Key Points

It’s a familiar refrain. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump argued that Iran, along with Syria and Russia, has played a positive role in combating the terrorist group. “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS,” he said. “Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS.”

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Trump, who showered Erdogan with praise when the Turkish strongman visited Washington last week, would fare better by warning Erdogan not to undermine U.S. efforts to fight the Islamic State. If Erdogan invested as much effort in pursuing jihadists as he does in silencing dissidents, Turkey would no longer be a primary destination for the Islamic State and other extremists.

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Ahead of his November 13 meeting with Erdogan, Trump should not fall for the Turkish president’s public relations stunts. Instead, Trump should demand tougher action against the full range of jihadist networks active within and around Turkish borders, beyond just the Islamic State. Trump should also hold the Turkish government accountable for the war crimes committed by its Islamist proxies in northeast Syria. By aggravating instability in Syria, Erdogan threatens to reverse the gains that the U.S. and its allies have made against the Islamic State.

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The alternative to taking meaningful steps to reestablish the credibility of America’s will to use force is to simply sit back, absorb Iran’s provocations, and wait until the regime caves to the steadily mounting pressure of U.S. sanctions. In the face of Iran’s escalation campaign and Trump’s own aversion to risking new military conflicts, that in fact seems to be the default policy that the administration has actually settled on. It’s by no means impossible for it to eventually work—Iran’s economy is being absolutely hammered. But the big question is how long it will take and what amount of damage an increasingly desperate Iranian regime, unconstrained by the fear of U.S. military retaliation, is capable of inflicting in the meantime on the interests of the United States and its friends and allies. If the brazen attack on Abqaiq is any indication, the answer may be a great deal of damage indeed.

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Awful as the prospect of endless war may be, conceiving a worse alternative should not require much stretching of the imagination.

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Events

EVENT: Shatter the Nations: ISIS and the War for the Caliphate

October 21, 2019 | 12:00

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