The war on terror has been underway for nearly two decades. Yet there is still little appreciation in some political quarters of how this approach has often been counterproductive and even created the conditions for violent extremism to thrive. If we are ever going to move towards a less violent future, this must change.
President Donald Trump’s public response to Iranian missile strikes on two US airbases in Iraq suggests that he and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have reached a mutual ‘no war’ agreement. Barring any miscalculation by either side that triggers military escalation, the confrontation will continue to be played out politically, with the US maintaining its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign that seeks to force regime change through severe economic sanctions. There will be a lot of bruising ahead for Iran, but Trump will not win politically.
Can military forces mitigate insurgent activity—“win hearts and minds”—by implementing small, localized aid projects? Evidence from the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has provided contradictory answers to the question of aid’s ability to mitigate violence. Some research finds that aid projects increase the legitimacy of the state among civilians and, under specific circumstances, dampen violence. Other studies, however, show that aid projects provoke insurgent activity, even when delivered by non-military organizations.
The challenge of peacebuilding missions is not only to stop violence and prevent a rekindling of conflict, but also to help societies and governments reset their internal relations on a peaceful path towards sustaining peace.
In the short run, it might be tempting to dismiss environmental issues when considering the insurmountable task of building peace after armed conflict. Yet, it is increasingly clear that the interaction between social, political, and ecological processes decisively shapes the post-conflict landscape.
Nearly three years on from the Islamic State’s high water mark in the summer of 2015, there are several lessons that the United States and its allies can discern from the terrorist group’s meteoric rise to control large parts of Iraq and Syria to the loss of its physical caliphate late last year. The steady decline in ISIL’s fortunes is striking given the palpable fear its rise in the summer of 2014 sparked across Washington, when a common question circulating within the policy community was whether Baghdad itself might fall. Many of these takeaways will be relevant to U.S. policymakers as they attempt to prevent the group from reconstituting itself in the coming months.