By Karthik Ramesh
For the past few years, ISIS has done a fantastic job of scaring Americans. From videos of
beheadings to the constant news cycles of “seemingly normal people” from countries like the UK and US
leaving everything behind to join ISIS, it may appear that ISIS is “winning”. ISIS has gained a considerable
amount of territory since its foundation without a doubt, but the question remains about whether it
really is a threat to America. While ISIS has proven to be a terror in regions of Syria and Iraq, I fail to see
how this terror has reached the United States.
Yet, there is an increasing anxiety from many Americans that something must be done to
combat ISIS, and that feeling is aggravated when they see Putin positioning ground forces in Syria.
Recently, Steve Kroft in an interview with President Obama said, “(Mr. Putin) is challenging your
leadership”. Other Republican candidates like Marco Rubio have stated that Obama “has in fact
strengthened Putin’s hand” and isn’t tough enough on Putin. A large percentage of Iowa Republican
caucus members support sending American troops to Iraq and Syria to combat ISIS.
While it appears that Putin has taken hold of the world stage, I question whether he is showing
true leadership. The Russian economy is in a deep recession and could be in a worse state if oil prices
continue to plunge. While the recession in large part stems from a drop in oil prices, Putin’s aggression
and policies are also to blame. Massive deregulation and private sector borrowing in foreign currency
has led to large amounts of debt in foreign currencies, which has damaged Russia’s economy even
further. Progress is slow in Russia right now because of sanctions placed by the EU and US for invading
Crimea. Putin’s aggression hasn’t benefited much of Russia at all, and it could even be argued that his
aggression has harmed it.
So when many Republicans continue to challenge Obama’s leadership, I ask what would they
do? Would they increase economic sanctions on Russia hoping the pressure would force Putin to back
down from Ukraine? Because Obama has already done that. Would they send ground forces into Syria
to combat ISIS? Because if they did, it would lead to a whole host of new problems. When the United
States sent ground troops into Iraq, it not only left a large paycheck for the American people to pay, but
also cost thousands of American lives. Recent history with Iraq should have also told us that sending
troops into Iraq and then pulling troops out led to the formation and expansion of ISIS in the first place.
Would they arm or train rebel forces in Syria to help engage ISIS? The Obama administration tried that
with poor results as an underwhelming number of rebels were successfully trained. Many of the Syrian
rebels are focused on toppling the Syrian government regime rather than engage ISIS. The general idea
of training rebel groups has led to disastrous results in the past. Rebel groups are hard to control
because they often have their own aims. When the United States armed the rebel group mujahideen in
the 1980s to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, the training and weapons received by the mujahideen
indirectly led to the development of groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. So what would the
There seems to be this notion in this country that great leadership is synonymous with great
aggression. That showing power and force will spawn respect and admiration. But aggression hasn’t
helped Russia domestically. It didn’t help America during the Bush administration. While it might appear
“weak” when America does not get involved with Syria or the Middle East, perhaps there is greater
leadership and respect in a country that directs its efforts towards helping Syrian refugees and focusing
on domestic problems. Perhaps great restraint is a sign of great leadership.