Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

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

ISIS Traces Its Roots to 2003

by Janine Davidson Thursday, February 26, 2015
A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city August 24, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters) A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city August 24, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

This week, I had the opportunity to hear my friend Emma Sky speak at the New America Foundation’s first annual Future of War Conference, held here in Washington, DC.  Emma was General Ray Odierno’s political adviser during the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and is one of the smartest people I know (check out her new book about it all, The Unraveling, due to be released soon). Although she was only allotted three short minutes to speak on the panel, her message about the origins of ISIS and the shortfalls in the US strategy were as clear and compelling as they were depressing.

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Prioritize Operations, Ban PowerPoint: Ash Carter Is off to a Good Start

by Janine Davidson Tuesday, February 24, 2015
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (C) holds a regional security meeting at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait February 23, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (C) holds a regional security meeting at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait February 23, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Courtesy Reuters)

On February 17, Ash Carter was formally sworn in as the twenty-fifth Secretary of Defense. Within his first week on the job, he’s wrapped up intensive, fact-finding trips to both Afghanistan and Kuwait. This sends a powerful message about his priorities: although Carter previously distinguished himself as a thoughtful student of Pentagon bureaucracy, budgeting, and acquisitions, in his new role, current opsand getting the strategy rightcome first.

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In Recent Battles, the U.S. Has Forgotten How To Tell Its Side of the Story. It Must Remember.

by Robert A. Newson Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Maurice Greene from the USA carries his nation's flag following his team's victory in the men's 4X100m relay final at the Sydney Olympics September 30, 2000. (Ian Waldie/Courtesy Reuters) Maurice Greene from the USA carries his nation's flag following his team's victory in the men's 4X100m relay final at the Sydney Olympics September 30, 2000. (Ian Waldie/Courtesy Reuters)

This commentary comes courtesy of Captain Robert A. Newson, CFR’s U.S. Navy fellow and a SEAL officer. He argues that, by failing to provide a credible counter-narrative in recent contingencies involving ISIS and Russia, the United States has effectively ceded the information domain without a fight. Captain Newson argues that an effective information operations strategy will hinge on both long-term commitment and a willingness to expose audiences to the full complexity of political issues rather than resorting to misinformation and simplification.

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Is the Top Leader of ISIS Dead? Here’s What to Expect

by Clint Hinote Monday, November 10, 2014
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first public appearance on July 5, 2014, at a mosque in the center of Iraq's second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet. (Courtesy Reuters) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first public appearance on July 5, 2014, at a mosque in the center of Iraq's second city, Mosul, according to a video recording posted on the Internet. (Courtesy Reuters)

Numerous news outlets have reported that the U.S.-led coalition operating in Iraq and Syria may have injured or killed the overall leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike near Mosul. If this is true, it is welcome news, but it will not signal the end of the movement. Instead, this is a significant part of the overall military strategy to apply broad pressure to ISIS and halt its momentum. Over the long run, stopping ISIS will require alleviating the underlying conditions that drive violence and gave rise to the movement in the first place. While the outside world can help create the necessary conditions, only repudiation by the local population will kill ISIS.

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The New Republican Congress (II): In Foreign Policy Debates Ahead, Look to Echoes of ’06

by Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking Thursday, November 6, 2014
U.S. President George W. Bush (R) is joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates before the start of the Army versus Navy football game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 6, 2008. (Tim Shaffer/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President George W. Bush (R) is joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates before the start of the Army versus Navy football game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 6, 2008. (Tim Shaffer/Courtesy Reuters)

By Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking

As Democrats lick their wounds following Tuesday’s midterms, President Obama will no doubt be contemplating the messages the electorate was trying to send. Breaking gridlock and “getting stuff done” might be a good place to start. This seems to have been where President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush started eight years ago following a similar shellacking in the midterms during his second term.  Bush seized the moment for one of the most significant foreign policy shifts of his tenure. It’s worth the look back as we contemplate the Obama administration’s next steps.

