Matt Roti

Much Needed ISIS Strategy

June 25, 2015  |  Blog

The recent U.S. kill/capture raid on the head of ISIS oil operations in Syria demonstrates the need for updated legal authorities for a limited “boots-on-the-ground” capability to help lead the region, demonstrate our commitment, and inspire our regional allies to form a strong Arab coalition to fight ISIS.

On May 15, 2015 U.S. Special Forces executed a surgical raid on the compound of Abu Sayyaf after months of intelligence gathering.  Most have never heard of Abu Sayyaf, but as an ISIS declared ‘minister’, he is close to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and controls one of the group’s main funding sources – black market oil sales.  The intelligence U.S. forces now have at their disposal from the documents, computers, phones and hard drives will allow them to fill intelligence gaps and put the intelligence web together so ISIS can be systematically hobbled.  Additionally, the corroborative information that will come from questioning the two detainees from the raid, (one being Abu Sayyaf’s wife and the other being a Yazidi girl enslaved by Abu Sayyaf) will be very helpful in putting the minister’s network of contacts together.

This highly risky mission, executed by the most professional strike force in history, will certainly yield intelligence for future opportunities that would not have been accessible if airstrikes were used.  Do we want to put U.S. Special Forces operators at risk on the ground where they could be caged and burned alive like the Jordanian pilot, of course not.  However, if we wish to resolve this conflict and ensure that ISIS does not gain more momentum and influence to ultimately strike at Western interests, then we have to address this problem in a sober manner.  Coalition airstrikes alone are not working.  We can certainly continue to disrupt day-to-day ISIS operations with this strategy, but we will never defeat them.  To this point, ISIS recently took the city of Ramadi in Iraq, further entrenching its fighters in amongst civilians, schools, mosques, and hospitals as a strategy to hide from coalition airstrikes.

Many cities have fallen to ISIS because: first, the residents feel their government has not represented them and perhaps even betrayed them; second, they know there is not a strong central government to protect them.  The winning strategy for ridding the region of ISIS will be for an Iraqi led multinational coalition to enter the cities to Clear, Hold, Govern and Stabilize each area.  This would allow for the government of Iraq to reestablish itself and regain momentum as a governing body to trusting, invested citizens.

Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates must be persuaded to full commit to solving this problem with their own forces, not just contributing to the efforts of the U.S. and Iraq.  Defeating ISIS cannot have a Western-face, this has to be a true coalition.  The U.S. has a strong military-to-military relationship with many of the countries in this region already and can help facilitate greater mutual involvement, as it has in GCC naval operations near the Strait of Hormuz.  While not taking the lead in such a coalition, the U.S. could provide tactical intelligence information, airpower, training, advisors and personnel recovery assurances to allow the multinational forces freedom of movement and less risk to aviators.  Our Arab partners could be vital, given culture and fluency, in helping to scale regional information operations against the ISIS military and propaganda machine.  But here at home there must be an overall strategy developed with appropriate authorities to conduct limited multinational operations.

The commander of US Special Operations Command recently said his forces are “operating in possibly the most complex strategic environment in recent history.”  This short article is not meant to over-simplify the larger regional problems including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s relationships in the region and Turkey’s unwillingness to engage in this conflict in a meaningful way.  There is a litany of secondary and tertiary difficulties that exist because of the history in the area, but the greatest immediate threat to stability for all remains ISIS.  As long as ISIS stands to prove its legitimacy as a Caliphate and can boast of successes over the internet, they will continue to be a threat.  Everyone likes a winner, including terrorist financiers and potential recruits.

We now have a great opportunity to go after the leadership of ISIS with the intelligence derived from the raid on 15 May.  This could allow for subsequent raids on other leaders in the network to work our way deeper into the webs of power in Raqqa, but it is unlikely to affect the ideological challenges that come with battlefield victories and a mass of online propaganda.  We must press ahead now, but the West cannot be the ones most committed to this issue.

Joshua Huminski

China’s Literal Expansionist Foreign Policy

June 5, 2015  |  Blog

The world may be well served by changing its attention from the FIFA scandal to what has been occurring in the South China Sea, particularly over the last few days. Though by no means as sexy as a scandal involving the Most Beautiful Game and suitcases of cash, China’s provocative actions are worsening an already tense situation that will have far reaching consequences, much more so than the ousting of Sepp Blatter.

