The Islamic State (IS) movement needs to be understood as a political project whose primary objective is to establish a viable entity in areas it can control rather than engage in permanent insurgency against more powerful adversaries. The conditions for its emergence were created by the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the dissolution of the Iraqi state and its replacement with a sectarian political system and conflict, and the collapse of state authority in regions of Syria. The available evidence indicates that the IS is at best uninterested in achieving the conventional forms of legitimacy and integration pursued by other Islamist movements; engagement is therefore unlikely to prove a viable option.
There are no quick or simple solutions to the challenges posed by the IS. Those being considered, particularly Western military intervention, are almost guaranteed to make a catastrophic situation worse, while a strategy that relies on disaffected Sunni tribes and sectarian Shiite militias is unlikely to succeed. A comprehensive approach is needed involving a re-evaluation of policy towards the Syrian crisis, engagement with regional parties on a much broader spectrum of relevant issues, and a focus on establishing legitimate institutions that are able to address deep-seated grievances and resolve the conflicts that allow movements like IS to thrive.