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ISIS (I'll use that term, although the others are also valid) is certainly the flavor of the month, or even year. Our Secretary of Defense is certainly concerned about them. From a recent press conference:

"They are as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group.

"This is beyond anything we've seen. We must prepare for everything."

We've seen the videos of summary executions, watched the news reports of the crisis on Mt. Sinjar and were amazed at the speed that ISIS moved out of eastern Syria into northwestern Iraq, slashing down through Mosul and Tikirt to threaten Baghdad, and across the western desert through Ramadi to Fallujah.

That's a lot of territory - even if 99% of it is roadless and relatively worthless desert - and now that they've gobbled up a large swath of Iraq, what are their prospects for the future?

I don't claim to be an expert, but here are a few things I've learned and some thoughts. I will be glad to correct any factual errors, of course.

First off, who or what is ISIS? Universally labeled a 'terrorist group', they are a group that adheres to the most extreme fundamentalist fringes of Islamic teaching. They were too extreme even for Al Qaida, which expelled them last year. There are several belief systems in Islam known as Wahhabism (generally known for its puritanism and shunning contact with non-Muslims) and Salafism (a belief that everything should be as it was in the first 3 generations of Islam beginning with the Prophet Mohammed, dating back to the 7th century), which form the basis of ISIS's ideology, and, as mentioned above, ISIS is on the extreme fringes of both. Click for more on ISIS and its ties to Saudi Arabia.

While there are millions of Wahhabis - Saudi Arabia has over 4 million - the vast majority follow a more lenient version that is approved by the King. And since neither Syria and Iraq have a large Wahhabi movement, that leads us to the first problem for ISIS and its long-term prospects:

ISIS has no constituency. Let's contrast them to some other groups they are often lumped with.

Hizbollah is primarily a political party and functions as the sub-national voice of over 40% of the population of Lebanon. The same generally applies to the Taliban and Hamas. ISIS, on the other hand, is a band of 'fighters' - or militia if you prefer - that, when it conquers a city or town, brutally subjugates its residents, sometimes offering them a simple choice: convert to its brand of Islam or die (sometimes a fine is an option). They often expel the residents since they don't have the manpower to administer all of their captured territory.

And therein lies their largest problem: it's not all that difficult to over-run civilian towns and even the piss-poor Iraqi army, but to hold and administer a country (or caliphate) in this day and age takes at least some modicum of acceptance or a massive occupying force. ISIS simply doesn't have the ability to 'own' a country long-term.

Second, ISIS has no natural allies. Much has been made of the apparent alliance between ISIS and the Sunni tribes in Iraq, and it has enabled them to sweep through the Sunni areas of Iraq. Make no mistake, however: this alliance cannot and will not last any longer than is convenient for the Sunni tribes. They are not interested in the extreme version of Wahhabism mandated by ISIS, and will turn on them once they achieve at least some of their goals, such as a semi-autonomous region within Iraq or at least some amount of political power.

Third, ISIS has no secure rear area, safe border or coastline. That means they have no opportunity for re-supply or reinforcement. They've done a good job of capturing arms and ammo, especially in Mosul, but their stocks of ammo are limited, and they have no reliable method of the magnitude of logistics they will require, particularly once their enemies get moving and put pressure on them. It's difficult to import a tank - or tank ammo - via FedEx.

Fourth, they have no army. Sorry, but 'technicals' (those pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on the back) are NOT military vehicles. After all, if they were even somewhat decent, why doesn't the US army have even ONE? A bunch of 'fighters' armed with light weapons, no matter how many, is just a bunch of fighters. It's fine to capture tanks, but can they keep them running?

Fifth, everybody in their neighborhood hates them. They occupy a space bordered by Syria, Turkey and Iraq - no friends there. While they seem to get funding from various sources, no government is going to stand up and claim them as friends. No friends means no outside help. And now, they've got the USA hating on them as well. Keep in mind that all they offer their subjugated population is a return to the 7th century and the most repressive interpretation of Sharia law imaginable.

