REPORT: Confronting the Islamic State

Home / / REPORT: Confronting the Islamic State

REPORT: Confronting the Islamic State

Confronting the Islamic State: An Assessment of U.S. Strategic Options

Policy Report by J. Dana Stuster and Bill French
Foreword by Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, USA (Ret.)
February 2015

The National Security Network (NSN) is pleased to release a new policy report,Confronting the Islamic State: An Assessment of U.S. Strategic Options. The report, which features a foreword by NSN Senior Advisor Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), reframes the debate on U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria. NSN Policy Analysts Dana Stuster and Bill French analyze the full field of strategies to counter the Islamic State proposed by experts and outline a new approach to combat it.

To read the full report, click here.

Confronting the Islamic State categorizes the various strategic proposals into four camps: those that would “adopt the Syrian civil war” by forcing a military solution to the Syrian civil war as a precondition for destroying the Islamic State; “Counterterrorism Plus” strategies that focus more narrowly on using partner forces to degrade and destroy the Islamic State; “Containment” strategies that focus on preventing the spread of the Islamic State while ejecting the organization from Iraq and degrading its core centers of gravity in Syria; and “Retrenchment” approaches that would limit U.S. intervention in Iraq and Syria to interdicting any imminent terrorist attack. Each approach is assessed in terms of its ends, ways, and means, timeframe, financial costs, and political viability at home and abroad.

This thorough assessment is a critical guide to the debate over Islamic State strategy in Washington. While adopting the Syrian civil war has been advocated by conservative hawks as an alternative to the Obama Administration’s counterterrorism-based approach, it is the least likely to achieve its objectives and most likely to backfire.

Instead, NSN outlines a new strategy to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria called “Containment Plus.” The approach combines aspects of containment and counterterrorism proposals to contain the Islamic State in both geographic and functional terms while selectively rolling back the organization’s territorial control. Containment Plus also advocates pursuing diplomatic measures to end the Syrian civil war and building on the prospect of local ceasefires to build pockets of relative stability in Syria. The report also lays the groundwork for thinking about addressing Islamic State affiliates outside of Iraq and Syria by recommending a case-by-case approach that emphasizes supporting local governance efforts.

As NSN Senior Advisor Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.) notes in his foreword, “the choices facing policymakers are characterized by problems far more complex than fine-tuning a military strategy and the question of boots or no boots on the ground. Counter-ideology, diplomacy, economics, and politics at home and abroad all play a role.” Countering the Islamic State “illustrate[s] how the United States can best achieve a successful outcome with a rational commitment, commensurate with risk and national interest.”

To read the executive summary, click here.
To read the full report, click here.


  • To read coverage of the report in Politico, click here.
  • Report Mentioned in Foreign Policy’s Situation Report, 2/19/15.
  • Report Mentioned in Defense One’s The D Brief, 2/19/15.
Photo Credit: A U.S. Marine leads a group of Iraqi soldiers through a fire and maneuver course at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq [U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Carson A. Gramley/ Released, 1/28/15]

Receive the NSN Update

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

Start typing and press Enter to search

OEFPresident Obama meets with military leaders