Home > News > Experts mixed on effectiveness of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS
142 views 5 min 0 Comment

Experts mixed on effectiveness of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS

- November 12, 2014

A fighter of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) walks past the bodies of two Islamic State (IS) group’s fighters on Nov. 7 after fighting in the besieged Syrian border town of Ain al-Arab. (Ahmed Deebah/AFP/Getty Images)
This is the first post based on a semi-regular Poll of Political Scientists (POPS) fielded by Nathan Jensen at the George Washington University School of Business.
The emergence of ISIS has lead to discussions of to what extend U.S. action could have prevented the emergence of ISIS and the proper policy responses to roll back ISIS advances. What do some political science experts think about this issue?
I have helped to create a poll, the uncreatively named Poll of Political Scientists (POPS), to address this question. This post presents the results of the first poll.  For questions related to international relations, POPS draws on the pool of peer reviewers from the academic journal International Interactions to identify experts in particular questions.  These are the same experts that would review an academic paper on a similar topic.  I thank Michael Colaresi, co-editor of this journal, for agreeing to make available their reviewer pool.  For more on the costs and benefits of this sampling strategy, see here.  Note that all respondents were anonymous unless they chose to reveal their identities to me.
The poll asked a total of 50 academics, all experts in this area, three questions about U.S. policy towards ISIS. I received 30 responses. Here are the results (see also charts made by Michael Colaresi here).
Respondents were first asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “The current airstrikes on ISIS will roll back their advances in the region.”  15 respondents (50 percent) agreed, 6 (20 percent) neither agreed nor disagreed, and 9 (30 percent) disagreed.
Respondents were then presented this statement: “I support the President’s decision to strike ISIS.” This question had greater support and more variance than the previous questions. 3 (10 percent) respondents strongly agreed, 17 (57 percent) agreed, 3 (10 percent) neither agreed nor disagreed, 6 (20 percent) disagreed, and 1 (3 percent) strongly disagreed.
Finally, respondents were presented this statement: “If the airstrikes against ISIS continue beyond two years at their current intensity, the majority of the public will not support continued airstrikes against ISIS.” 2 (7 percent) strongly agreed, 13 (43 percent) agreed, 5 (17 percent) neither agreed nor disagreed, 8 (27 percent) disagreed, and 2 (7 percent) strongly disagreed.
For each question, respondents were given the option to provide additional background information or justifications for their answers. There were a number of common themes.
Many respondents indicated that the airstrikes against ISIS aren’t sufficient to roll back ISIS, although they can slow or stop ISIS advances. A number of respondents also indicated that additional military force, including ground troops, would be necessary to roll back ISIS. And while the majority of respondents agreed that U.S. airstrikes against ISIS were necessary, a few respondents indicated that this policy will likely fall short of the ambitious goals of stopping ISIS. Several respondents also noted that public support was largely contingent on the U.S. avoiding any casualties.
The goal of this survey is to present expert opinions on a pressing policy issue. The use of the potential reviewers for an academic journal allows us to poll experts. The respondents to a poll such as this could easily be broadened to include academics in other disciplines or practitioners. But our ability to target a small number of academics both assures expertise and limits the “survey fatigue” that many of us feel from being bombarded by surveys.
Does a narrowly focused survey have advantages over existing surveys? Other surveys, such as the Good Judgment Project and Teaching, Research and International Policy, both focus on much broader pools of experts to address some similar policy questions. I really like both of these surveys and I don’t see this as a substitute for these projects. This is a pilot project to see what we can learn from a small survey of experts.
The next survey will most likely focus on the implications of the midterm election for U.S. foreign policy.
Nathan Jensen is an associate professor in the Department of International Business at the George Washington School of Business.