This list can go on for a while, but it's getting late, so I'll close with one last big one: ISIS is also a personality cult, and will have difficulty surviving the demise of its leader. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has proven to be an effective leader in his 4+ years at the head of ISIS, but he is now in the cross-hairs of some powerful adversaries. Part of his problem moving forward is that as his organization grows and spreads out, he's going to have to move around and expose himself - he has a caliphate to run, after all. That may work for a while, but he can't afford to be a hermit.

So should we be worried that some 'Islamic Caliphate' is going to rise up out of the desert in eastern Syria and western Iraq, providing a safe haven for ISIS to attack the USA? Well, maybe in the short term. As we see on the cable news, there are hundreds or possibly several thousands of Americans and/or Europeans fighting with ISIS, and some of them certainly have the ability to travel here with the intent of mounting an attack. So we can expect to see some attempts at terrorist attacks, perhaps some even succeeding.

In the meantime, ISIS is attracting every fundamentalist wacko with an itchy trigger finger and the hots for a harem of virgins, and if we can plan and execute this properly (i.e., get some very sneaky boots on the ground to guide the air-strikes) we have an opportunity to send a whole lot of them to find out how many they can get.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sandbox, mjfgates, schumann, Bulldozer

    Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. Friedrich Schiller

    by databob on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 05:44:26 AM PDT

  •  I think you are under-estimating the (6+ / 0-)

    ISIS threat in the middle east.-they are committing genocide against entire non-sunni-muslim communities.

    They are also a threat to the west--from which any ISIS members and sympathizers should be deported.  

    •  You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.  

      This is the title of an article recently published by The Huffington Post.

      One dominant strand to the Saudi identity pertains directly to Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism), and the use to which his radical, exclusionist puritanism was put by Ibn Saud. (The latter was then no more than a minor leader -- amongst many -- of continually sparring and raiding Bedouin tribes in the baking and desperately poor deserts of the Nejd.)

      The second strand to this perplexing duality, relates precisely to King Abd-al Aziz's subsequent shift towards statehood in the 1920s: his curbing of Ikhwani violence (in order to have diplomatic standing as a nation-state with Britain and America); his institutionalization of the original Wahhabist impulse -- and the subsequent seizing of the opportunely surging petrodollar spigot in the 1970s, to channel the volatile Ikhwani current away from home towards export -- by diffusing a cultural revolution, rather than violent revolution throughout the Muslim world.

      But this "cultural revolution" was no docile reformism. It was a revolution based on Abd al-Wahhab's Jacobin-like hatred for the putrescence and deviationism that he perceived all about him -- hence his call to purge Islam of all its heresies and idolatries.

      Read the entire article here:

      "The quote on the Statue of Liberty doesn't say 'give me your english-speaking only, Christian-believing, heterosexual masses'

      by unapologeticliberal777 on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 06:50:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks, I meant to link to that article... (0+ / 0-)

        but forgot.

        The love/hate relationship between the ruling Saud house and the Wahhabists is interesting and informative.

        The Sauds appear to have embraced Wahhabism, while at the same time co-opting it and corrupting many of its most draconian restrictions - such as attempting to ban soccer and birthday greetings.

        So the Saudis follow a watered-down version of Wahhabism, while some of them support the export of the ultra-extremist theology.... I suspect that they feel they are safer if those really nasty guys are fighting in Syria or elsewhere, not back home in the Kingdom.


        Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. Friedrich Schiller

        by databob on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 09:10:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  They haven't yet (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and they haven't actually pledged themselves to the complete physical annihilation of any opponent.

      They do have terroristic m.o. toward civilian populations they would like to see permanently flee what they regard as their state's natural territories.  They do, for practical military or political reasons, execute military leaders and average captives of forces they're at war with.

