There are two things many people get wrong about ISIS, and these misunderstandings could produce failure in the West’s efforts against it. The frustrating thing about this is that the facts are readily available if we simply read what its founders and leaders have written and said, and take them at their word.
- ISIS is a terrorist group, and can be defeated using normative anti-terrorist tactics: In fact, ISIS is a nation-state. It occupies a set geography, which it seeks to expand, has a standing army of more than 20,000 fighters, has a set government structure, engages in foreign trade, provides basic services such as water and electricity, and supports a welfare state within the areas under its control. While it utilizes terror as a tactic, it is far different than al-Qaeda and similar groups who prefer to remain hidden, emerging only to strike a target and then retreating into the shadows. ISIS will need to be cleared from the territory it holds in order to subdue it. And
- ISIS is “unIslamic”: On the contrary, ISIS is deeply rooted in Islam’s original medieval form. It takes all of the Koran and Hadith literally, and seeks to fulfill Islam’s apocalyptic prophesies by bringing about a conflict with “Rome”, which will usher in the end times and the return of Jesus (yes, really) who will lead Muslims to a final glorious victory in a battle for Jerusalem. It is this part of the ISIS program that attracts Muslims from around the world to its ranks, and the only way to defeat its appeal is to inflict a total and ignominious defeat to its forces on the ground. The loss of its Caliphate would serve as evidence to Muslims everywhere of the illegitimacy of its claims, and is the only way to bring the threat it poses to an end.
The information I reference above is readily available, although our President, along with many other government officials in our nation and others, doesn’t seem to get it. Which is why a year of flailing at windmills has achieved nothing but the strengthening of ISIS’s hold in Syria and Iraq. (The lone exception to this sad state of affairs seems to be the Kurds, whose Peshmerga have sought to engage ISIS fighters and drive them from territory they hold.)
I do not, before I am so accused, suggest sending American ground forces to undertake this task. France, Turkey, and Iran, among others, are far better suited, and have more at stake at this time, than do we. But, sooner or later it will need to be done, and it would probably be best if it were done before the number of fighters under ISIS’s command is in the hundreds of thousands.