Political Focus: ISIS

Melissa Deatsch, Political Columnist

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As promised in the Political Focus on the aftermath of Sept. 11, this edition of Political Focus will take a look at the biggest terror threat the United States faces today: ISIS.

Sept. 19 saw three attacks on American soil in 12 hours, explosions in New York and New Jersey and a stabbing spree in a Minnesota mall.  

What ISIS wants

The ultimate goal of ISIS is to create a caliphate in Iraq, Syria and beyond. A caliphate is territory governed by Sharia Law. This type of governance is notorious for its ruthless punishments, such as cutting off the hand of a thief.  

In an article in a jihadi magazine, “Why we hate you and why we want to fight you,” ISIS outlined its reasons for wanting to fight Western countries. First and foremost, extremists hate Westerners for their way of life and resistance to extremist religion. Secondarily, they hate the West for their foreign policy decisions in the Middle East.  

It’s important to understand that the members of ISIS are acting with extremist beliefs in the Islamic religion.  It’s also important to understand that, though the majority of what we see in the news (and the focus of this article) are attacks on European or U.S. civilians, the vast majority of people killed by ISIS are Muslims in the Middle East.  

Why are they so dangerous?

Since the peak of their territorial control in Iraq and Syria in 2014, ISIS has been losing land, according the Pentagon. However, this doesn’t necessarily make the group less dangerous because of their tactics in extending their influence in other countries.  

ISIS has been very active with propaganda and recruitment over the internet, specifically social media. Their online campaigns have inspired terrorist attacks by civilians, making them even more dangerous than the terrorist attacks they conduct themselves.

As CNN reported, since 2014 ISIS has conducted or inspired 140 terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and Syria that have resulted in the deaths of 2,043 people and injured thousands more.  

What the Obama administration has done

The Obama administration has led an international coalition against ISIS with 66 other countries. The mission has been highlighted with airstrikes targeting ISIS leaders and ISIS-related resources.

ISIS has gained control of a lot of Syria’s oil, which has become their main source of revenue. The Obama administration has been criticized for its limitations on attacking these oil sources.  For example, in 2014 the Pentagon admitted they were trying to damage the oil refineries, but not destroy them, in hopes that they’d still be usable in a post-ISIS world.  

In the last year, however, the U.S.-led coalition has gotten more aggressive in going after these oil assets.

The Obama administration has tried to limit the ground troops fighting against ISIS. Initially, the U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East were there to offer advice, rather than to conduct their own operations. In December 2015, the number of troops were increased in order to up the intelligence collection and operations against ISIS.

What will the candidates do?

In regard to the candidates’ plans to fight ISIS, two major questions were raised in Monday’s debate. 1) What will you do to protect American citizens against attacks on U.S. soil? 2) What will you do to take out ISIS in the Middle East?

Trump claims to keep most of his plans to take out ISIS in the Middle East secret, so as not to give the enemy access to that information. However, during Monday’s debate, he said he wants to go with NATO allies into the Middle East and surrounding countries to go after ISIS.

Additionally, he has repeatedly stated his plan to go after the oil assets, though he has stated no specifics as to how his plan will differ from what President Obama has been doing.

Both candidates have supported the air campaign against ISIS, and Clinton specifically highlighted going after the leaders of ISIS in Monday’s debate. Her website states she hopes to pursue diplomatic strategy to resolve the Syrian War and the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

However, there is no indication of how she will extinguish tensions between two branches of the Islamic religion that date back to the seventh century.  

As far as protecting against attacks on American soil, Trump’s answer is to ban immigration from countries like Iraq and Syria where terrorists may be taking advantage of the system. Experts have agreed that the only foolproof way to ensure no terrorists enter the U.S. is to block immigration.  

However, this plan has been met with heavy criticism from many, including Clinton, who says that isolating Muslims is the opposite of the strategy we need to fight ISIS.