MESOP STRATEGY DEBATE : The Institute for the Study of War & AEI’s Critical Threats Project Release

“U.S. Grand Strategy: Destroying ISIS and Al Qaeda” – Reports 1 & 2

Groups assess that “drifting along the current path…will almost certainly fail to achieve vital American national security interests”

WASHINGTON, DC — On January 20, 2016, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) of the American Enterprise Institute released the first two reports in a series titled: “U.S. Grand Strategy: Destroying ISIS and Al Qaeda.” The result of a multi-week planning exercise, these reports seek to help policymakers take a fresh look at the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and particularly the threat from Salafi-jihadi groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda. Dr. Kimberly Kagan, President and Founder of ISW, stated that a fundamental re-examination of this threat is needed because “our current policy will fail to achieve vital American national security interests.”

These reports came out of a joint planning exercise led by Dr. Kimberly Kagan and Dr. Frederick W. Kagan and with significant research and written contributions from CTP’s Katherine Zimmerman and ISW’s Jennifer Cafarella, Harleen Gambhir, Hugo Spaulding, and Christopher Kozak.  The goal in these first reports is to conduct a review of U.S. grand strategic objectives as well as U.S. strategic objectives specifically in Iraq and Syria.

In addition, the authors discuss in detail the Salafi-jihadi enemy that the West faces now and warn against “the media’s and policymakers’ single-minded focus on ISIS.”  In fact, the reports conclude that the model followed by al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra (JN) “is much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run.”  Speaking to a press breakfast prior to the reports’ release, Dr. Kimberly Kagan said that throughout the planning exercise it became clear that JN in fact benefits from the actions being taken to destroy ISIS.

This project played out a variety of scenarios to try to arrive at an understanding of the problems facing the West in the Middle East and more globally from Salafi-jihadi threats.  They examined all major actors’ objectives in the region and vis-à-vis ISIS and al Qaeda, as well as the goals of the enemies the West now faces.  Without a fundamental re-examination of these problems, policymakers in the U.S. and elsewhere cannot understand the problem they now face.  And if they cannot understand the problem, they will be unable to formulate a successful solution.

These reports seek to fill a need in the policymaking sphere for a dispassionate examination of the threats the West faces and the possible courses of action to address them.

To arrange an interview with Kimberly Kagan, Jennifer Cafarella, Harleen Gambhir, Hugo Spaulding, or Christopher Kozak, please contact John D. Lawrence at or + (x205)/+1.571.265.6316