Dear Dr. Carson,
Thank you for your Washington Post opinion piece entitled "My plan to defeat the Islamic State," which includes many sagacious observations concerning the symptoms of the disease known as the Islamic State, which is spreading like an epidemic through the Middle East, and which is now threatening Europe and the United States. However, I think all of us need to devote less time to the symptoms and more time to the diagnosis of this pestilence's root cause.
You begin your opinion piece by observing:
"Make no mistake about it: We are at war. It is not a war against an opposing nation. The Islamic State is not a sovereign in the territorial sense but is a sick and twisted ideology that seeks to engulf the region and turn back the clock to the Dark Ages. We must ask ourselves, how do we defeat an evil state of consciousness? What are the best approaches?"
Indeed, "a sick and twisted ideology"; however, the Islamic State is, at its core, a direct response to the shifting of power between Shiites and Sunnis in the Muslim Middle East. In post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the Shiite majority took hold of the reins of government. At the same time, the antagonism of Syria's Sunni majority to Alawite rule, also fueled by a multiyear drought, again brought tempers from a simmer to a boil (recall the slaughter of 30,000 Sunni inhabitants of Hama in 1982 by Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father). Add to this odious mixture, Obama's withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, together with his courtship of Shiite Iran (Iran could be a "very successful regional power"), and you have the makings of the Islamic State.
You see, the Islamic State is very much a Sunni response to Iranian aggression in the region. Iran, of course, has been supporting the Houthi insurrection in Yemen, supplying weapons and funding to Hezbollah in Lebanon, providing direct military support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria (in addition to sending Hezbollah's fighters into the fray), while also seeking to undermine Bahrain. All of which has Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar very much on edge, resulting in their funding of the Islamic State, which is seen as arresting heretical Iranian expansion.
Or stated otherwise, the Islamic State is very much the illegitimate progeny of Obama's hands-off foreign policy in the Middle East.
Dr. Carson, you suggest a "multi-pronged communications strategy that leverages our strengths in media production and messaging, combined with cutting off traditional access routes to social media for radical Islamist groups." However, blocking "access routes to social media" only treats the symptoms of the malady, whereas the underlying cause is Sunni insecurity.
Dr. Carson, you go on to say:
"The Islamic State is on the offensive, and we must do more to counter their fighters and eviscerate their infrastructure. But this also means identifying and cutting off their sources of supply and funding — namely the oil fields along Syria’s eastern border. We need to either destroy the fields with airstrikes or take them and hold them with a coalition of local (Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish) ground troops and Western military advisers and Special Operations forces."
Now don't get me wrong: I am very much in favor of cutting off funding to the Islamic State, but a coalition of Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish troops? There is too much bad blood among them, extending back decades and even centuries. Such a coalition amounts to wishful thinking.
"[S]anctuary zones in the contested areas of Iraq and Syria" for refugees, as you suggest? A good idea, but it also demands overhead "no-fly zones," which, given Russia's entry into the conflict, is now easier said than done.
"Now, more than ever, the United States must be willing to lead the free world. We need to restore America’s standing by winning over the hearts and minds of populations affected by radical Islamist violence. And to do that we need to create a winning strategy to dismantle and destroy the Islamic State while planting seeds for a more peaceful, healthy and cohesive society in the war-torn regions of the Middle East."
Agreed, however, radical Islamist violence also includes that spawned by Iran, and progress is not going to be made in combating the Islamic State, until America's traditional Sunni allies in the Middle East are reassured by America's next president concerning America's intentions vis-à-vis Iranian efforts at establishing hegemony over the region.