the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) threat
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." For the past two decades, United States foreign policy in the Middle East has been driven by fear, which has come with dire consequences. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the George W. Bush administration declared a worldwide "war on terror," which involved spending millions of dollars, launching two wars, ultimately inviting anti-Americanism and destabilizing the Middle East. Subsequently, these developments have led to the emergence of radical terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Nevertheless, other factors, such as Iranian support for Iraqi former Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, cannot be denied as causes of the rise of the Islamic State. Today the world is under a greater threat from terrorism than it was at the outset of the millennium. Despite a few victories enjoyed by Western-backed forces in the Islamic State's heartland, they have done little to stop the expansion of the militants to nearby Middle Eastern countries, North Africa and even as far as Southeast Asia. While it is crucial for the U.S. and its Western allies to continue airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya, it is also equally, if not more, important to eradicate and prevent ISIL from expanding around the world.
For the Islamic State, loss of territory in Iraq and Syria does not translate into loss of capability. ISIL is currently present in 17 countries, ranging from its core bases in Iraq, Syria and Libya to 14 other nations where it either has affiliates or it has been able to inspire or direct attacks. Since the rise of ISIL as a murderous, land-holding terror force in 2013, it has caused the death of more than 1200 civilians outside of Iraq and Syria, in addition to many more deaths and war crimes in those countries. Moreover, the war in Syria, with ISIL being a major actor in it, has already forced 6.8 million Syrians to flee into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq and about one million seeking asylum in Europe. If ISIL's root is not eradicated around the world, the death toll of innocent refugees will keep rising, resulting in more humanitarian, economic and security catastrophes. Furthermore, the United States and its Western allies will be required to execute more covert operations and airstrikes in different countries, which can only lead to more violence and anti-Western sentiments around the world, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the ubiquitous threat of ISIL invading the globe, it is critical to prevent more countries from collapsing into the hands of terrorists. One of the most prominent factors in formation of violent extremism has been the lack of strong a economy in certain regions. Absence of a powerful economy limits a government from providing its citizens proper education, healthcare and living standards. Theses elements make the often desperate citizens of these countries more vulnerable to extremist groups. What is required of the United States as a world leader is to organize an international campaign to send emergency fundings in addition to lower-interest loans and preferential trade agreements to countries on the front lines of the fight against the Islamic State. This will help those countries to develop a strong economy as they shoulder the burden of refugees. Although there is no simple solution for the current situation, helping countries at war against ISIL to developed their economies will not only demonstrate a kinder vision of the United States, but it will provide a stronger foothold for the U.S. in the Middle East.