Ask This General

Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack {Ret.}

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Posted: 11/19/2015 7:40 pm EST Updated: 11/19/2015 8:59 pm EST

The ISIS attack in Paris was an attack on our global community. This will not end. We have to face this fact. The target of these attackers was non-combatant innocents. They will attack again. As much as we abhor the idea of more ground action in the Middle East, this is going to take concerted, long-term international military and civil action. It will involve major forces committed long-term in the nexus area encompassing ISIS root areas predominately in Iraq and Syria.

This will not end. We have to face this fact.

If asked to give advice as a recently retired military officer, this is what I’d suggest:

1. Back France. Fully support France if it invokes NATO Article 5 (an attack on one member is an attack on all). Though unlikely, if it were to do as such, it would pull the considerable military and moral power of NATO’s 28 nations together to focus indivisibly on this emergent existential threat. Article 5 was last invoked on behalf of the U.S. after 9/11.

2. Build a global force. If NATO Article 5 is not invoked, then under a U.N. Security Council Resolution (but unilaterally as a coalition of the willing if vetoed or blocked), build an international expeditionary force, including the U.S., Russia, France and a coalition of the willing including separate NATO allies, Arab, regional, some G-20 and other supporting partner nations. Asian and African nations with ISIS-linked challenges should also participate. This force would move into ISIS-dominated areas and crush the obvious ISIS fighters. Always with Arab entities in the lead, it then would remain in the region with strong civilian-military presence (U.N., NGOs etc.) for as long as it takes to create the conditions for credible governance that include providing security, stability, justice, education and jobs, all seeding the ground for religious and social moderation. This would surely be a difficult, initially nasty, expensive and unpopular decade-long endeavor. As one who has deployed, I can tell you that our military is tired, and ideally would not want to return to this region in force, but current events make it imperative as long as it is with allies and partners.

3. Work with Moscow. Make Russia an integral part of the coalition despite its support for Assad and aggression in Ukraine. Despite our complete disapproval of its initial targeting focus against non-ISIS rebels, Russia is squarely and aggressively in the region and also suffered a major tragedy with the destruction of its civilian Metrojet over the Sinai. Here, despite Assad, we have core concerns that converge. This could bridge us toward much needed, better cooperation in the future.

4. ISIS and the hate it spawns is the #1 threat emanating from this region. It also is a huge driver for the major refugee/migrant flow engulfing Europe that must be staunched. While never condoning the Assad regime’s ruthless actions against its own population, eradicating ISIS, and drying up its violent, exported hate-filled swamp should be our #1 priority. Finding a way to moderate the Baathist regime and easing Assad out should be a dual track. Killing the Syrian regime would create even more chaos in the region — what, who would fill the vacuum? The anti-Assad rebel factions have to understand this fact despite the terrible combatant and civilian losses they have taken. ISIS, and any other faction that joins in its deranged actions, is now our #1 priority.

5. Unambiguously tell the several Sunni nations playing the conflict both ways that simply, ISIS is our #1 threat. The same goes for Iran — with its support for Hezbollah — that is also fighting ISIS and engaged in a proxy Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict with Sunni nations, with Iraq, Syria and Yemen as its focal points. This all is devilishly complex and defies clean, easy solutions, however, the transnational aspect of this crisis warrants decisive international action. It can’t be solved regionally.

6. Support Kurdish statehood. Even with their competing factions, the Kurds have repeatedly proven that they deserve their own state that should be carved out of broken, obsolete Iraqi and Syrian borders. Our important allies, the Turks, also attacked by ISIS and caught in this regional horror, have to understand this and would need international border security guarantees, including from any new Kurdish state, to even remotely consider such an option. Iran also would have a major stake in this.

7. Remain moderate and inclusive. Finally, and crucially, while firmly protecting borders and maintaining internal security, our nations must strive to remain domestically moderate and inclusive.

ISIS has declared war on all of us. We have to take decisive collective action now.

‪Bottom line: To do any of this will require a fresh, “realpolitik” look at the region. We wanted out of the region. The region has come to us, as shown by the ghastly attack in Paris, and recent others, including Ankara and Beirut. ISIS has declared war on all of us. We have to take decisive collective action now with the global mechanisms available to us and aggressively meet this existential challenge to our core belief systems and way of life.

Recently retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack‬ is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University and served as the U.S. Defense Attache to the Russian Federation from 2012-2014.