There is global outrage at the recent terror attacks on civilians, and rightly so. The group calling itself the Islamic State (I’ll be referring to them as Daesh, following the example of France’s President Hollande) has claimed responsibility for not only the attacks in Paris, but also bombings in Beiruit and a passenger jet in Egypt, Metrojet Flight 9268. In all, several hundred people were murdered by this organization outside territory they claim, in planned attacks executed by their agents against innocent people. And they’ve promised more to come.
It’s worth remembering too that, during this time, violence within territory that they claim has also continued. They execute fellow Muslims for dressing or wearing their facial hair differently. (This is not at all uncommon; it’s a daily occurrence. I’m surprised mainly that people still choose to shave their beards in light of this. Personally, I’d grow my beard as they wish and exercise civil disobedience in some other fashion.) They wage war against Iraq, against Syria, against the Kurds in the north, and even against Hezbollah in Lebanon — this last group violent extremists who are not violent enough for their taste, who have committed the unpardonable sin of sending a delegate to the United Nations.
That’s not an exaggeration. It’s the literal truth. Hezbollah has sent a delegate to the UN, and is therefore apostate.
Daesh exists to proclaim the new world Caliphate, the revival of that extinguished by Turkey nearly a century ago. It is to be the sacred kingdom of Islam, and the duty of all Muslims is (according to them) to travel to that land administered by the Caliph and submit themselves to his will.
A word about their Caliph: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, born Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai, was by most reports a retiring scholar of the Qur’an and Sharia law at the time of the American conquest of Iraq. He was detained by American forces in Iraq for nearly a year, after which he became extremely active in the organization of resistance fighters. He is reputed to be highly intelligent as well as extremely pious, a fundamentalist scholar with a retiring disposition. His name change coincided with an alteration of his official personal history; his background is now the stuff of legend among his followers, and heavily embroidered to improve the power of the myth.
The history of Daesh, otherwise known as the Islamic State, is pretty open, mind you. al-Baghdadi has been with them right along, ever since their formation as the Mujahideen Shura Council and later al-Qaeda In Iraq ten years ago. The US can possibly be said to have created him; before the invasion, he was a peaceful scholar of sharia law, but after US forces imprisoned and (very likely) tortured him, he apparently acquired a bit of a resentment toward us for some reason.
His goals are clearly outlined in the Qur’an; he’s a fundamentalist scholar, and anyone that troubles to do a little reading can tell very easily what he’s got in mind. It’s not complicated, not at all. But more on that in a bit.
Their organization, once al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq and now officially divorced from their parent body, is said to receive recruits and contributions from the disaffected in Saudi Arabia, conservative kingdoms further to the south, and individuals filtering in over the Turkish border in the north. Over the years they’ve been active, they’ve grown in strength to around eight million, and current estimates place their income from oil sales on the black market (mostly in Turkey) at around a million dollars a day.
And they’re incredibly popular. A lot of this is because we give them free press by reporting on their attacks, but some is due to resentment — arguably justified — against the influence of world powers on their small corner of the world.
It would be an error to forget the impact of nationalist pride on their growing numbers and power. After all, it wasn’t long ago that one of the largest armies in the world, that of Iraq, was defeated — humiliated — by a fraction of the armed might of America. The removal of Saddam Hussein created a power vacuum in an area where the war, combined with a decade and more of economic sanctions, had already generated poverty, suffering, and disaffection toward the United States and the United Nations. Western meddling in the Syrian revolt, itself taking place in a country crushed by famine and poverty, likewise bred resentment, and the path was paved for just such an entity as has been created.
On the 29th of June, 2014, Daesh announced the re-establishment of the global Caliphate, with al-Baghdadi as Caliph. This move came about at the time when they firmly controlled a large territory and could begin to administer it according to sharia law. With the exception of beheading fellow Muslims as apostates, they’ve been doing exactly that.
Which brings me to my point; bear with me just a little bit longer.
In proclaiming the Caliphate and holding to sharia law, particularly to a literal and ultra-conservative form of it, the Daesh organization has bound itself to an equally literal approach to policy and strategy. This provides a highly predictable course of action that they must follow, which is a tremendous weakness.
