When it comes to defeating ISIS without putting boots on the ground, the US-led coalition is running out of ideas. A US-led initiative to train and equip 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels has graduated just 60 soldiers in six months, Iraqi security forces are still complaining that they are unprepared and ill-equipped to face the extremists, and Kurdish advances against ISIS, while notable, have irked Turkey and exacerbated ethnic tensions in the region.
And now, as in decades past, some Western government are “altering their threat assessments of violent groups in an apparent effort to enlist them in the fight against the Islamic State,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes in Politico.
“Call it the Daesh effect.”
Schanzer, former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, describes how assessments of militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Libya, and Afghanistan are being viewed in terms of “lesser evil” as ISIS spreads beyond the Middle East.
“[Syrian militant group Jabhat al-Nusra] is a unique version of al Qaeda. They manage to cooperate with non-Islamist and non-jihadi organizations in one coalition,” retired Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former chief of staff for Israel’s defense minister, told the Wall Street Journal.
Former US ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker also lauded Nusra — a US-designated terrorist organization — as a potentially useful ally in the fight against ISIS.
And after clashing with ISIS in Afghanistan earlier this year, even the Taliban came out looking like the good guys.
“It may only be a matter of time before Western governments, which have already committed to leaving Afghanistan after years of warring with the Taliban (and losing), look at the former hosts of Al Qaeda in the 1990s—and the original Islamic State—as a more moderate faction,” Schanzer writes. However, the risks in such a strategy are inherently clear.
Emile Hokayem, a Middle East security analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, noted the risks inherent in the US and its allies edging closer to their enemies. “If you cooperate with one group, you lose another,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “It looks good on paper, but it’s impossible to implement.” Significantly, the idea that ISIS must be countered at all costs benefits those who systematically create terror themselves. “Undoubtedly, the Daesh Effect is strongest among those who believe that Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is somehow the answer to the Islamic State,” Schanzer writes.”