Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tease Or Threat?

After the new Caliph's sudden press conference, ISIS's self proclaimed Caliphate gets a hard look.

Is it a tease?  Nothing to worry about? Or, is it a real threat ala al Qaeda?

To be clear, the idea of a recrunk up Caliphate may be appealing in jihadist circles, but most of the Sunni leaders in Iraq and Syria are mobilizing behind ISIS because it is their best opportunity to achieve clear political goals, not because they have bought into the notion of an Islamic Caliphate that is governed on the basis of an extreme variant of Sunni Islam.

While al-Baghdadi’s vision may be that other layers of political consciousness, namely nationalistic, ethnic and tribal identities, can be superseded and expunged via violent jihad, this will not be compatible with the aspirations of most Sunnis or their leaders in either Iraq or Syria. Unless ISIS is able to revolutionize the social and political landscape in a ruthless Khmer Rouge fashion, its notion of a Caliphate will be problematic and rife with internal contradictions.

In other words, it will be virtually impossible to erase centuries of deeply embedded nationalist and ethnic identities and supplant them with ISIS’s virulent ideology.

Another part of ISIS that is likely to prove a mirage is the notion of expanding (the Caliphate) beyond Iraq and Syria, a goal the group recently announced, and is now reflected in its new name, the Islamic State (IS). ISIS’s territorial gains are impressive so far, but keep in mind that they have taken place within already weakened environments like Syria and Iraq. Unless ISIS can blunt what are likely to be efforts by Syria’s Assad and Iraq’s al-Maliki (or his successor) to roll-back its territorial gains, can consolidate its current positions, and can attract legions of more fighters, further territorial expansion could prove difficult and even lead to overextension.

Saudi Arabia and Jordan, the most likely targets for expansion, are countries that are not hobbled by civil war, despite some internal challenges, and have greater defensive capabilities against a possible onslaught by ISIS. Moreover, they also have military ties with the United States to draw on in case their territorial integrity is endangered.

Moreover, it is likely that ISIS will be challenged by the region’s major powers, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and possibly even Turkey. And there seems to be evidence that these efforts will be augmented, at least indirectly, by the United States and even Russia, which has its own Islamic problems.

It is unlikely that ISIS, whose proven strengths have been the ability to capture territory from weak states using a combination of terrorist and insurgency methods, could withstand a military onslaught that might come from a concerted effort by the major powers in the region.

Pic - "Team 44 was told, over and over, that the Iraqi army couldn’t stop a terror group that was ready to pounce. Alas, 44's posse was held prisoner to their paradox of an Iraq policy."