Charging through the Middle East like Muhammad himself, the men of ISIS have quickly cut a swath of destruction and subsequent occupation across lines developed by Sykes and Picot. What was initially downplayed (Obama called them “the JV team”) has turned into a steady stream of horrors on television, in print, and with great showmanship, on the Internet. Big guns in the media have discussed what ISIS wants and the rise of ISIS, but as close as they get, the media holds back from taking things to their logical conclusion. There is something new to this that the media fears because it signals a change in the post-Yalta order.
To start, it is best to consider the great Middle East game that the U.S. plays as imperial master. America has clients, America has interests, and America can be pulled in directions to act in manners that serve their clients. The Arab Spring of 2011 saw protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa. America was quite fed up with American boys going in as boots on the ground. Toppling secular dictators would have to be performed in a different manner.
Even in the just a “No Fly Zone” (publicly declared) conflict in Libya, word leaked that the rebels had Al-Qaeda links. As much as Americans hated the idea of more American troops dying to topple tinpot dictators, working with Al-Qaeda was still unpalatable. Shortly thereafter, Osama Bin Laden was killed in a housing complex right next door to the Pakistani military academies with American attack choppers flying a hundred or so miles into and out of Pakistan without a single Pakistani jet in pursuit.
America still needed a ground game for the Syria operation. The Gulf kingdoms would provide money because they could get a pipeline through a new Syria. Egypt did not need a ground game since the Muslim Brotherhood was already active there, but what to do in Syria? The problem was how to collect, train, and arm men to use as ground forces.
The ever-enthusiastic folks at Zero Hedge will say the Pentagon created ISIS, but that is not entirely true. No one should downplay the money and arms that Gulf kingdoms and Turkey provided to ISIS. The Pentagon and Western forces have provided aid to ISIS, and without this aid, it would be impossible for ISIS to have grown as they have. ISIS took advantage of the conditions that were in place to burst through their terrible condition within Iraq.
What ISIS really is in personnel is the deep security state men of the old Sunni Ba’athist regime in Iraq. These are men who were competent in Hussein’s regime and were respected members in the Sunni tribal network in the Anbar province stronghold. These were men formerly in charge of Iraq who saw their nation go “democratic” and the Shia majority promptly took over their old roles. The Shias also consolidated their hold on the security forces, and after the Americans left, went from security to simply harassing the Sunnis. These were men excluded from decision-making. They were men with valuable war-making skills and organizational acumen.
They were also men who had learned from watching secular leaders get tossed out not just by the West, but their own people. If you read up on Egyptian 19th century history, you will read of figurehead Egyptian leaders (the Khedive) with Turkish-Syrian-Armenian staffs under British guidance controlling a massive Arab population that had sympathies with the very radical Muslims. Lord Cromer was always wary of that radical mass. These Ba’athists figured something out: why be the face, when you can use a religious puppet as the face of your regime and keep the community in order and socially and culturally aligned with you? The Arab Street has increasingly gone further and further down the path of Islamification of society and supporting Sharia law. Do not fight the tide, find a way to co-opt it for your goals. If you understand the concept of the trike in neoreactionary circles, you might see something similar in ISIS.
They had military capabilities, but the Ba’athists lacked the connection and legitimacy that Al-Qaeda had within the 21st century Arab world. From Spiegel’s wonderful inside review of ISIS documents is this remarkable passage (italics added),
In 2010, Bakr and a small group of former Iraqi intelligence officers made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir and later “caliph,” the official leader of the Islamic State. They reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face.
Bakr was “a nationalist, not an Islamist,” says Iraqi journalist Hisham al-Hashimi, as he recalls the former career officer, who was stationed with Hashimi’s cousin at the Habbaniya Air Base. “Colonel Samir,” as Hashimi calls him, “was highly intelligent, firm and an excellent logistician.” But when Paul Bremer, then head of the US occupational authority in Baghdad, “dissolved the army by decree in May 2003, he was bitter and unemployed.”
Thousands of well-trained Sunni officers were robbed of their livelihood with the stroke of a pen. In doing so, America created its most bitter and intelligent enemies. Bakr went underground and met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Anbar Province in western Iraq. Zarqawi, a Jordanian by birth, had previously run a training camp for international terrorist pilgrims in Afghanistan. Starting in 2003, he gained global notoriety as the mastermind of attacks against the United Nations, US troops and Shiite Muslims. He was even too radical for former Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi died in a US air strike in 2006.
Although Iraq’s dominant Baath Party was secular, the two systems ultimately shared a conviction that control over the masses should lie in the hands of a small elite that should not be answerable to anyone — because it ruled in the name of a grand plan, legitimized by either God or the glory of Arab history. The secret of IS’ success lies in the combination of opposites, the fanatical beliefs of one group and the strategic calculations of the other.
The greatest feat the old Ba’athists did was to resist the urge for glorification and public validation. They strategically made a choice to use a religious man as the designated leader. Conider the original Western news reports on ISIS as it first emerged. All focus was on al-Baghdadi and his religious appeal. The true leadership, the true head of the snake and the true brains of the operations were the military men of the old Hussein regime.
