Policy-making by committee rarely works well, as the five-man team at the Washington Institute demonstrates to near perfection. The quintet of (truly) distinguished policy-makers has produced something termed a Strategy to Defeat ISIS and Iran, but it does neither. I’ve been through it several times and can’t find a single proposal that would “defeat” either one. In fact, at one point Messrs Hadley, Ross, Jeffrey, Berger and Satloff state quite categorically that while we might prevail militarily against ISIS,
…military action is only one dimension; ISIL cannot be defeated unless it is also discredited. Only Muslims can undermine ISIL’s fanatical ideology, and they must take the lead in doing so.
Whenever I read such language—which is not rare—I have to suppress a scream, because a lot of the history of 20th century totalitarianism shows that fanatical ideologies (fascism, Nazism and communism, for example) were fatally undermined by military defeat. Both IS and the Iranian regime claim their imperialism is blessed by Allah. Their military success is attributed to the support of the Almighty. If they are defeated, especially by infidel American, or American-led fighters, what does that do to the ideology? Did Allah go over to the other side?
I don’t think we, or anyone else, is going to “defeat” IS or Iran by “discrediting” their crazed ideology. To be sure, I do think we would do well to endorse Egyptian President al Sisi’s call for a radical transformation of Islamist doctrines. The Islamists are nuts, they’ve wrecked two big countries in the Middle East so far (Egypt under the Brotherhood, and Iran under the mullahs), and we should say so. Most Iranians and Egyptians know it, we won’t shock them.
Oddly, given all this attention to the centrality of ideology, when it comes to Iran the quintet retreats into pure, almost pidgin geopolitics:
The most powerful elements in Iran today still see the United States as their enemy. This is not simply because of a conspiratorial mind-set about American determination to subvert the Islamic Republic, but also because they see America as the main impediment to their domination of the region.
This verges on disrespect for the doctrines of the Islamic Republic. Never mind “death to America!” chanted by people who look at us as the Great Satan. It’s all about regional hegemony. Why, then, bother with “discrediting” the doctrines?
There’s still the need for defeating IS and Iran, to demonstrate their doctrinal failures. But you won’t find any such strategy in the five-handed concerto. Instead, the language is very diplomatic, as you’d expect from former diplomats and policy makers. They say we need a new Syria policy, which we certainly do, but instead of “defeating” IS in Syria, they talk about creating a (Sunni) coalition to “marginalize” it.
And what is this strategy?