The Bush Library Presidential Orientation Theatre was filled to maximum capacity on Wednesday, September 24, 2014, as Dean Ryan Crocker, Dr. Gregory Gause, and Dr. Mohammad Tabaar spoke to an audience of students, faculty, and members of the local community about “The Islamic State and the Crisis in Iraq and Syria.”
The topic has been one Dean Crocker, former ambassador to numerous countries in the Middle East (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon), has spoken about for weeks to national media outlets, including CNN, NPR, and Voice of America. He has also written an op-ed in The New York Times, contributed to the Wall Street Journal, and appeared to comment on the matter before the House Intelligence Committee.
The panel forum, moderated by Dr. Andrew Natsios, executive professor at the Bush School and director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, covered a broad array of topics, from the threat ISIS poses to the region to the sources of ISIS’ funding seeping in through various countries.
A Good Start
The discussion began with questions about the Obama administration’s current approach to the region.
“The administration is off to a good start on a comprehensive campaign,” Dean Crocker said but emphasized that, “we will not defeat ISIS without boots on the ground.” Later on, the panel expressed their view that the American public likely does not have the stomach for a prolonged engagement with the region but that a growing alliance with other countries is an encouraging sign.
“If we’re lucky,” Crocker stated, “it will be someone else’s boots on the ground.”
The panel discussion comes days after the U.S. began airstrikes in Syria and hours after President Obama gave an urgent call to arms in front the U.N. General Assembly signaling a dramatic change in both rhetoric and action compared to recent months.
Echoing statements he has made in recent op-ed pieces, Crocker said, “the only thing between ISIS and Saudi Arabia is sand,” highlighting the alarming consequences should ISIS’ reach extend into one of the world’s largest oil fields. Crocker also expressed the likelihood, given the history of Islam, that ISIS would be setting their sights on Mecca and Medina.
“There are very few Arab armies tested in battle. The Saudi’s are not one of them,” Crocker said when asked whether the Saudis would be able to fend off ISIS on their own. When it comes to the readiness of ISIS, Crocker reminded the audience, “these guys know how to fight.”
The Real Threat
Dr. F. Gregory Gause, head of the department of international affairs at the Bush School, cautioned, “we shouldn’t make these guys 10-feet tall,” citing the group had been defeated in many battles and the real threat the group poses is the large number of ISIS sympathizers in the region who will disrupt societies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others.
Iran was mentioned throughout the evening as a country to watch in the coming months as the crisis in the Middle East plays out. “Iran will stand with Assad,” Crocker stated, noting also that Iran has no desire to cooperate with the U.S. Crocker’s views on Iran’s unwillingness to assist in the conflict were solidified by a meeting he had the night before with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the country's Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Dr. Mohammad Tabaar, assistant professor at the Bush School, expressed his view that Iran is unlikely to join ISIS but that the joining of ISIS and Iran “could become a self-fulfilling prophecy if we push them together.”
Conclusion & Upcoming Events
The hour-long roundtable discussion concluded after two questions from the audience. The event was hosted by the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs which will host a second roundtable discussion, “The Crisis in the Middle East,” on Oct. 15 with Dr. Reyko Huang, Dr. Erin Snider, and Dr. David Palkki (tentative). Dr. Andew Natsios will again serve as the discussion's moderator.