One of the tenets to which the regime has bound itself is that the armies of Rome (possibly Russia, possibly Europe, possibly the United States) will meet them at Dabiq, a natural battlefield in Syria recently captured by Daesh. Naturally, if battle is offered at that location, they will be incapable of declining — no matter how disadvantageous that battle would be to them.
If American boots hit the ground in Syria, that’s where they’ll go. And the confrontation that Daesh demands in order to fulfill the literal prophecies of their faith will occur. Understand this too: According to these prophesies, almost the entire population of the Caliphate will be annihilated in battle before their fortunes are reversed through divine intervention and they win the day.
Yes, they actually believe this. Literally.
And I’m not saying they’re wrong, either. Once battle is joined, if the entire armed population of Daesh doesn’t rush to the contested point, I’d be amazed. And they’ll be butchered, because, while they control tons of explosives and M-16s in vast numbers, they really have no way to fight against targeted airstrikes, massed artillery bombardments, and modern battle tanks.
So what would actually happen afterward? Hard to say for sure, but here’s my prediction:
Once the Caliph’s army is destroyed, his organization will attempt to force prophecy to be fulfilled. One of the many specific items is that the world leader in charge of their enemies will be slain through divine intervention; it’s not much of a stretch to predict multiple targeted assassination attempts, and it would be unlikely that all would fail. That would be interpreted as validation of the idea of the Caliphate.
Then, once the current leader is killed, captured, or steps down, a power vacuum exists with every ambitious Muslim leader in the world facing the temptation to step in and declare himself the new Caliph, with his own nation, organization, or congregation ready to absorb the territory of the defunct Daesh.
Given the long history of fighting between Muslim sects even in established countries, is it even imaginable that massive bloody conflict will fail to occur? The current fighting is intense, but it’s localized; the war that could result from the collapse of Daesh would almost certainly draw in the entire region. And some of those countries have nuclear capability.
That scenario is an unthinkable one. It must not be permitted to occur.
Instead, a wise course would be to take advantage of the so-called Islamic State’s self-imposed weakness, its voluntary adherence to sharia law.
The Caliph must hold to sharia, and must govern according to the dictates of the Qur’an within his territory. If he fails in this in any respect, he must step down and a new Caliph, the most pious and learned man in the Muslim world, will ascend to govern. One key way in which he could fail would be to lose control of the territory; another would be to become unable to administer it, which would happen automatically if the regime began to feel an economic pinch.
At present, adventurers from the disaffected across the world, would-be Jihadists, are flocking to the territory in order to participate in this conflict. Their ranks are swelling, and their civilian population is likewise continually on the increase.
At the same time, international pressure is now coming to bear on this group, not only due to the terror attacks, but also because sharia law, literally enforced, demands beheadings, harsh punishments, compulsory slavery, and other practices that are universally considered not merely odious but heinous and inhuman.
Enforce economic sanctions, seize assets, and then establish a perimeter. Cut off food imports and any exports at all. Then, use limited strikes to destroy local food production and distribution, while permitting — even encouraging — refugees to flee the affected area. As control weakens, draw in the perimeter and await the regime’s collapse under the weight of millions of starving Jihadists with nobody willing to invade them.
Once the government becomes unable to feed its people, the Caliph must step down, and at that point, who would be willing to take his place? For no one could possibly administer that area correctly, not with an international blockade in place to prevent it. The legitimacy of the Caliphate would be nonexistent, and the threat could be eliminated — without massive armies of conquest.
That’s but one potential scenario, but it plays out well enough. There are certainly others out there.
But there’s no positive American gain from an invasion, no way that sending a military force from overseas to this desolate land could succeed at this point. Not even counting the likely dissension between Americans and Russians over the proper way to treat the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria — and the chance of a military escalation between nominal allies over the dispute — we have no way to win and every chance to lose, if not the physical war, certainly the moral one, that of perception. And that means the situation won’t be resolved, but instead will continue to escalate itself into… the next war.
I certainly agree with all of your points here, but let me just add a couple of things. I have two sons of military age and it would be terrifying to have them serve in Syria/Iraq. It sickens the imagination to think about what would happen to any western soldier unfortunate enough to be taken captive. The public execution of our servicemen would be of huge propaganda value and the reactions in the western world would doubtless be directed against home-grown Muslim populations which would breed more extremists.
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