United States President Barack Obama spoke to the world leaders in the United Nations on Tuesday about his strategy going forward to defeat the Islamic State (or ISIS). Obama believes that the key to ending ISIS’ reign of terror is to extinguish them with better democratic ideas, not with bombs or weapons. However, many other world leaders including Vladimir Putin say that ISIS can not be defeated with ideas alone.
As reported by the New York Times, at the United Nations summit meeting, Obama claimed that “military pressure” will do little to get ISIS to back down. He said that even if the United States were to completely wipe out the leaders of ISIS with military force, there would still be ISIS terrorist forces that would persist.
“This means defeating their ideology,” Obama said. “Ideologies are not defeated with guns. They are defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and compelling vision.”
In response to Obama’s peaceful plan to use political and ideological strategies to overcome the threat of ISIS, many people voiced concern that ideas alone wouldn’t be enough. Even Obama’s own Vice President Joe Biden was recorded saying that the summit meeting wouldn’t accomplish a viable tactic to defeat ISIS. Biden joked that reporters wouldn’t be able to stay awake while sitting through “30 speeches about how we’re going to go after ISIS.”
But the most vocal opponent to Obama’s non-military strategy is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who agrees that ISIS is a common enemy, but adheres to a more forceful approach to defeating them. In a speech given on Monday, Putin criticized the United States’ attempt to bring democracy as a tool against unrest in the Middle East, claiming that these efforts have largely failed.
“Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence poverty and social disaster. And nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life.”
Obama did admit that ISIS has shown extreme resilience to global opposition, frequently using social media to spread terror and propaganda, while continuing horrific acts of violence and enslavement. But in admitting this resistance, Obama hinted that the primary cause is poor political control.
“They have shown themselves resilient,” he said. “They have been able to attract adherents … in many of our own countries… We have [ISIS] taking root in areas that already are suffering from failed governance. And as a consequence of the vacuum that exists in many of these areas, [ISIS] has been able to dig in.”
According to the Washington Examiner, Obama believes a peaceful opposition to ISIS will require lots of time and the cooperation of all world leaders. Defeating ISIS with ideology rather than guns means economic growth and sustainable development within affected countries, as well as campaigns that negate the hate-filled propaganda distributed by members of ISIS.
“This is not a conventional battle. This is a long-term campaign — not only against this particular network, but against its ideology… Like terrorists and tyrants throughout history, [ISIS] will eventually lose because it has nothing to offer but suffering and death.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to agree that the greatest weapon against ISIS might be counteracting the extremist ideas propagated by the terrorist regime, but also agrees with Putin’s point that efforts to do so have failed miserably in the past.
“We need to win this propaganda war far more effectively than we have to date,” Cameron said. “I believe in freedom of speech, but freedom to hate is not the same thing.”
An analysis of the conflict with ISIS from the U.S. State Department supports the claims of Putin and Cameron that the United States has been extremely unsuccessful in combating ISIS ideas, because the terrorist group is much quicker at producing social media propaganda than the U.S. is at silencing it.
But is Vladimir Putin’s militaristic strategy more promising than Obama’s anti-propaganda plan? Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France criticized Putin at the U.N. summit, claiming that Russia has not succeeded in defeating ISIS forcibly any more than the U.S. has succeeded peacefully.
“They talk about fighting [ISIS], but I haven’t seen anything,” he said.
What do you think is the best strategy to defeat ISIS?