ISIS is on the Verge of Defeat While the Media Chases Squirrels

The media is on day 3 of analyzing the sacred calls that Presidents make to Gold Star families, but they’re all but ignoring the most important thing that happened this week.

The US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took control of Raqqa, Syria which was ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital. Raqqa was the last remaining major city under ISIS control.

Since January, the amount of territory controlled by ISIS has been cut in half. This is significant, because much of ISIS’ viral appeal was tied to the fact that they were able to legitimately claim they controlled large swaths of the Middle East. ISIS’ territorial demise is one reason they’ve resorted to encouraging lone wolf attacks and taking credit for unrelated attacks such as the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.

How much credit President Trump himself deserves for all of this a matter of great debate. First, there is the “right time, right place” component that all Presidents benefit (and at times suffer) from. President Obama has received an undue amount of credit for the killing of Osama Bin Laden simply because he gave the order, but he was there and it became his moment in history to own. The timing of the SDF’s success suggests that ISIS’ diminished territorial presence is something that rightfully belongs on the Trump resume. However, there is one concrete decision which President Trump made months ago which may have had a tangible impact.

Last Spring, President Trump changed the military’s rules of engagement and outsourced all battlefield decisions to his generals. During the Obama Administration, combat decisions were routinely kicked up the chain and influenced by political considerations. President Trump’s greatest contribution to ISIS’ defeat may in fact be that he’s allowed the military to do their job.

While Trump himself has been surprisingly slow to draw attention to the victory in Raqqa, he may be wise to do so (trying to avoid President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” error). The situation is still incredibly complicated in Syria. The SDF has stated a desire to form a decentralized “Federal Syria” up north that would be Kurdish controlled with little or no oversight from Damascus. A Kurdish independent state is opposed by American ally Turkey, as they view a Turkish state on their border to be a threat (Turkey has a long-term ongoing territorial conflict with the Kurds which includes the PKK — A group labeled by the US as a terrorist organization). The United States is trying to discourage the SDF from pursuing a sovereignty movement (as they have Iraqi Kurds that are trying to form an independent country in Northern Iraq). The US will need to make a strategic decision whether to continue arming the SDF if they insist on doing so, knowing that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (who is backed by Russian and Iranian forces) is intent on recovering control of all of Syria.

The 6-year old war in Syria is unlikely to be become any less complicated or violent in the near future, but the defeat of ISIS represents an important victory (strategic and symbolic) for American interests in the region.

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