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Jordans response to ISIL must look beyond

Military action should avoid making the regional crisis even worse
February 6, 20152:00AM ET by Rami G. Khouri@ramikhouri | February 6, 2015
Early Wednesday morning the Jordanian government took immediate revenge for the brutal
ritualistic murder of its airman Moath al-Kassasbeh by the Islamic State in Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL). Two Iraqi prisoners convicted on terrorism charges were taken from their cells
and hanged. On Thursday Jordan followed up with airstrikes against ISIL targets.
Ironically, the executions brought the larger story full cycle: The founder of the Al-Qaeda
offshoot in Iraq in the early 1990s that would later become ISIL was Abu Musab Zarqawi, a
Jordanian convicted terrorist who was arrested and partly radicalized in the same Jordanian
prisons in the 1990s.
As public opinion against ISIL in Jordan and across much of the rest of the Arab world now
reaches a boiling point, Jordan stands at the fulcrum of those states willing and able to strike
militarily. Yet they all face the vexing reality that the past quarter-century of fighting radical
groups has only seen the menace metastasize. Even worse, the more Arab governments
appear to attack radicals in line with or at the bidding of the United States, the greater the
opposition from their citizens, who do not want to be seen as marching alongside the U.S.
and its regional ally Israel.
In the case of Kassasbehs murder, however, public reservations about working too closely
with the United States have given way to outpourings of rage rooted in national humiliation
and a deeply wounded collective psyche. Public pressure in Jordan may force King
Abdullahs hand.
The Jordanian government has several military options available. It could expand its
participation in the coalition against ISIL through direct strikes, intelligence, training,
logistics and other contributions. It could use its very able intelligence and special operations
forces to kill or capture ISIL forces. (When Abdullah was a prince, he commanded the special
forces and knows this branch of military work very well.) It could help galvanize other Arabs
and regional actors in joining the ground war that will be needed to dismantle ISIL.
A bold political and socioeconomic reform strategy is Jordan's best path to national unity and
Abdullah now faces an enormous test of his leadership: He must balance several forces that
are inherently irreconcilable and take actions that could generate greater threats than the ones
he faces now. Military strikes by Americans, Arabs and others against Al-Qaeda and ISIL

have continued ever since the first strikes against the nascent Al-Qaeda in the late 1980s, yet
they have only resulted in these groups continuing expansion and depravity. A few hundred
Al-Qaeda zealots in isolated Afghan mountains in the 1980s have now morphed into tens of
thousands of organized adherents in a dozen countries, with the ability to target Western
So another Jordanian strike against ISIL will likely kill dozens of fighters but at the cost of
inadvertently attracting new members to the group and opening new battlefronts in Jordan or
elsewhere. Such militaristic approaches have been shown to suffer from a twofold weakness:
The attacks tend to spread chaos and draw recruits who are motivated by fighting the heavyhanded U.S. and its allies, and defeating armed groups removes symptoms but not the causes
of radicalization.
The real war that must be waged to wipe out ISIL and its ilk requires eradicating the three
principal drivers in Middle Eastern societies that have incubated such criminal groups: Arab
autocracy and socioeconomic mismanagement that have left majorities of Arabs in conditions
of poverty, vulnerability and political helplessness; the continuing humiliation and waste of
the Arab-Israeli conflict; and the repeated damage caused by foreign military attacks and
interventions across the Middle East.
The weakness of Arab states was evident in their unwillingness to move seriously to counter
ISIL during the years of its birth and early expansion until the United States took the lead last
summer. Any Jordanian retaliation now must aim beyond simply assuaging the publics desire
for revenge. It should indicate an awareness of and a determination to address the underlying
causes of the frightening rise of ISIL, in a way that no other Arab or regional government has
dared. This plan would ideally blend any military action with credible political reforms at
home to create more participatory and representative governance, expand national decisionmaking beyond security-defined criteria and address socioeconomic disparities that have
generally worsened in recent decades.
The absence of these actions, combined with foreign militarism, has created the environment
that continues to allow ISIL and similar groups to flourish and multiply. Venturing into such a
bold political and socioeconomic reform strategy is the best ultimate path to national unity
and security. It is certainly something Jordanians would see as worth fighting for.
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