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The Air Campaign Against ISIS (II): Military Partnerships Will Be the Deciding Factor

by Clint Hinote Tuesday, October 14, 2014
F-16 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation over Hudson river in New York, August 18, 2012. (Eduardo Munoz/Courtesy Reuters) F-16 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation over Hudson river in New York, August 18, 2012. (Eduardo Munoz/Courtesy Reuters)

This commentary comes courtesy of Colonel Clint Hinote, CFR’s U.S. Air Force fellow. He discusses the role of military partnerships in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, drawing on his own experience as an Air Force weapons and tactics instructor. According to Col. Hinote, international participation—particularly by Arab partner nations—will prove a critical component of the strategy to dismantle ISIS. This piece follows Col Hinote’s previous discussion of the utility of air strikes.

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The Air Campaign Against ISIS: Understanding What Air Strikes Can Do—and What They Can’t

by Clint Hinote Tuesday, September 30, 2014
A U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft prior to strike operations in Syria in this September 26, 2014 photo released on September 29, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package that was engaging ISIL targets in Syria. (Russ Scalf/Courtesy Reuters) A U.S Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft prior to strike operations in Syria in this September 26, 2014 photo released on September 29, 2014. These aircraft were part of a strike package that was engaging ISIL targets in Syria. (Russ Scalf/Courtesy Reuters)

This commentary comes courtesy of Colonel Clint Hinote, CFR’s U.S. Air Force fellow. He assesses the use and utility of targeted air strikes against ISIS, particularly against their Syrian base of operations, in the context of evolving air power targeting doctrine. He argues that the debate over whether or not U.S. air power will “destroy” ISIS largely misses the point as to the function and intent of these strikes. Disrupting the organization’s infrastructure and assets will refute its claim to “statehood,” blunting its momentum in the process.

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The Anti-ISIS Campaign Has Expanded Into Syria. What Comes Next?

by Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking Tuesday, September 23, 2014
isis-syria-cruise-missile A Tomahawk cruise missile is launched against ISIL targets from the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, in the Red Sea September 23, 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez Ii/Courtesy Reuters)

By Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking

On September 22, the air campaign against ISIS expanded into Syria in a coordinated attack that included 47 Tomahawk missiles and nearly 50 coalition aircraft. This action had been all but inevitable since the commencement of overflight reconnaissance in Syria on August 26. Significantly, these strikes also included targets of the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate unrelated to ISIS. Also significantly, five Arab militaries—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Qatar—participated in the operation. At this stage, there are three important questions to address: the targeting of the strikes, the implications of this action, and potential challenges that might await the operation moving forward.

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Enough with “Boots on the Ground:” What Will the U.S. Advisory Mission in Iraq Look Like?

by Robert A. Newson Tuesday, September 23, 2014
A U.S. and Iraqi soldier take part in a shooting exercise at an Iraqi military base south of Baghdad August 30, 2010. (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters) A U.S. and Iraqi soldier take part in a shooting exercise at an Iraqi military base south of Baghdad August 30, 2010. (Saad Shalash/Courtesy Reuters)

This commentary comes courtesy of Captain Robert A. Newson, CFR’s U.S. Navy fellow and a SEAL officer. CAPT Newson recently served Special Operations Command (Forward) Commander in Yemen 2010-2012, where he helped coordinate military advising efforts in the region. He argues that the reintroduction of U.S. advisory personnel to Iraq does not automatically set the military on a “slippery slope” to full-scale intervention. Rather, the chance of escalation will be determined by three factors: the total required forces, the concept of operations, and any applicable mission restraints. This question will become only more important with late-breaking news of anti-ISIS air strikes’ expansion into Syria.

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The Air Campaign Against ISIS Is About To Get A Lot Bigger

by Janine Davidson Thursday, September 18, 2014
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey look at a map showing Islamic State ambition as they testify during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State on Capitol Hill in Washington September 16, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey look at a map showing Islamic State ambition as they testify during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State on Capitol Hill in Washington September 16, 2014. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

It has now become a question of when, not if, the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will expand into Syria.  As I wrote at the beginning of August, the Islamic State has enjoyed a strong and unmolested base of operations from which to coordinate its offensive in Iraq.  If not attacked on that turf, the terrorist organization will continue grow and strengthen. Effective military operations against ISIS—even those short term efforts to stop ISIS momentum—must include operations in Syria to eliminate ISIS sanctuaries.

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