In 2014, the United States stated its intention to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. Since then, a diverse array of forces has worked tirelessly to liberate key territories in Iraq and Syria from ISIS’s Caliphate. Now, in the summer of 2018, ISIS’s Caliphate largely has been dismantled as a territorial entity. However, the group is far from destroyed, and its ability to maneuver is much improved as it reverts to an insurgency. What’s more, there is very little to prevent yet another non-state armed group from retaking the very same lands that ISIS once held. Accordingly, American diplomacy, military strategy, and intelligence collection likely will focus on Iraq and Syria for many years to come. Thus, the question for policymakers is how the U.S. can prevent non-state armed groups from regaining a territorial foothold, further destabilizing these territories, and ultimately threatening U.S. interests in the region. Relatedly, the question of what to do about the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS even if they do not hold territory remains equally pressing.
“Stabilizing the Fertile Crescent After the Fall of the Caliphate,” a special issue of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs (Summer 2018) and the subject of this panel, seeks to provide a framework for thinking about the threat of terrorism emanating from the Fertile Crescent now that ISIS’s Caliphate is being undone and to provide concrete policy recommendations to establish a tenable politico-economic status quo.
Tally Helfont is the Director of the Program on the Middle East at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. She is the Project Lead and contributing author on FPRI’s After the Caliphate Project.