The Administration is in denial about ISIS, its cause and effect and its strategy

In reference to the US Administration’s reluctance to accept the Islamic source of ISIS’s manifesto, it is refreshing to see that there are those in the media who are not willing to give the Administration a pass.

Peggy Noonan in the WSJ calls the Administration An Administration adrift on denial  (click through via Google)as she quotes from a long, very detailed essay in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood on What ISIS really wants“.

From the WSJ link (emphases are mine):

Mr. Wood describes a dynamic, savage and so far successful organization whose members mean business. Their mettle should not be doubted. ISIS controls an area larger than the United Kingdom and intends to restore, and expand, the caliphate. Mr. Wood interviewed Anjem Choudary of the banned London-based Islamist group Al Muhajiroun, who characterized ISIS’ laws of war as policies of mercy, not brutality. “He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies,” Mr. Wood writes, “because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.”

The scale of the savagery is difficult to comprehend and not precisely known. Regional social media posts “suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.” Most, not all, of the victims are Muslims.

The West, Mr. Wood argues, has been misled “by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature. . . . The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers,” drawn largely from the disaffected. “But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.” Its actions reflect “a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bring about the apocalypse.”

Mr. Wood acknowledges that ISIS reflects only one, minority strain within Islam. “Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.”

He quotes Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on ISIS’ theology. The group’s fighters, Mr. Haykel says, “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition,” and denials of its religious nature spring from embarrassment, political correctness and an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

The Islamic State is different from al Qaeda and almost all other jihadist movements, according to Mr. Wood, “in believing that it is written into God’s script as a central character.” Its spokesman has vowed: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women.” They believe we are in the End of Days. They speak of how “the armies of Rome will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria.” The battle will be Rome’s Waterloo. After that, a countdown to the apocalypse.

Mr. Wood’s piece is bracing because it is fearless—he is apparently not afraid of being called a bigot or an Islamophobe. It is important because it gives people, especially political leaders, information they need to understand a phenomenon that may urgently shape U.S. foreign policy for the next 10 years.

In sorry contrast, of course, are the Obama administration’s willful delusions and dodges. They reached their height this week when State Department spokesman Marie Harf talked on MSNBC of the “root causes” that drive jihadists, such as “lack of opportunity for jobs.” …  . So how do you get at that root causes?” She admitted her view “might be too nuanced of an argument for some.”

Yes, it might.

It isn’t about getting a job. They have a job: waging jihad.

The president famously cannot even name the ISIS threat forthrightly, and that is a criticism not of semantics but of his thinking.

… At the “violent extremism” summit this week he emphasized Islamic “legitimate grievances” and lectured America on the need for tolerance toward American Muslims.

“When peaceful democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only available answer.” Yes, sure. But the young men and women ISIS recruits from Western nations already live in peaceful democracies.

It’s not enough. They want something else. It is, ironically, disrespectful not to name what they are, and what they are about.

Read the whole thing, and more importantly, read Woods’ essay in The Atlantic.

We can clearly see ISIS’ strategy in action in their latest territorial conquests. J.E. Dyer in Liberty Unyielding asks, in the wake of the horrific murder of the Jordanian pilot: Is ISIS trying to outflank Iran in Jordan?

ISIS is increasingly invested in the Golan on its own account, having acquired in December the loyalty of an anti-Assad jihadi group occupying the tactically significant transit route to the Quneitra border crossing.  The Golan area is shaping up to be a venue for competition between ISIS and Iran – which was predictable before, given its geography and proximity to Israel, but now is actually happening.

The second biggest thing for ISIS in January was probably the Houthi coup in Yemen, backed by Iran and signifying a major geostrategic door opening for Iran’s regional plans.  …

Iranian and ISIS territorial control (click to enlarge)

ISIS’s vision is grandiose, to be sure, but it is systematic and strategic, not hallucinatory.  ISIS doesn’t just ooze around like a single-celled flagellate driven to search for food.  It has been clear from the beginning that ISIS has territorial ambitions and works off of a map.  We should be looking, at every juncture, for coherent intentions and reasoning, and that’s what I see here.  ISIS’s eye is on the regional advantage quickly accruing to Iran.

What does ISIS want to do?  Put Jordan “in play.”  Knock Jordan off of her equilibrium point and make this internally divided country a party to the turmoil in Syria and Iraq.  We can look for ISIS sympathizers to start blowing things up inside Jordan, and soon.  ISIS doesn’t need to actually make good, just yet, on its threat to assassinate King Abdullah (see Gatestone Institute link above), to nevertheless create internal instability that will undermine the fragile social peace and put the king on the defensive in his own country.

This brings up the third dimension of ISIS’s strategic thinking.  ISIS doesn’t plan to mount a conventional military attack on Israel from Jordan.  ISIS wants to draw Israel into Jordan’s turmoil – just as Iran wants to draw Israel into Syria’s turmoil.  Iran and ISIS both want to sucker Israel, as a means of self-defense, into attacking Arab territory.  (The reason is that such a move would be expected to inflame Muslim nations across the region.)

Again, I urge you to read the whole post which includes detailed explanatory maps.

Another strategic gain for ISIS is Libya which has become “Somalia on the Mediterranean“:

The Islamic State’s beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, and Egypt’s subsequent airstrikes on Libyan soil, have relaunched debate over what to do about the mounting crisis in that country.

