Is the Obama administration considering a policy of containment with respect to the Islamic State? Yesterday, in a press conference at the Pentagon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said that it is “possible … to contain them.” The question and Dempsey’s full answer is below:
Q: General, do you believe that ISIS can be defeated or destroyed without addressing the cross-border threat from Syria? And is it possible to contain them?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me start from where you ended and end up where you started. It is possible contain — to contain them. And I think we’ve seen that their momentum was disrupted. And that’s not to be discounted, by the way, because the — it was the momentum itself that had allowed them to be — to find a way to encourage the Sunni population of western Iraq and Nineveh province to accept their brutal tactics and — and their presence among them.
So you ask — yes, the answer is they can be contained, not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated. To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border.
And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time. ISIS will only truly be defeated when it’s rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.
Q: And that requires airstrikes (OFF-MIKE)
GEN. DEMPSEY: It requires a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is airstrikes. I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all of the tools of national power — diplomatic, economic, information, military.
Keep in mind that top Obama administration officials have described the Islamic State as “a cancer” (President Barack Obama), “evil” (Secretary of State John Kerry), “an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else” (Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel), and “as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen… They’re beyond just a terrorist group …. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess …. They are tremendously well-funded” (Hagel).
Even Dempsey weighed in on the threat posed by the Islamic State. He described it as “an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.”
If the Islamic State poses such a dire, “imminent threat” to the United States, then the nation’s top military official shouldn’t be floating a policy of containment.