If you’ve been following the shit-show that we here in America call our election “Primaries,” you will no doubt be aware that every single one of the Republican Candidates for the Office of the President of the United States (wither back when it was 16 until today’s winnowed down field of 3) are calling for more vigorous actions against ISIS.  This generally means such things as “carpet bombing,” “boots on the ground,” “no fly zones,” and “greater U.S. presence” in the raging religious warfare arena we generally refer to as “The Middle East.”

Me?  Yeah.  Well given the nature of ISIS and the character of its war against the West and infidels – Christian and Muslim alike - in general, you are pretty much guaranteed that any single one of the above referenced actions, a combination of them or all of them together would result in a massive increase in this terrorist organizations world wide popularity.   And this outcome is almost guaranteed.   Apparently folks like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump don’t quite understand that we aren’t talking about such old timey wars as World War II or the Korean War where one or more nation states aligned against another one or more nation states with clearly demarcated rules of engagement, supply lines, and all the other attributes of old fashioned warfare.  Even the war against Al Qaeda and the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not a script that is useful against ISIS.  

ISIS is perhaps the first such organization of its kind to use modern technology to promote itself as a hip, cool, “like minded” society as those it targets for recruitment.    The appeal of its internet offerings, the high production values and slick finished products, renders the group’s propaganda as modern and “with it” as seen in the best of YouTube videos.   The enormous appeal of ISIS’ media productions – meticulous studio productions or pieces done on the fly (all easily created with laptops, cell phones and impromptu satellite connections) seems to have escaped the Republican pro-warfare guys attention.   What ISIS relies on is their appeal to disaffected, disenfranchised, disillusioned Muslim youth mainly from North Africa and Europe.  Joining in the fight to defeat the immoral West, defend and support Muslims worldwide and to restore Islam’s past glory are the main thrusts of their propaganda and their appeal.  It was the establishment of a Caliphate two years ago – the first since the Ottoman Empire – that energized ISIS recruiting and appeal and pushed the organization to the forefront of worldwide public attention.

But support for ISIS has been declining of late.   Polls reveal that some 80% of Arab teens and young adults today do not support the Islamic State, a figure that is up from 60% a year ago.  The top reason for those who do sign up for ISIS?:  joblessness and dismal economic prospects at home.  Not religious fervor.  But what accounts for the decline in support?  ISIS and its actions do.  As successful as ISIS has been in creating and spreading its internet campaigns worldwide, it might not have taken into account that the internet is a two way street.  Just as ISIS is able to reach out to Muslims around the world, the world is also able to access information about what’s going on in the territories it captures and rules.  And the stories have not been flattering.

The reality of rule by ISIS is a reality of violence, intimidation, religious excess, sectarian strife and discrimination.  ISIS has succeeded in making Taliban rule look down right moderate.  Whether or not this dismal picture of life under ISIS is mostly true or partially true, the horror stories emerging from ISIS held territory in Syria and Iraq do not make for good pubic relations.  While the televised beheadings might have energized potential recruits (the videos succeeded in putting actions to ISIS propaganda), the slaughter of innocent men, women and children for being of the wrong ethnic group, the wrong side of Islam’s Sunni-Shiite split, or for simply disobeying ISIS’ draconian rules and regulations, is not an existence that is appealing to most folks regardless of religious beliefs.   Folks who crave order in their lives (the reason why the Taliban has such robust appeal in Afghanistan in the midst of long standing, ongoing drug lord competition and clan warfare, for example) are willing to forego previously exercised rights and privileges to bring order and stability to their lives but not to the extent that renders their daily lives an exercise in basic survival.  Most folks living under ISIS’ rule today once lived under fairly sophisticated and peaceable conditions even if that sophistication and peace was enforced by autocratic regimes.  Not so under ISIS where devotion to their harsh brand of autocratic religious and Sharia-style rule is paramount and strict adherence to the myriad ISIS dicta that comes with their governance is absolute.  Deviate from the rules and you could find your house confiscated, you and your family banished from your home town, lashed in a public open space or put to death if your crime is serious enough. 

President Obama, much to the dismay of his military advisors, seems to “get it,” understands that the more we directly intervene in Iraq and Syria, (or Libya and Yemen) the more we pump up ISIS’s world wide recruiting success.   It remains to be seen how ISIS will respond to yesterday’s decision to send an additional 250 American advisors to Syria.   But to his credit, Obama has pivoted away from the decades old “bombing them back to the Stone Age” response to indirect threats where U.S. interests are not crystal clear.   One could argue, of course, that a stable Middle East is in American’s strategic interests, and, indeed it is, but we’re way beyond that now.  Middle Eastern regional “politics” and influence wielding is no longer a game of which countries – Saudi Arabia with U.S. assistance, Syria with Russian assistance or Iran – will emerge as power players but has evolved into an internecine, Muslim war pitting Sunnis against Shiites overshadowing the more prosaic post World War II regional conflicts that formerly undergirded strife and conflict in the Middle east.  This is a conflict that the U.S. can do little or nothing about to resolve.  This is an Islamic divide centuries old and centuries in the making that has exploded onto the canvas of modern geopolitical conflict that only Islam can resolve. 

So when you hear Donald Trump and Ted Cruz deride Obama’s “leading from behind” take note that they are promoting an already failed foreign policy (Iraq) and just like the calls for “banning Muslims from entering the United States” and “patrolling Muslim neighborhoods” such irresponsible rhetoric only serves to prop up ISIS’ appeals to disaffected Muslims youth around the world to join in their fight against the West.   It will not be Western intervention that will be the death of ISIS but rather the horror stories that emerge from the areas of the Middle East under their control that will toll the end of their regime.

A quick history of the rise of ISIS.  


Have a good day.


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