Since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has tended to engage in regime change missions with a short-term and improvisational approach that focuses on removing adversaries from the battlefield rather than achieving consolidated political gains. Today, Washington may repeat the same mistake by prioritizing the military destruction of ISIS, rather than creating a tolerable political order. The policy challenges are particularly acute because, like a weary Hercules, Washington is confronted with endless labor, but limited capability. The answer is to pursue a long-term strategic approach that aligns the ends and means of war, seeks ugly stability rather than illusory goals, accepts that nation-building in some form is inevitable, and wins the narrative war.
This article is part of a special project conducted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, titled: “After the Caliphate: Reassessing the Jihadi Threat and Stabilizing the Fertile Crescent,” which includes a book, a thematic issue of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs(Summer 2018), and a series of podcasts. Each element of the project can be found here: https://www.fpri.org/research/after-the-caliphate-project/.