These military men could play the game with Western outreach in 2011 and 2012, as the military men would appear moderate to Western contacts looking for pieces to fund and supply to topple Assad. No one knows what was agreed to, who tricked whom, but it is curious that ISIS never talks of Israel. America did not act as the airforce for ISIS, but someone else did. Note that Israel bombs Assad’s forces, which does help ISIS. America has blocked efforts by Arab allis to supply the Kurds, who have shown themselves as the only non-Assad force able to beat back ISIS. Curious, since ISIS destroyed the Iraqi army and confiscated tonnes of American-supplied equipment. The structure of ISIS and clear siloing of responsibilities within ISIS allows it to morph and play people well.
Forget their military manipulations, their destruction of Al-Qaeda is their greatest achievement. Their massacre of Al-Qaeda has many features. First, ISIS is winning. ISIS is doing something. Osama bin Laden himself said Arabs will back a strong horse. Al-Qaeda is a lot of talk with a few random attacks; 9/11 is almost fifteen years ago. Second, by proclaiming the caliphate and engaging in barbaric acts and practices that are straight out of the Koran, ISIS shows young Muslim men that living their life like the heroic tales of Muhammad is possible.
ISIS can recruit cannon fodder because the promise is not 72 virgins when they die for Allah, but a real world, tangible delivery of fighting secular losers, possible sex slaves, beheading an apostate or Christian, and YouTube glory. Third, the YouTube glory matters. While Al-Qaeda would put out an audio track every so often, ISIS has grabbed ahold of the social media phenomenon and run like gazelles. Even if they are produced by the CIA and struggling Hollywood flunkies with green screens to make beaches, the videos are going to appeal to men in the Middle East and Muslims all over the world who the West imported and offered nothing but cheap materialism to.
The most important factor though in toppling Al-Qaeda was al-Baghdadi himself. See, the very structure of Al-Qaeda made it effective. It was a loose network with a shared goal, little hierarchy, and it treated newcomers as franchises in essence. One could not quite kill Al-Qaeda because it was like throwing a rock at a net, not a crystal ship. Snip off leadership or one wing, and the brand lives on elsewhere. If you read the dissertation on spy networks by Blake Mobley, he mentions the flexibility of networks and how decentralized networks offer great advantages. Al-Qaeda could thrive because of new technology and the organizational structure that it employed with networks and peer-to-peer validation and vouching.
There is a major weakness that Mobley cites. Loose, decentralized networks are incredibly susceptible to single entryists, especially if the entryist is from another organization with a tight, hierarchical structure. This is what ISIS did. ISIS used al-Baghdadi to make friends with the religious thinkers and leaders of Al-Qaeda on behalf of their organization that they controlled from a military perspective. Al-Qaeda also had the problem of the death of their symbolic figurehead leader, Osama bin laden, and confusion at the top. ISIS had a set structure and defined mission. Now they had an opportunity. Al-Baghdadi gave ISIS religious legitimacy to the outside Muslim within Al-Qaeda. Within the jihad community, suddenly ISIS had legitimacy, cache, and a call to arms. Men flowed to ISIS rather than Al-Qaeda.
The two radical, Islamic scholars cited in the article on how ISIS crippled Al-Qaeda sound like old men angry at young whippersnappers.
Both men are particularly appalled, they said, by the way Isis has used their scholarship to cloak its savagery in ideological legitimacy, to gain recruits and justify its battle with al-Qaida and its affiliates. “Isis took all our religious works,” Maqdisi said. “They took it from us – it’s all our writings, they are all our books, our thoughts.” Now, Abu Qatada said, “they don’t respect anyone”.
These radicals who sip tea and make time for interviews with the British press are angry that ISIS is taking their work to its logical conclusion. These are men who would issue fatwas on cartoonists for drawing Muhammad or defend the concept of honor killing women who have been raped. They are appalled at ISIS’ savagery and upset that ISIS does not show them proper respect.
These radical clerics sipping tea in Jordan, thankful that they are not in jail, confirm the structural issues that created the opportunity for entryism.
But despite their personal affection for his [OBL’s] successor, Zawahiri – whom they call “Dr Ayman” – they both admit that he does not possess the authority and control to rebuff the threat from Isis. From the “very beginning” of his tenure, Zawahiri lacked “direct military or operational control,” Qatada said. “He has become accustomed to operating in this decentralised way – he is isolated.”
According to Maqdisi, al-Qaida’s organisational structure has “collapsed”. Zawahiri, Maqdisi said, “operates solely based on allegiance. There is no organisational structure. There is only communication channels, and loyalty.” And unfortunately for Zawahiri, Isis has done its utmost to ensure that loyalty is in short supply.
Al-Qaeda lacked a strict hierarchy. This was not just due to Osama bin Laden’s death but over a decade of Western forces picking off leadership. Al-Qaeda had been set up a bit like an old Mafia regime was destroyed by American efforts in the post-9/11 era. To survive, they adapted and became flexible, focusing on the network and stressing allegiance. This is how the tightly structured and multi-winged ISIS organization could send in a religious, scholarly man to hide motives and and intent to gain trust and validation.
