O Liberté, que de crimes on commet en ton nom!
O Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name!
What I am about to argue may seem crazy, but events in the Middle East have become so crazy that only the wildest solutions can be entertained at this point.
Flag of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996-2001). The Taliban’s use of a white flag differs from ISIL and, in Islamic symbolism, is more moderate than the type of black war banners used by groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL
Governments need to start negotiating with ISIL. Many people are still wondering why ISIL or the Islamic State (IS), also ISIS, is still here despite being bombed by the US and its allies in precision strikes. The terrorist group still fails to collapse or be “degraded”, as the US calls it in its military terminology.
The reason is, ironically, that the US and allies have too little respect for ISIL. At this point, the facts on the ground show that ISIL is a state rather than a terrorist group. By applying the weapons, tactics, ethics, and strategy employed against small terrorist groups against a whole state, the US is going after the lion with a fly-swatter. Trying to “degrade” a terrorist group makes sense because of terrorists’ limited numbers, reliance on effective coordination to pose any threat at all, and overall vulnerability to any form of disruption to their communications and recruitment. Trying to “degrade” a state or large hordes and armies who dominate territory sounds like tickling them with a feather.
ISIL at this point is at least as strong as Syria or Iraq, if not both of them combined. The first step in successful war or peace is to respect the enemy and have a realistic understanding of who and what they really are.
Rather than bombing only ISIL command centers and camps and supporting small factions opposed to ISIL like the YPG and the FSA, the United Nations (not just the United States, which should learn to operate instead with UN approval) should recognize ISIL as a legitimate state and this state should be granted full diplomatic rights including a UN delegation. Even the Taliban regime in Afghanistan should have obtained this, and the lack of it is only causing the US to have to work via other states in order to speak to the Taliban today in its ongoing talks with them. It makes little sense to battle ISIL for decades only to eventually conclude that one must negotiate with them via a third party such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia.
If ISIL was to be recognized as a state, it would make life much easier not just for ISIL but for ISIL’s enemies. One may then make war on this state or sign a peace treaty with it. In this sense, recognizing ISIL as a state would simultaneously give ISIL a way out other than being blown to bits (which just forces them to entrench themselves and fight harder for their very lives) and untie the hands of some of the most capable negotiators and military generals in the world. The only people who can really be trusted to handle a power as dangerous as ISIL.
If ISIL accepts a peace offer, hypothetically (even if they do so cynically at first, they would quickly realize that the benefits of peace will make breaking the pact not worth it) it will become a less aggressive, if unpopular power. It would be roughly equivalent to modern day Israel. If ISIL refuses, then the United Nations will be able to formally declare war upon ISIL and authorize the use of all weapons, including nuclear weapons and massive indiscriminate area-bombing of ISIL-controlled infrastructure and civilian cities, to destroy ISIL’s ability to function or survive as a state in the same way that the Axis was fought to unconditional surrender in World War 2.
On the other hand, maintaining ambiguity about ISIL and avoiding damage to infrastructure and cities – treating the group like hostage-takers and nuisances rather than a foreign army – causes the forces opposing ISIL to avoid damage to the ostensibly still Syrian and Iraqi state infrastructure occupied by ISIL. This is what happens when we deal with a state as if it is still a terrorist group. Eliminating this ambiguity once and for all by recognizing ISIL as a state enemy will not just create the opportunity to negotiate but also unlock the full military arsenal of the world’s most powerful countries for use against ISIL.
Area-bombing and even nuclear attack against all state infrastructure under ISIL occupation may be the only option if ISIL insists on remaining an existential threat to the international community. The alternative of a negotiated peace may be more attractive to ISIL’s leadership and a solution to the violence spreading across the world from Syria and Iraq. One can struggle against the inevitable, or begin applying tomorrow’s answers today. There were those who would never have countenanced negotiating with the Taliban who now see it as the only solution to the intractable War in Afghanistan. To some future President, the same might be said of ISIL.