Beijing is conducting a quite literal expansionist foreign policy with the creation of new islands and bases in the South China Sea amidst the disputed Spratly Islands. China is creating at last count, five new outposts totaling over 2,000 acres – literally building new territory out of the water. These outposts are fixed bases onto which China installing airstrips and fielding weapons including artillery. U.S. aircraft operating in the area have been warned to leave the area, which is international airspace, in a move by the Chinese which greatly risks unintentional escalation.

Why does this expansion matter? The Spratly’s are claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia and are believed to contain large quantities of fossil fuels.  Despite the overlapping claims, China alone has the capacity and willingness to dominate the region by force.  But it has also inspired an arms race to counter and deter these efforts.  Vietnam and Malaysia have only recently acquired submarines.

China’s foreign policy as of late is much like a teenager – it pushes its boundaries until it is scolded and then it stops, recalibrates, and looks to move again. To date, Washington hasn’t adequately stood its ground and communicated – clearly – to Beijing that its policies are unacceptable. Yes, the Secretary of Defense has stated that these actions will not stand, but Beijing has yet to heed these warnings or calls for cessation because there have been no consequences.

Words, when convincing, may be sufficient; but now Washington’s words are clearly inadequate.  Redline claims in Syria were not heeded and nuclear negotiation deadlines have been ignored.  Washington’s vacillation in the Middle East, apparent abandonment of its allies, and its deaf ear to its closest friends is clearly being watched by Beijing. China’s leadership is taking a calculated risk that Washington will not act, or at least is distracted enough to remain idle. This must be corrected.

America’s allies in Southeast Asia are rightly worried about China’s actions. What is to stop Beijing from encroaching further into the Spratly Islands? What will stop China from throwing its weight around and claiming more disputed territories or demanding greater concessions in the South China Sea? At present, nothing. Washington must move beyond rhetoric and demonstrate its resolve to both Beijing and our allies.

Does this mean military action? Far from it – there are means of showing force without using force.  The U.S. Navy must continue to operate in international waters and airspace, despite repeated Chinese warnings. Multi-lateral exercises with Malaysia and others must be increased.  Sales of advanced weapons must be reconsidered.

Beijing is watching, and so are our allies.


Matt Roti

Does the United States Have ‘Red Lines’ Anymore?

June 1, 2015  |  Blog

Unfortunately, once bold ‘red lines’ have faded over the past few years. The U.S. has had several opportunities to show its strength against the evil destabilizing the world in Syria, Ukraine and now Iran; but instead, delayed or abstained from living up to its responsibilities as a Superpower. This leaves much of the world wondering where the U.S. stands on tough issues and at what point it will engage on an issue. The rogues gallery is paying attention when countries like Russia exert themselves against their neighbors and the U.S. idly watches. Not knowing if the U.S. has a coherent strategy makes it difficult for allies to align their own interest with ours and work with the U.S. on a global scale. This is a problem the U.S. cannot afford both figuratively and literally. Our future president and cabinet must have a firm grasp of their foreign policies, a plan to implement them, and clearly convey those plans to the world. This is critical in order to reestablish boundaries for the preservation, security, and stability of America and ultimately peace in the world.

We are experiencing levels of political instability not seen since World War II. It is clear that America’s policy in recent years has been that peace would happen by its own means if the U.S. just stayed out of things. The fact is, many of these fledgling post Arab Spring governments are not capable of providing security and therefore cannot provide governance. And because our policies have not allowed for involvement early and often, we are now dealing with fractured governments, an influx of foreign fighters and reinvigorated adversaries in countries such as Libya and Iraq. Ultimately, this will end up costing America more taxpayer dollars because of the growing threat to U.S. interests presented by fresh terrorist sanctuaries in these broken countries.

Over the last 14 years of fighting terrorists and setting governments back on their feet, America has learned that without security; governance, stability, and peace are not possible. Moving forward, it is paramount that we demand our future leaders develop expertise in foreign affairs. Too many lives are in the balance. Security is intrinsically tied to our economy, our lifeblood, and it is time for a clear vision both for our well-being and that of America’s allies. Hope is not a strategy. Confidence and trust will continue to wane if American policy is developed off-the-cuff, like with chemical weapons reductions in Syria. America can redraw those red lines, but we must clearly and consistently articulate our foreign and security policies, stand firm, and back them up with our diplomacy and military might.