In the Prisoner’s Dilemma we often see both parties applying misdirection. The goal can be to lead the other to underestimate your resolve, or even to increase the resolve of your own allies. Other times parties do not attempt to “bluff” at all. This was the case with the United States during Operation Iraqi Freedom and is now the case with ISIS.
When the War on Terror kicked off, there was no doubt in the world that the U.S. intended to wipe out Al Qaeda and its benefactors in the region. War was declared, and both Osama Bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein were brought to justice. Similarly, when U.S. and coalition airstrikes started against Syrian rebels, ISIS beheaded a journalist and threatened to repeat their actions of the military strikes were not ended. As we all know, they followed through on that promise. Members of ISIS and its enemies know the extent to which that organization is willing to go, and even though it faces a far superior enemy, it will not bow down. The United States may be a different story.
The resolve of the U.S. this time around is foggy at best. It will not declare war on ISIS based on it not being a sovereign state, even though the U.S. had no problem declaring war on Al Qaeda, which is also not a sovereign state. This declaration would impart a strong end state to the conflict. Also, the United States has specifically stated that it will not send in ground troops to aid in an end to hostilities, even though sending soldiers as a guide is what the sovereign nation of Iraq could truly use. Although the idea of arming locals – especially in Syria – sounds good to many, history has shown that this can have dangerous short and long-term effects.
The murky details of the United States’ involvement with the ISIS situation poses a real issue, as ISIS insurgents could be much more willing to continue their fight knowing that the U.S. will not fully commit to the conflict.
As a veteran of the Iraq War, my mind is blown that once again – and not 5 years after the so-called end of conflict – the United States finds itself involved in a military engagement in Iraq. Stationed in Baghdad, I saw hope within the people of that nation, and promise for a better future with a constant stream of civilians joining the Iraqi Army and Police in order to provide a safer future for their families. The Iraqis had hope because the United States and its allies were there to support and guide them through their transition and to instruct them in better practices of security. My mind was blown when troops were pulled from Iraq far too early, leaving a hopeful people deprived of its guidance and path for the future – all because a politician wanted to make good on campaign promises. And now here we are, entering into another engagement in the same area, without even so much as a clear end state, and no true way to assist the people that we left defenseless.