Stern Writes OpEd for The Atlantic, on ISIS


In a new Op-Ed published in The Atlantic (9 December, 2015), Jessica Stern, Research Professor at the Boston University Pardee School of Global Studies, argues that “ISIS is spreading into ‘diseased tissue’ in weak states as well as in weak parts of strong states.” And that, “the West can defeat the Islamic State in the territory it now controls. But it would take a massive ground invasion, and the results would be temporary at best.”

In the essay, titled, “Containing ISIS: What Would George Kennan Do?”, Prof. Stern builds on an earlier essay, also in The Atlantic by MIT Prof. Barry Posen, to conclude that while it is right to argue “for a containment strategy” for ISIS, “but just as important as what to do is what to avoid.”

In thinking about containment strategies, Stern takes us back to the famous 1946 ‘long telegram’ by George Kennan (later published under the pseudonym X as ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’).

“Kennan described Marxist theory as a ‘highly convenient rationalization’ for the revolutionaries’ own instinctive desire for power and revenge. ISIS, too, uses a particular and peculiar reading of Islamic texts to justify raping children, burning prisoners of war alive, and spreading its ideology through barbarism… And just as containing the Soviet Union required much more than a strategy of hope, so too, containing ISIS will require fighting the organization’s spread with both military and diplomatic means.”

Stern lists ways in which the response of some in the West could be helping ISIS in achieving its goal:

“Fail to recognize that ISIS’s most numerous victims are Muslims.

Conflate ISIS’s ideology with Islam…

Conflate the victims of jihadist brutality, now desperately seeking refuge in the West, with the perpetrators from whom they are trying to escape.

Urge Nuremburg-type laws for Muslims, requiring them to register with the state—or call for keeping them out altogether.

Send in the 100,000 troops it would take to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, while failing to address the underlying problems of disenfranchised Sunni Muslims, leaving an opening for ISIS or another group like it to rise again.”

She concludes by pointing out that “ just as much as Kennan’s texts contain clues about how to contain ISIS, ISIS’s own texts spell out clearly how not to.”

Jessica Stern recently joined the Boston University Pardee School as a Research Professor. She served on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff from 1994 to 1995, was named a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Fellow of the World Economic Forum, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellow. She is a 2014-2015 Fulbright Scholar and, in 2009, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work on trauma and violence. Stern is a member of the Trilateral Commission. Her books include: ISIS: The State of Terror (co-authored with J.M. Berger); Denial: A Memoir of Terror (2001), named a best non-fiction book of 2010 by the Washington Post; Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (2004), selected by the New York Times as a notable book of the year; and The Ultimate Terrorists (1999).

Read full Op-Ed here. Read more about Jessica Stern here.