History is full of useful examples that are relevant today to dealing with IS one way or another.
Consider 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1947, Britain granted India independence and partition that created East and West Pakistan. Over a million people were killed in that transition. Today, one wonders how different the world might have been had Britain had kept India whole.
In 1948, against the advice of Secretary of State General George Marshall, President Harry Truman recognized the state of Israel. But suppose Israel had not been created then or had been given a slice of territory not buried within the heart of the Arab world.
In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created. NATO has become the most successful military alliance in history. Without NATO, who knows how the Cold War would have been resolved. But, by any account, NATO has been a complete success.
In the past decade, perhaps two inflection points will prove as critical as did the years 1947, 48 and 49: 2001 and the attacks on the Pentagon and New York's Twin Towers that produced the war on terror and 2003 and the invasion of Iraq. The war on terror led to the overthrow of the Afghan Taliban. But Afghanistan is descending into chaos and possibly civil war. How different the world might have been if bringing Osama bin Laden to justice was the objective, and not nation-building Afghanistan.
Iraq is likewise in chaos. The central issue is how or whether to deal with IS. IS has practiced a combination of Bolshevik ruthlessness and cunning in governing the massive territory it now occupies in Syria and Iraq and the German blitzkrieg in which relatively small forces overwhelmed much larger Iraqi security forces by rallying or coercing the Sunni populations to submit to IS control or literally die.
For the moment, IS is not a direct threat to the United States or to Europe. But that moment is fleeting. The more time IS has to consolidate its gains and entrench itself in the territory it controls, the more difficult it will be to dislodge. Indeed, short of a major ground assault or internecine warfare that tears it apart, IS is likely to be around for the long haul. Further, as IS controls courts, commerce and schools along with electricity, food and water allocations, IS is also scooping up millions of dollars a day through the sale of oil, wheat and other agricultural products. And unlike al Qaeda in Iraq seven or eight years ago, IS possesses top line U.S. military equipment including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles liberated from Iraqi forces. Perhaps IS lacks technical capability to maintain these advanced weapons, a small bright spot in an otherwise bleak horizon.
The Obama administration has signaled that it will give the new Iraqi government ample time to assume the reins of power before considering any major action. That will be a long process measured in months at best. And time is not on the side of those opposing IS.
What is needed now is a coordinated, international strategy to contain and ultimately to roll back IS. The United States cannot go it alone. Nor is it likely that the United States will consider using ground forces absent a catastrophic event such as a September 11 like attack in Europe or America.
Despite allegations of war weariness, the U.S. public is not blind to looming disaster. Surely, the UN could pass additional resolutions designating IS a major threat and authorizing coalitions of the willing to act accordingly. Those coalitions could form around political, economic and military objectives and need not require common membership.
NATO, the EU, the Arab League and possibly Iran, Russia and China could be engaged. If IS is not dealt with and dealt with soon, we will regret and pay dearly for that failure. As 1947 and 1948 resulted in many unwanted and unintended consequences, so too will absence of strong action now to neuter IS. Rather than create a new NATO which is out of the question, international action against IS can work. But will Mr. Obama realize that? The world wonders.
Harlan Ullman is Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book, due out this fall is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces The Peace.
He is the man that will attempt to put some order back in Iraq. He is the new prime minister who was appointed last week by the president. He replaces Noori al-Malaki.
Dr. Haider Al-Abadi is an Iraqi politician and spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party. He was nominated for the role of prime minister of Iraq on 11 August by President Fuad Masum.
The new prime minister's job is not an easy one by any means. He steps up to the podium with the incumbent reluctantly vacating the seat of power. And he knows that he will need to be constantly looking over his shoulders to ensure that Nouri al-Maliki does not attempt a tricky comeback.
Al-Abadi, a Muslim Shia, is 62 years old. He was born in Baghdad in 1952 and was educated at the University of Baghdad.
On being nominated as prime minister, al-Abadi was told by the speaker of Iraq's parliament, "The country is in your hands. May God help you."
Indeed, the new prime minister is going to need all the help he can get. From God and from the devil before too long. In God's department Al-Abadi has the support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, who earlier today voiced his support for the political transition.
Speaking at the Friday prayer meeting in the holy city of Najaf, the elderly Ayatollah said that this was a rare opportunity to resolve any outstanding security and political disputes.
Al-Sistani called on Iraqi lawmakers to stand up to the "historic responsibility" presented to them and support Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider Abadi in his efforts to form a new government."
But he will likely need all the help he can get, because just as God may be on the side of the new prime minister, the devil on the other hand, represented here by Islamist Jihadis will make his job of uniting Iraq a very difficult one. Al-Abadi inherits the political reins of a country deeply divided along sectarian lines.
So, who exactly is this savior, messiah or superman that will extricate Iraq out of its major problems? Who is the man that every Iraqi is going to look at and scrutinize carefully over the next several weeks?
At first glance Abadi resembles very much the man he is replacing. Like Maliki, he is a member of the Islamic Dawa Party, one of Iraq's biggest Shiite political blocs. Also similar to al-Malaki, the new prime minister's power base rests in the Shiite community in Iraq.
Another striking similarity between the two men is that the new prime minister, just as his predecessor, was forced into exile by the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Al Malaki returned to Iraq after the Sunni dictator was toppled in the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.
He is considered well educated. A specialist on Iraqi affairs described the new prime minister as "a moderate." He joined the Dawa Party when he was still a teenager. He left Iraq to study abroad after receiving a bachelor's degree in the mid 1970s. Like tens of thousands of fellow Iraqis he avoided coming back to his native country while Saddam was in power.
To begin with he starts off with a large advantage over Malaki, in his willingness to compromise.
Two of his brothers were far less fortunate. They were arrested and executed in 1982 for belonging to the Dawa Party.
After Abadi had his passport canceled by Saddam's people, he spent many years in Britain where he received a doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of Manchester. His father, who had been a prominent Iraqi official, was accused of insufficient loyalty to the regime and was forced to retire in 1979. He moved to Britain and lived there until his death.
After Hussein was ousted, Abadi returned to Iraq in 2003 and became communications minister in the interim government. His knowledge of foreign languages and the numerous contacts made in Europe during his numerous years of exile came in rather handy in his new position.
He has an impressive biography: in 2005 he was put in charge of cleaning the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar of al Qaeda elements. He succeeded in bringing together a number of Iraqi tribes. No doubt this is an experience from which he will be able to draw upon in his new position.
That city is today under the control of the Islamists.
Just last week he stressed a great need in Iraq for unity and compromise in the face of a dangerous coming. He said all groups have been weakened in the face of the enemy. He is opposed to the idea of dividing Iraq and looks favorably at turning to Iran for help, If need be.
Time is of the essence as Maliki will continue to serve as the country's caretaker prime minister and top military commander until Abadi forms a new government.
If he was to form a government to represent all Iraqis, he would have to include Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Perhaps the hardest task informing is going to be to convince prominent members of the Sunni community to join his government and in so doing declare their opposition to the Islamic State.
Then again, getting Nouri al-Maliki to step down was not an easy feat.
With support from both United States and Iran, Abadi should succeed convincing an important part of the security forces in Baghdad to support him. Convincing some Sunni Iraqis to support him and his monumental task ahead is a first step that will have to be followed by convincing members of his own community, the Shiites, who remain divided.