The sectarian clash that erupted four years ago in Syria has metastasized into a conflict that has engulfed much of the Middle East and spread beyond regional borders. Aided in part by the missteps of the Obama administration, the Islamic State (ISIS) has grown significantly with franchises and fighters surfacing from Libya to Western Europe.
Only eight years ago, the Bush administration’s surge helped turn Iraq’s Sunni Arab tribes against foreign fighters, leading to the decimation of al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS. But the Obama administration has had no such success in putting down its own ISIS-led Sunni insurgency and stabilizing the heart of the Middle East. Where the Bush administration understood the need for Sunni cooperation, the Obama administration has, for all intents and purposes, partnered with Iran and its regional partners, rather than potential Sunni allies.
Will the Obama administration’s policies win over local Sunni tribes and officials as the surge did, and, as President Obama has argued, thereby degrade and destroy the Islamic State? Or will the White House’s apparent detente with Iran serve as an anti-surge that continues to fuel ISIS against a new prospective American-Iranian regional order?
On March 19, Hudson Institute hosted a panel of experts who witnessed the 2007 surge up close and will assess both the nature of the current Sunni insurgency and the options going forward. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith moderated a panel featuring Michael Doran, Kimberly Kagan, Michael Pregent, and Joel Rayburn.