“[there] are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” - Donald Rumsfeld , Secretary of Defense, The United States, 2002
There is no doubt that the cancerous emergence of ISIL has to be dealt with. Left unchecked and largely ignored in Syria, ISIL has swept through - in a massive blowback - an already destabilized Iraq. The coalition aims to rectify this but will it bring stability to the region? Or is it simply an effort to bring back the much more desirable state of controlled instability by removing an “unknown unknown” from the playing field?
Probably the best way to answer these questions is to imagine the end result of the coalition and work backwards from there. The proposed operation though complex in all aspects and further complicated by the fluidity of the situation on the ground, it’s end result could be reasonably reduced to two possible outcomes, either success or failure.
Failure is the easier scenario to examine. Failure means highly destabilized regimes in both Baghdad and Damascus, if not outright failed states, were ISIL - intact or partially paralyzed - along with other extremists will call home. Failure also means that countries surrounding the conflict area will be completely fatigued and facing a persistent and determined threat with little or no deterrent. An ominous outcome that guarantees a future filled with unprecedented turmoil and unrestricted violence.
Success is even more challenging to evaluate since all the pre-existing ailments that preceded ISIL will remain unresolved. The regime in Damascus would still be brutal and will continue to be so with apparent impunity. The sectarian divide and political instability will still haunt Iraq as it had for so many years and will continue to be a time bomb awaiting the next trigger. Iran, though exhausted, will continue to seek hegemony over the region through its allies in Baghdad and Damascus and the Arab states will continue to exert effort and resources to counter Tehran. The success scenario is a mere return to the familiar ground of a strained and unstable Middle East minus the ISIL menace.
The atrocities committed by the ISIL leave no leeway to question whether or not they should be eradicated, there is no room for ISIL in the modern world. The coalition led by the United States also believes that a violent wild card like the ISIL should be eradicated, but remains curiously silent about whether brutal, but familiar, regimes that massacre their own citizens and thrive on sectarian strife should face the same fate as well.