A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIL targets Sept. 23, 2014

commentary

(CNN)

September 25, 2014

War with ISIS: What Does Victory Look Like?

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIL targets Sept. 23, 2014

Photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/U.S. Air Force

by Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and now Syria and Iraq. The decade-plus duration of America's confrontation with al Qaedism offers lessons not only on how we battle extremist ideology but also how we should calibrate our expectations.

The traditional goal in warfare is simple: Defeat the adversary by destroying its will and capability to pose a threat. Force the adversary to capitulate.

With a nontraditional foe, it's not clear that we need to limit ourselves to traditional measures of victory. Containment could work.

We know by now that in no cases have the adversary's radical ideology been defeated. The most striking successes, such as Indonesia's evisceration of the Jemaah Islamiya organization and African forces' push against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, have only limited the reach of al Qaedism but failed to fully stem the flow of recruits to al Qaeda affiliates or squelch the ideology that underpins its festering.

The remainder of this commentary is available on cnn.com.


Andrew Liepman is senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and former deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Philip Mudd is the former deputy director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center.

This commentary originally appeared on CNN on September 25, 2014. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.