David dissects ISIS at I.D.E.A.L. event – The Johns Hopkins News-Letter
Source: The Johns Hopkins University Newsletter https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2014/10/david-dissects-isis-at-i-d-e-a-l-event-60890/
By JOHN HUGHES | October 30, 2014
The I.D.E.A.L. Voting club hosted Steven David, vice dean for undergraduate education and professor of political science, for a discussion on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other militant forces in the Middle East on Tuesday.
David cited the instability from the ongoing Syrian civil war, the ousting of competent Iraqi military officers whom the government considered disloyal and the demographics of the region as reasons that Iraq and Syria were unable to resist ISIS’s campaign for control in the two countries.
In particular David suggested the status of Iraq as a Shi’a state discouraged Sunni Iraqis from joining efforts to resist ISIS.
“They were not going to fight for a country that they didn’t feel any loyalty to,” David said.
According to David, the current U.S. strategy for combating ISIS involves cooperation with unlikely allies, such as Iran, which already oppose ISIS. Iran has mobilized troops to oppose the ISIS front.
“We’re being forced to cooperate with groups and countries with whom we are typically not friendly,” David said.
U.S. strategy also involves soliciting the support of local friendly nations who have not yet taken action against ISIS, such as Turkey, which is focusing on the civil war in Syria and is reluctant to arm Kurdish resistance, which could later develop into an armed Kurdish independence movement.
David said that the U.S. has been more willing to engage in direct action, including air strikes, after ISIS published footage of beheadings of American and European citizens.
“Public opinion polls shifted after the decapitations,” David said. “After public opinion shifted, [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama made a speech where he dramatically escalated involvement.”
David pointed out that if local resistance groups are successful in dismantling ISIS, the area formerly under control by ISIS could then be in the hands of Kurdish resistance groups and Sunni militias, and these groups may be unwilling to return control of the territory to the states of Syria or Iraq.
“There’s a real question of whether Iraq and Syria can be reconstituted,” David said. “I’ve looked at the Middle East for many years, but it’s hard to remember a time when it was more in chaos and its future so uncertain.”
David fielded many questions from students in attendance.
Freshman Matthieu Ortiz asked if David thought that it was likely or advisable for the U.S. to implement a balance of power philosophy in order to combat ISIS.
David explained that because the U.S. is unlikely to support states that counter its interests even to create a balance of power, it is unlikely the U.S. will pursue the strategy, though it is possible a more organic balance of power will be reached by the cooperation of local unlikely allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Freshman Hansel Romero asked what impact the growth of Turkey will have in the future and whether the U.S. could potentially develop a conflict with Turkey.
“[Turkey] has a strong economy, it’s a democracy and it’s Islamic. It has a lot going for it,” David said. “Ideally we’d like to work with Turkey, but [Turkish president] Erdoğan has turned a blind eye to ISIS. It will require deft diplomacy. I can certainly see a conflict with Turkey but not an armed conflict.”
Graduate student Mariam Banahi asked David why he failed to discuss U.S. and European interventions that destabilized the Middle East, including the Iraqi refugee burden on Jordan during U.S. intervention. Banahi also accused David of presenting an anti-Islamic history influenced by the civilizational decline arguments of Bernard Lewis and claiming that Arabs are murderous.
However, David had cited the refugee burden on Jordan during the ISIS conflict in his preliminary remarks. He denied claiming that Muslims are murderous and cited the fact that he was asked to focus on ISIS for the purposes of the event as the reason he did not address previous U.S. and European interventions. He said that he does not deny a Western contribution to the instability in the Middle East.
After a brief back and forth led to tension, I.D.E.A.L. President Liam Haviv asked Banahi to keep her discussion civil to preserve the safety of the space.
Freshman Will Yu asked how David thought the global community could prevent the rise of future extremist groups which recruit from oppressed minorities.
David responded that the best way is to ensure people are afforded a decent life and that there is a real middle class, but that it is not easily done. He also said religion was not the core issue.
“A lot of these groups are Islamic, and people point to the fact that ‘it’s Islam,’” David said. “It’s important to bear in mind that every great religion has great books that can be interpreted very harshly.”