After weeks of listening to the talking heads brainstorm how to combat ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), it became plainly obvious that no one had a clue. As they always do, the neo-cons beat the war drum, demanding “boots on the ground” to begin another Iraq War. President Obama laid out a plan to arm so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels; the same rebels fighting the Assad regime alongside ISIS. Seeing these extremes, I wondered what a sensible solution would entail. A cursory search online did not uncover anything substantive. The Libertarian Party’s official press release left much to be desired. Then, yesterday, a workable solution came to me out of the blue, after seeing an interview with an unlikely source: West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
After announcing his intention to cast a “no” vote on the President’s plan to arm Syrian rebels, Senator Manchin argued the U.S. should disengage from the Middle East completely and leave it to the nations in the vicinity of ISIS to step forward and neutralize the threat. The continued U.S. presence in the region discourages these countries from fighting their own battles. These nations lack the incentive to fight ISIS when, historically, American forces have always fought in their stead.
In his analysis of the situation, Manchin specifically mentioned Turkey as a possible ISIS adversary. Turkey’s active military force includes 664,049 members, seemingly enough manpower to fight the estimated 20,000 to 31,500 soldiers of ISIS. However, over 80 percent of Turks practice Sunni Islam, the same sect ISIS espouses. Most Turks likely lack the willingness to participate in a military campaign against fellow Sunnis. Some may even be tempted to join the ISIS cause.
Rather than Turkey, another nation in the area holds both the strength and demographics necessary to “take on” the threat of ISIS under Manchin’s vision—The Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has an active force of approximately 523,000 soldiers and paramilitary forces of nearly 1.5 million. Over 90 percent of Iranians belong to the Shia sect, the longtime rival of the Sunnis. And ISIS threatens the existence of the Assad regime, a close ally of Iran.
The question remains on how to convince Iran to destroy ISIS. Any solution requires talking directly to Iran. An American ambassador could reach out to Tehran and suggest the Iranians send their forces into Iraq and Syria. In exchange, the U.S. could lift all economic sanctions against Iran—something Iran desires. Moreover, the U.S. would have more leverage than Iran in such a dealing, because, despite its rhetoric, ISIS is a closer and more eminent threat to Iran than it is to the United States.
Withdrawing from the region and allowing Iran to take full control of the fight, prevents the U.S. from becoming entangled in another quagmire. It prevents the collateral damage that creates anti-American terrorists. And it improves relations and trade between the U.S. and Iran.
This, rather than arming Syrian rebels or waging a full-scale war, is a sensible solution from the American perspective.