The Perils of a Piecemeal Approach to Fighting ISIS in Iraq

AuthorJohn Weaver
Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
192 Public Administration Review • March | April 2015
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 2, pp. 192–193. © 2015 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12351.
John Weaver is a retired Lieutenant
Colonel in the U.S. Army. He currently works
as a civilian U.S. Department of Defense
employee in the intelligence community at
Fort Meade.
E-mail :
John Weaver
U.S. Department of Defense
e Perils of a Piecemeal Approach to Fighting ISIS in Iraq
T he Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now
has over 20,000 members and operates with
near impunity in Syria and Iraq (Quinlan
2014 ). The White House acknowledges the threat to
international security that ISIS poses and announced
on September 10, 2014, its commitment to com-
bat ISIS with airstrikes coordinated with coalition
partners and American troops acting as advisers to
Iraqi forces (White House 2014 ). On November 7,
2014, President Obama nearly doubled the commit-
ment of U.S. troops. Of the $5.6 billion the White
House requested for targeted operations against ISIS,
the Defense Department would get the vast prepon-
derance, with less than 10% intended for the State
Department (DOD 2014 ).
Noticeably absent from the White House press release
or associated fact sheet was any mention of other
federal departments or agencies. Also missing was an
articulation of a comprehensive mission and the corre-
sponding multilateral federal approach to dealing with
ISIS, specifically in Iraq, where U.S. troops are present
ostensibly to assist and train the fledgling military.
The high regard in which Americans hold our military
must be accompanied by an awareness of the limita-
tions of a military-only approach. If ISIS truly poses
a threat to the security of the United States, it requires
a unified effort by a consortium of federal depart-
ments and agencies. Diplomatic, informational,
military, and economic (“D.I.M.E.”) instruments of
power should come into play (Wilcox 2010 ), with a
clear mission statement articulated and promulgated
by the commander-in-chief.
Such a statement should avoid telegraphing to the
enemy self-imposed restrictions on military tactics,
such as ground force restrictions. Rather, a mission
statement that affords consideration for possible con-
tingencies would help enhance the chances of success.
This need not involve the Defense Department alone;
the Department of Homeland Security could help
train Iraqi police and other Iraqi forces charged with
internal security, leaving the Iraqi military to con-
centrate on external threats. Three other instruments
of power are equally important to the success of the
First, the Department of State should undertake
a more assertive role, actively engaging with Iraqi
President Fuad Masum to dismantle tensions between
the Shiite and Sunni populations, allowing for a fairer
and more representative government and avoiding
disparate treatment. Such a step would reduce the
likelihood that the Sunni minority might see ISIS as
an instrument of retribution for injustice. The State
Department can also help assure continued American
domestic support for the effort by reporting back to
the American public on the progress of its efforts.
Second, the Justice Department has a complementary
role as well. Justice could foster transparency and
equality by pressing Masum s government to ensure
citizen rights and advocate equality in a country
replete with sectarian violence. One of the main rea-
sons for Masum s rise to power came about as a result
of the former Iraqi president suppressing the Sunni
minority. Messaging in this regard would be helpful:
Justice should also encourage the Iraqi government to
report to its people such progress, and to explain the
collective benefits of the sectarian cooperation that
equality should foster.
Finally, the administration must look for ways to
block funding for ISIS. The White House statement
acknowledged this need, but only addressed the role
of international partners. Clearly, the Department of
Treasury should be (and hopefully is) working to con-
strict the flow of money to ISIS and thus degrade their
resources and strength. Surprisingly, this nonstate actor
operates as many countries do by receiving funding
from eclectic sources such as oil, antiquities, donations,
and the banking sector, many of which are subject to
sanctions. The Department of Justice should identify
the appropriate legal options for the Treasury in reduc-
ing funding streams to this terrorist organization.

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