ISIS has taken advantage of the very 20-year plan that Al-Qaeda formulated. Al-Qaeda offered an alternative to lost young Muslims of jihad and discredited contemporary regimes in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda wanted to establish a caliphate in the 2013-2016 time range. ISIS has done so, and overtaken Al-Qaeda using its own ideological and spiritual blueprint. They made it a reality, and replaced the call to jihad with the call to the Caliphate. They took advantage of the global game board and the game itself to deliver on the empty promises of Al-Qaeda. On top of this, ISIS actually had experienced military strategists of recent warfare, not cave-dwelling plotters who last fought when Ronald Reagan was in office. ISIS’ structure of a military wing and a religious wing working together in separate realms allows this to happen, and allows them to be more effective than Al-Qaeda in all regards. Al-Baghdadi was the carefully placed entryist to disrupt and destroy Al-Qaeda as a rival for men, resources and legitimacy on the Arab Street.
Western speakers talk of winning the ideological war. State Department figures like Marie Harf mention the need to provide jobs to Muslims so they won’t sign up for jihad. They are missing that empty materialism and 21st century progressive talking points do not matter to men just one generation removed from the Middle East, who feel atomized and listless in the West. What the Western media does not want to talk about is that these Muslims signing up for jihad reveal just how much of a failure the immigration and assimilation movements have been that they push daily. These second and even third generation Muslim men are going through the Western system, earning degrees and working regular jobs, but dropping them all for a chance to fight for ISIS.
These are not actual Brits and Swedes joining the fight. These are foreigners who live in the West to serve progressive purposes and provide progressive votes (93% for Hollande in France), but they have no connection to their host nations. To admit that admits the folly of immigration and wickedness of progressive plans. To admit that reveals the emptiness of the progressive Brave New World.
Now with eager fighters streaming in, ISIS can keep the fight going with Assad and the Iraqis who get help from Iran and their superstar General Soleimani, but nothing seems certain. The Kurds, the one group able to beat ISIS back, are now being bombarded by the Turks, in addition to fighting off ISIS. What is certain reading the news reports is that ISIS makes money to keep the government running through regular businesses, and the oil proceeds are a bonus on top of it. Iran and the West may have a nuclear deal done. This changes the game. Does Assad stay? What happens where? I am a little biased, as I wrote in 2013 about breaking Assad and Syria to redraw the Middle East map. Let’s go back to the original media mystery: what does ISIS want?
If ISIS is really just a manifestation of Sunni Iraq’s desire for sovereignty, then ISIS may very well be content with the Syrian civil war ending with little rump states along the coast for the Alawites, Christians, Shia and secular residents of the Mediterranean coast. The condition will be that they get their piece of land to call home. They just have to survive. If ISIS is viewed through the lens of Sunni sovereignty, then they are a bloody means to get to the statement by then-Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden that Iraq should be partitioned into three states (Kurd/Sunni/Shia). This very well could lead to the Kurds requesting their piece of land for home, and even without ISIS, Kurdistan will become a reality. Changes politically next door in Turkey help, as the ruling party may be open to slicing off the Kurdish eastern part of Turkey (a prickly demographic/political issue akin to US-Mexico), which would put their ruling party back into dominance. Without Kurds fighting them, will the Shia Iraqis want to? Will Iran want to waste money and blood supporting them? A settlement can be made. ISIS can claim other goals as there are Sunni Arab leaders to topple elsewhere, especially if Uncle Sam wants to see regime change.
That blood and soil connection is missed among the Western media pieces. It is known but dodged. It is the reason Western media outlets report that ISIS uses Western Muslim recruits for suicide missions and cannon fodder; they are not Sunni Arab Iraqi, so let them die first. ISIS represents a rebellion not just against Western materialism and supranational global forces forcing resolutions, but against a forced multicultural nation. Iraq has had the highest fertility rate in the Middle East since the American invasion of 2003. It is a tense place with a growing population. The leadership of ISIS is made up of men revolting after being backed into a corner in their own nation–a nation they formerly ran. That hits too close for home with many of the reporters looking at their domestic political situation where they push multikulti happiness on unwilling natives. Ethnostates are a no-no with Western media, but amidst the chaos in the Middle East, stability and order might come from their establishment.
This is not an endorsement of ISIS. Maybe their towns are hell holes. ISIS was a band of men who took advantage of the situation on the ground and the needs of global bigwigs to craft a message and build what has become a small nation. When they clear out Iraqi government forces from a town, they are clearing out Shia elements. Sunni rule for Sunnis. It took sacrifice on the part of some of the leaders to deny themselves public glorification and the recognition that the warriors will fight to provide security, while the holy leaders will craft the soul and community. ISIS does exist due to Imperial America not squashing it with massive airstrikes, but their blueprint is working. Their methods may serve as a guide for others as the American Empire slowly unravels. Old maps of dying orders will be redrawn. Blood and soil may settle the new borders. The Middle East may just be the start.