On Tuesday, June 28, Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, delivered a testimony on the global efforts to defeat IS to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While his report indicated that the U.S. has successfully decreased Islamic State territory by a reported 47% in Iraq and 20% in Syria after two years of military operations, few of McGurk’s remarks suggested optimism for a swift victory over the terrorist organization.
After all, reclaiming territory offers no guarantees for the sustainability of these areas. True, as Brett McGurk implied in his testimony, the eradication of these territories is a starting point. The minimization of a group’s physical territory weakens its power and persuasion. Yet, even if the U.S. was able to eradicate 100% of ISIL physical territory, this does not guarantee the same destruction of jihadism, let alone ISIL’s self-proclaimed caliphate. Even the re-taking of Fallujah and the current battle for Manbij offer no guarantees for U.S. success, as indicated through previous failed U.S. efforts in those very same cities.
Moreover, in the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, frustration with the speed, efficiency, and overall ability of the current administration’s efforts were palpable. Senator and Chairman of the Committee Bob Corker stated his concern, “I fear that in spite of continued attacks on our homeland, our military response to ISIS does not adequately reflect the direct nature of this threat to the United States. I think many of us grow frustrated when the administration’s optimistic rhetoric often does not match the results.”
Of course, frustration, let alone anger, cannot undermine the obvious: defeating terrorism is still an incredible task for the U.S. Indeed, Senators Tim Kaine and Jeff Flake suggested that Congress provide an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) to indicate a bipartisan agreement on fighting against the Islamic State. However, this is of little consequence. What matters isn’t whether the current administration needs a new AUMF, so much as why the U.S. needs an AUMF to begin with.
The 2001 AUMF was written fifteen years ago. By now, the document should be irrelevant. Yet, the U.S. must still rely on this document to permit and justify its continual involvement in the Middle East. Every wave of U.S. efforts, whether through actual invasion or through counterinsurgency tactics, has failed to stop or anticipate the rise of new terrorist organizations and strategies. This mentality only indicates a deeper, more troubling problem the U.S. faces today: it still does not know its enemy.
There is nothing that can assuage the incredible pain felt for the victims of Orlando. This tragedy is and will be felt, known, and remembered. However, this lone wolf attack has only indicated that the game is changing once again, a trend continued from the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and through the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. However, the necessity to consider the prevention of domestic attacks alongside current U.S. efforts overseas is truly disheartening.
Should McGurk’s testimony be considered with optimism? Not at all. Rather, this is just another weary step in never-ending struggle.