Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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Appearance on Defense News TV: the ISIS Coalition and the Challenge of Leverage

by Janine Davidson
June 23, 2014

iraq-isis-shiite-maliki Mehdi Army fighters loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr march during a military-style training in the holy city of Najaf, June 18, 2014. (Ahmad Mousa/Courtesy Reuters)


I appeared on a Defense News TV panel alongside Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution and General Chuck Wald, U.S. Air Force (retired), to assess the military options available to the United States in wake of continuing gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) against the Iraqi government.  This comes on the heels of President Obama’s June 19 announcement that he will send up to the 300 military advisers to Iraq. As we discuss, there are several important considerations to bear in mind:

  • The Sunni militias who have augmented ISIS’ ranks do not necessary share ISIS’ long-term objectives. Instead, they are the same groups who comprised the anti-extremist Sunni Awakening of 2006-07. The current ISIS force is operationally potent but not politically cohesive.
  • One effective use of U.S. military advisers will be as leverage to influence Prime Minister Maliki and prompt faster sectarian conciliation. Currently, Iran carries much more influence in Iraq than the United States does.
  • A military counterinsurgency strategy is ineffective without corresponding political pressure on the host government. We have learned this lesson now in Iraq; we must apply it to Afghanistan if we would like our gains there to be lasting.
  • Ultimately, there is no short term solution to the challenge in Iraq. The state must have an open government and independently administered ministries, most especially those of the Interior, Justice, and Defense. Serious political conversations must start and serious compromises must be struck. None of these things will happen in the short term.

For more, check out the videos below:


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