Hillary Clinton announces her campaign agenda on combating the future of ISIS in Syria. She addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan. (NYC)

Hillary Clinton announces her campaign agenda on combating the future of ISIS in Syria. She addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan. (NYC) Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 11/19/15

Measure Clinton’s Plan for ISIS Against the Lessons of Iraq

A former Army division commander views the candidate’s proposed strategy through a McChrystal lens.

Last week, Hillary Clinton became the first of the 2016 presidential hopefuls to articulate an approach to fighting ISIS in enough substance and detail to merit serious analysis. Unfortunately, most of the subsequent commentary has focused on the wrong question (“How different is this strategy from the one we are currently pursuing?”). In military circles, there is a semi-facetious expression about the two kinds of strategy: the ones that might work and those that definitely won’t. What serious observers should be debating is which of the two types Secretary Clinton has put forward.

There is no crystal ball that can reliably predict the effectiveness of a proposed strategy. What can be useful, though, is assessing its merits using the lessons from and principles that guided an earlier, similar effort.

It is generally acknowledged that in the final stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Gen. Stanley McChrystal led a successful counterterrorism operation against Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). When he speaks publicly about that fight, McChrystal focuses on four key principles. First, he says, a successful counterterrorist effort demands a broad, multifunctional, interconnected group of players and agencies — “a network to defeat a network.” Second, he notes that a strategy that relies on eliminating the leaders of terrorist organizations may bring near-term gains but is doomed to fail in the long run. Experience shows that leaders who are eliminated will be replaced. Incapacitating a terrorist group requires striking at more fundamental parts of the organization. Which leads to the third lesson: getting “after the people who get things done.” Perhaps more critical to a decentralized terrorist group than its leaders are the members who keep the ranks of the front-line fighters and operatives full, provide them with supplies, make sure they are well-financed, and the like. As opposed to a strategy based on decapitation, attacking and destroying their support base through a wide variety of means is more crippling to a terrorist group and has a more lasting effect. Finally, and most fundamentally, McChrystal notes that it is essential to attack the ideas that make a terrorist group attractive to those who might want to join it. In the end, undermining the appeal of an ideology that justifies terrorism is critical to defeating an organization built on an ideological foundation.

How does Secretary Clinton’s announced strategy to fight ISIS stand up in light of these lessons?

In sum, pretty well. The key points of her presentation and other comments she has made about the fight against radical jihadism track very nicely with General McChrystal’s advice and cautions. Her approach is fundamentally based on the notion that it takes a network to fight a network. The call for a continued effort to be more inclusive to strengthen and broaden the coalition—more international partners, additional support from U.S. and other agencies especially in the realm of intelligence, and mechanisms to better coordinate and integrate the contributions of the players in such a network—mirrors exactly the successful techniques honed by McChrystal and JSOC as part of their counterterrorism operations in the latter half of last decade.

And this expanded network will be an integral part of supporting a campaign with increasingly broader, and potentially more effective, objectives. At the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary Clinton stated explicitly that one of the main pillars of her strategy would be to “disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilitates the flow of fighters, financing, arms, and propaganda” that have become critical to the success of ISIS. Her remarks clearly are informed by the principle that a successful strategy must go beyond discrete strikes against “high value targets.”

Perhaps most importantly, the Clinton strategy includes lines of effort to undermine the “idea” that ISIS is using to build strength and support. At the core of that idea is the assertion that the West has launched a crusade against the Muslim world, especially Sunni Islam. The war in Syria is used as evidence of this assertion. In the ISIS narrative, the international coalition has been formed to conduct operations to perpetuate the rule of a brutal regime and enable the large-scale massacre of various Sunni peoples.

In her remarks, Secretary Clinton puts forth specific and concrete proposals to undermine these contentions. She proposes a more robust effort to protect people who are suffering from the effects of this war—both intended and unintended—regardless of nationality, religion, or sect. And her strategy proposes measures that are designed to give “new leverage” to diplomatic efforts that will be informed by previous successful efforts that have brought “seemingly intractable multi-sectarian civil wars” to an end.

In short, Secretary Clinton’s strategy to defeat ISIS, when tested against the principles that underpin a generally acknowledged successful counterterrorism campaign, would suggest at least that it “might work.” At a minimum, those who might disagree now have a concrete, well-grounded proposal on the table to discuss and respond to.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.