The situation in Libya  … has deteriorated steadily in the last few years. Libya is now a failed state ravaged by civil war, and a magnet for al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) recruits.

Libya is likely now home to more IS fighters than any other country besides Iraq and Syria. IS has actively sought to compete with al Qaeda’s regional franchise, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, for influence on the ground.

Yet despite all these grim omens, the international approach to Libya has changed little since Qaddafi was killed. Attention, resources, and the level of interest have all been limited. U.S. policy is at best unclear.

At the same time, the tempo of counterterrorism operations within Libya itself will inevitably need to increase as the Islamic State gains adherents, weapons, and potentially other forms of support from “core IS” in Syria and Iraq. Here, the United States will have to play a leading role.

Whether or not the United States is prepared to do anything more in Libya, even on this smaller scale, remains to be seen. But the hands-off policy the West has pursued in Libya since Qaddafi’s death isn’t working

This brings us full circle to the beginning. Denying both the root causes and the motivation of ISIS, refusing to admit that they are not just a bunch of rag-tag terrorists but an organized army and country in all but name, is simply enabling them to continue their rampage through the Levant – and now, via Libya they are a threat to Italy and on to Europe.

On the other hand the Italians are highly amused (for the moment) at this threat and have responded in kind, with “friendly” advice for the would-be invaders who are likely to get stuck in Rome traffic before they ever reach their destination.

Maybe there is hope after all.

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6 Responses to The Administration is in denial about ISIS, its cause and effect and its strategy

  1. Pete says:

    ISIS has been able to gain control of failed states in the Middle East where there is no strong power structure. Their ability to siphon off large financial resources is a problem. But I am not sure that they pose a real threat, unless they overwhelm one of the nations in that area. If ISIS overturns Iraq or Jordan, for example, then we have got a problem.

    I think the real risk from ISIS is actually in N. Africa. There are vast amounts of territory there, and virtually nothing to stop them. Over a period of time they can swallow up, or annihilate, competing jihadist groups. And it is entirely conceivable that ISIS could overthrow African countries. Not today, not next week. But during the next decade, and probably it wont take that long.

    I have been watching how “mainstream” Islam reacts to ISIS. I am not clear where this dialog is going. I have not seen that many denunciations of ISIS. There were angry reactions about the death of the Jordanian pilot. But otherwise, denunciations of ISIS from inside Islam have been mute. I think that ISIS is succeeding in terrorizing many “normal” Muslims … even those who live far away from ISIS-held areas. If something happens in the world where ISIS becomes more “mainstream” in the Islamic world, then we have a BIG problem on our hands.

    As you say, ISIS is a return to medieval barbaric notions of Islamic society. THAT is what the USA and the West are trying to fight. Pres. Obama is attempting to authorize war powers against ISIS. But there is a struggle that is ideological and religious, and America is not addressing this at all. It absolutely MUST be dealt with, because a policy of limited military engagement is not going to be successful.

    Just my thoughts. I have no special knowledge about ISIS or ME politics.
    Pete, USA

    • anneinpt says:

      Very good analysis Pete. North Africa is not really on our radar, and who knows what’s going on there while we’re not paying attention.

      Actually North Africa might be less of a problem than central Africa. In the north you have strong states like Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, who are able to contend with ISIS. But look at Nigeria, Congo and all those other failed states, not to mention Somalia. Kenya and Ethiopia are having great problems already.

      I don’t know how we can fight it besides militarily. How does the West contend with the barbaric ideology that seems so appealing to so many? And of course there are millions more who are simply terrified into silence and submission, as you said.

  2. Pingback: Naming the enemy: Radical Islam | Anne's Opinions

  3. Reality says:

    It’s all so frightening &Obama just sits there castigating Israel . He’s totally useless &foolish.
    He ‘s so pathetically politically correct that he won’t admit to Islam being a violent religion.Perhaps he REALLY IS Muslim &agrees with them

  4. Pete says:

    By the way – the posts above in response to “we are coming to Rome” are very funny. I sympathize with the traffic situation!

    I hope you don’t mind if I switch topics. there is a news release being “kicked around” the media about some “intelligence files” that are supposedly released by some guy in South Africa. whether this is even remotely credible, or purely disinformation, is hard to know. But one item purportedly says that Israel’s Mossad (and others) are in disagreement with Netanyahu about the real threat from Iran. The article implies that Mossad is more aligned with the US position – that Iran actually stopped working on a bomb several years ago. What these articles do .. is to paint a picture of Netanyahu as an isolated war-hawk inside Israel, and not supported by his own people.

    As I said, it is very difficult to know whether to put any confidence in such news reports. But the point is this … if the military and the intelligence agencies inside Israel doe stand solidly with PM Netanyahu’s position – they probably should be outspoken about it. They need to lay it on the line. Israel has a lot at stake now, as PM Netanyahu prepares to talk before the US Congress. It would be smart if the position outlined in Bibi’s speech is a very authentic statement about Israel’s assessment concerning Iran.

    The general public can never know the essential information. Which is why these official positions – need to be backed up with solid evidence. The US public still remembers the speech by Colin Powell many years ago when America went to war with Iraq – the speech about why weapons of destruction were present in Iraq. Subsequently, everything in that speech fell apart very quickly. Bibi is now facing a SERIOUS credibility gap from the American public, over this kind of problem (even though Israel was not the cause of the Colin Powell incident). People are highly skeptical.

    Pete, USA

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