arabia could be important staging points for military efforts in Iraq and Syria but they’re unlikely to send in any of their own troops.
One aspect of Obama’s strategy is to support Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian forces with military training, equipment and intelligence. In response to plans to arm moderate Syrian rebels, Lucas hesitated to predict whether that strategy will have any effect.
“The Free Syrian Army is not much of an effective force today” because of how much it has suffered from its fight against the Syrian government, he said. “Their actual ability to do much at this point in time is kind of questionable.”
One issue not clearly defined in Obama’s strategy is a plan to address the poor living conditions and persecution of minority groups in Iraq and Syria, which allowed ISIS to gain as much territory and power as it has.
Mohammad Khalil, an associate professor of religious studies and director of the Muslim Studies Program at MSU, emphasized that ISIS holds a minority interpretation of Islamic thought and scripture and is “not some major movement that’s winning over the hearts and minds of the majority of Muslims in the Arab world or the Muslim world.”
According to Khalil, what helped ISIS gain power is that it originally claimed to be “representing the Sunni community” and then came in and “basically took over the oil economy,” which allowed it to acquire wealth and provide food for the people.
And Gamal Gasim, an assistant professor of Middle East studies and political science at Grand Valley State University, said, “The issue is that the use of military force will not solve the problem. The U.S. has tried this a lot – they tried this in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Instead, the U.S. needs to address conditions such as poverty and the suppression of the Sunnis in Iraq, which allowed ISIS to gain power in the region, he said. “Defeating ISIS militarily is not going to solve the problem because another group and another organization will start something up.”
And Lucas said, “The Islamic State group is very brutal in pursuing their agenda. This is a terrible humanitarian issue.”
By KATIE AMANN