Earlier today, President Donald Trump issued a presidential memorandum titled “Plan to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” directing the Secretary of Defense, in collaboration with other senior officials, to develop a strategy for eliminating ISIS.
Significantly, the memorandum may portend a shift in the degree of force currently employed by the United States military. The memorandum instructs the Secretary of Defense to “recommend changes to any United States rules of engagement and other . . . policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS . . . .”
The preamble describes: (i) the threat posed by ISIS; (ii) the attacks perpetrated against Americans that ISIS is responsible for in the Middle East, the United States, and Europe; and, consequently, (iii) the need for “[t]he United States [to] take decisive action to defeat” the organization. More specifically, the President labeled ISIS as “among the most vicious and aggressive” threats facing the United States “from radical Islamic terrorism.” And because “there can be no accommodation or negotiation with [ISIS],” and because “[i]f ISIS is left in power, the threat that it poses will only grow,” the President has determined that the organization must be eliminated through a new, “comprehensive plan.”
Section 1 of the memorandum (“Policy”) states: “It is the policy of the United States that ISIS be defeated.”
Section 2 (“Policy Coordination”) requires that “[p]olicy coordination, guidance, dispute resolution, and periodic in-progress reviews . . . be provided through the interagency process established in” NSPM-2, “ National Security Presidential Memorandum – 2,” which established the “Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.” (See John Bellinger’s discussion of NSPM-2, here.)
Section 3 (“Plan to Defeat ISIS”) instructs the Secretary of Defense to immediately develop “a new plan to defeat ISIS.” The Secretary must submit a preliminary draft to the President within 30 days. The plan must include:
“a comprehensive strategy . . . for the defeat of ISIS”;
“recommended changes to . . . rules of engagement . . . that exceed the requirements of international law”;
plans for diplomatic, information, and cyber operations;
“new coalition partners”;
“mechanisms to cut off or seize ISIS’s financial support”; and
a means to fund the new plan.
The plan must proffer military and non-military strategies to combat ISIS, and the Secretary of Defense is charged with finding additional allies to support the ongoing campaign.
Although the President appears to be primarily requesting a new set of military options to employ against ISIS, Section 3 also requires the Secretary of Defense to consult a number of high-level officials: the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Assistants to the President for National Security Affairs and Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
The memorandum further directs the Secretary of Defense and the persons with whom he must consult to gather “all information in the possession of the Federal Government relevant to the defeat of ISIS and its affiliates.” All executive agencies must “promptly comply with any request . . . to provide information in their possession . . . relating to ISIS.” Further, the memorandum empowers the Secretary and others involved in devising the plan to “seek further information relevant to the [new strategy] from any appropriate source.”
This directive, which is only one of many executive actions issued by the President since his inauguration on January 20, appears to address a central campaign promise to “aggressively pursue joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS.”
The most consequential provision of the memorandum appears to be Section 3(iii)(B), in which the President ordered the Secretary of Defense to provide “changes” to the degree of force employed by the United States military against ISIS. But according to Reuters, some government officials doubt that the “military will advocate fundamentally changing a key strategy refined during the Obama administration.” However, it does seem that the President will at least consider—and may even employ—more combative measures against ISIS in the coming weeks and months.