In a joint piece for The Atlantic magazine, Biddle, an adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Shapiro, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, lay out why the war against the jihadist group isn’t likely to end in the neat and clean way that American officials might have hoped it would.
The reason for this, they suggest, stems from the nature of the war: “Civil wars of the kind in which the US conflict with the Islamic State is embedded are notoriously hard to terminate and typically drag on for years. Datasets vary slightly, but most put the median duration of such conflicts at seven to 10 years; and an important minority drag on for a generation or more.”
“When they do end, it’s rarely because an empowered, victorious army marches into the enemy capital, pulls down the flag, and governs a newly stable society.”
Like neighboring Syria, Iraq, the authors suggest, is likely to remain embroiled in civil conflict because, as is typical in civil wars, there are outside interests which prefer instability and chaos to a decisive victory for their opponent.
“Civil wars like today’s conflict in Syria and Iraq are often complex, multi-sided proxy conflicts in which a variety of local combatants have ties to outside backers who fund, equip, train, and advise allies’ forces. This outside support enables fighters to weather setbacks and hang on in the face of military adversity. Outside backers usually have geopolitical reasons of their own to support local proxies.”