Foreign Policy

Supporting the Arab solution

These last few days have seen further horrors from Daesh, also known as ISIS.  Their murderous rampage through Syria and Iraq has now spread to Libya with the beheading of 21 Egyptian citizens on a beach near Tripoli, while the week before saw the immolation of Jordanian pilot Mouath al-Kasaesbeh. 

In Syria and Iraq, further unspeakable terror has been inflicted on Christians, Muslims and other groups. This has included mass beheadings, selling women and girls into sex slavery, and this last Saturday we saw Daesh insinuating via Twitter that they would burn captured children alive.

{mosads}While these crimes have rightly rallied the world in condemnation, they have also spurred Arab leaders to act decisively.

Building on the actions from Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two strong Arab leaders have emerged to not just counter but to destroy Daesh and its related groups.

First we saw King Abdullah of Jordan order his military to bombard Daesh strongholds in the Levant.  This is especially important as the King rules Jordan with the consent of the tribes.  He was able to rally these proud tribal people to counter the existential threat that Daesh poses to their nation.

Second, over the last couple of days we have seen President El Sisi of Egypt launch air attacks on Daesh and related groups in neighboring Libya.  For many months now, the Egyptian government has raised concerns over the collapse of the Libyan state and the growth of terrorist groups throughout that country. 

President Sisi has now asked the United States and the UN to support Egypt’s actions and the Libyan Government in Tobruk. At the same time, Italy, the former colonial-power of Libya located only a couple of hundred miles away, has asked for NATO support to stabilize Libya.

Now is the time to fully support this Arab leadership.  But we cannot do this by emulating what we have done before.

The United States has the best military in the world, and combined with its economic strength, will have the last word on every battlefield.   But after our long engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have learned that these tactical victories by our brave men and women do not necessarily lead to strategic success.  We can never know enough of the local dynamics, history and politics to frame those strategic victories.  We also come with the baggage of being total outsiders. 

We went to Iraq and Afghanistan as liberators, as helpers, as partners, but too often we were seen as occupiers.  Although this was not our aim, it proved to be a reality on the ground.

As such, the United States and its Western allies need a new approach. This approach must be supporting Arab solutions to Arab problems.

We know that the fight against Daesh will not just be from bombing. As Ambassador Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States, wrote this week “While military force is necessary, the key to success over the long term will be what happens off the battlefield.” This will include tackling the funding of such groups and blocking the intake of the terrorists. As the Ambassador went on to say, “To be clear, this is not a war between Muslims and non-Muslims or past versus the present, but between very distinct visions of the modern world. Extremists imagine a past that never existed and a future that will never happen.”

This is why the United States must support the leadership of President El Sisi and King Abdullah.  The support must include four key elements.

Intelligence support must be given to Arab governments and militaries in order for them to tackle the funding from individuals to groups like Daesh, their extremist support base, as well as stopping further fighters from joining such groups.

The United States is unrivaled in its military prowess; as such it should be providing major military support for Arab armies and their air forces. This has to include faster military exports including key technologies needed to fight the extremists.

The United States must lead the effort for wider economic support for the Levant and North African regions. This must include an increase and more sustained investment by oil and gas rich gulf countries in the economies of the poorer regions.

Last the United States and the West must provide political support, including authorization from the United Nations for military action, as well as long term political development support for Arab leaders to offer a vision of the future that is positive for the Arab world.

This will not be easy, and will not be immediately effective. But by working with Arab governments, helping them to tackle their problems, and helping them improve the lives of their citizens, we stand in a better and more effective position to defeat and destroy the extremists.

Elsalameen is a senior adjunct fellow and Hamill is the director of Strategy and Communications for the non-partisan American Security Project.


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