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Fighting Daesh Fundamentally

Even the term "Daesh" fights Daesh, as a pejorative acronym for the so-called Islamic State, as well as a reminder that the fight is not just on a military level.

It is clear that Daesh is a threat that will not go away soon. Now, in addition to its forces in Syria and Iraq, forces in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan have pledged themselves to Daesh. And beyond the armed groups is the threat of radicalized individuals, such as Omar Mateen whose recent rampage in Orlando killed some 49 people.

Military efforts have forced Daesh to surrender large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, greatly reduced the influx of new fighters traveling to Syria and encouraged desertions by those already there. Nevertheless, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency stresses that Daesh remains a significant threat as it expands an interconnected global network tied to a sophisticated internet system. This appeals particularly to marginalized Muslims with a core theme that the West is fighting to suppress Islam.

So military efforts against Daesh have two effects: they reduce the territory it holds but validate its larger picture of a West hostile to Islam. Indeed, Omar Mateen specifically said that his rampage was motivated by the bombing in Syria and Iraq. So from a Daesh point of view, the bombing is a double-edged sword that also cuts against the West.

But the bombing has directly supported the fall of Fallujah to Iraqi troops and this has two significant positive consequences. The first is the obvious reduction in Daesh territorial control with its attendant loss of credibility and reduced appeal to foreign fighters. But the other consequence is an opportunity for the West to fundamentally undermine the Daesh picture of a hostile West.

The fighting has resulted in widespread destruction within Fallujah and has created tens of thousands of desperate refugees. This is a monumental opportunity for the West to demonstrate a striking and inspiring program of support for everyday Muslims. A concerted effort to re-build Fallujah and bring its refugees back into a renewed and vibrant city could do more to undermine the global Daesh appeal than any military actions. It would also demonstrate Iraqi government support of its Sunni population and help to reduce the inter-denominational frictions that are badly the weakening the country. And it would help reduce the flow of Iraqi refugees toward Europe and provide a model of development so badly needed in this troubled area of the Middle East.

Daesh indeed needs to be confronted on a military level. But more fundamentally it needs to be confronted on a social level and the conquest of Fallujah provides an enticing opportunity to do exactly that.

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