      This is actually the way desert tribes/peoples have conducted wars in the Middle East for thousands of years.  It's not distinct from the described warfare in the Hebrew Bible.  The basic fact is that desert cannot naturally carry large human populations; when human cooperation breaks down in deserts the sustaining of physical life becomes precarious for all there.  The winning side in violent competition- warfare- commonly reduces the population competing for food, water, lands.  In peacetime deserts are very quickly filled to, or over, carrying capacity again.

    •  Yes, they can cause damage... (0+ / 0-)

      but the point of my diary is that this is a self-limiting problem.

      Yes, they are killing a lot of people who don't share their beliefs, but their ability to actually commit genocide is also limited. Let's keep in mind that while they did kill some Yazidim, they let the vast majority of them escape when they were helpless.

      And before someone jumps on that statement, NO, I am not defending ISIS in any way. I am merely attempting to clarify their actions, the better to understand them.


      Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. Friedrich Schiller

      by databob on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 09:20:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Huge problem (6+ / 0-)

    Terrorist group committed to killing anyone they don't like--and  the people they don't like constitutes basically everyone on earth who doesn't agree with their ideology.

    •  Big problem, but in a contained area... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the ability of ISIS to commit their atrocities is pretty well limited - yes, they could clean up a couple 'fighters' who have US or EU passports, smuggle them into Turkey, get them tickets to New York or London and have them commit a terrorist act.

      That would be horrible, but how much of that can they actually carry out?

      There are actually a lot of groups like this around the globe... Boko Harum in central Africa and Al Shabaab in east Africa come to mind right away..... but how bad are they hurting us?


      Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. Friedrich Schiller

      by databob on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 09:27:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Undoubtedly a "problem"... (0+ / 0-)

    but the question of "how much a problem" is ISIL/ISIS/IS/Da'ish has no simple answer; in fact, it has many complex answers as we ask "problem for whom" and "across what time-scale(s)."

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 06:42:33 AM PDT

  •  How Should The US Respond? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    schumann, unfangus

    I agree with many of the points made: ISIS is hated by pretty much everyone, and has no secure sanctuary where it can make a base for itself

    How should the US respond?

    Send in the army?  Send in a proxy army? Airstrikes?  Summit with other countries and tell them to take care of their own problems?  Ignore it altogether?

    George Bush tried the "ignore it altogether" option with al-queda and gave us 9/11 in return: I don't think the American public will accept "ignore it" as an option.

    Interestingly, George Bush also tried the "send in the army" option in Afghanistan, and that is also seen by most Americans as a dismal failure.  America is going to strongly resist another invasion in the Middle East.

    So that leaves airstrikes, and trying to get others to address the problem - which is pretty much where we are at today.  Lots of talk of airstrikes, and lots of talks of arming kurds, partnering with iran, and getting Saudi kings to finance the whole shebang.

    One last thing: the fear-mongers say that ISIS will send their western fighters to western countries to form underground terror cells.  So I guess that means the TSA lines, and all that viewing of citizens' emails and data gathering turns out to be pretty worthless - it turns out all that crap doesn't actually make us safer from terrorists.  So if I'm not any safer from terrorists, can I get my civil rights back?  

    "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

    by Hugh Jim Bissell on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 06:57:49 AM PDT

  •  Depends on who you're talking about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    How big a problem is ISIS to the U.S.?  None at all.

    To Iraq? A pretty big one, but we need to learn the lesson that our intervention will only make things worse,  and let Iraq solve its own problems.

    "The future of man is not one billion of us fighting over limited resources on a soon-to-be dead planet. . .I won't go back into the cave for anyone."

    by Whimsical on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 07:27:47 AM PDT

  •  A few comments, (0+ / 0-)

    First, I think you meant to write. "Lebanon", not Syria, when mentioning Hizbollah,

    Second, for the military value of a "technical", read up on the Libya Chad Wars. Technicals are cheap, cheap, cheap, fast, reliable, can tacks a lot of abuse, ( see and, and when armed with zsu-23's, ( air burst, he, ap, slugs) deadly to even well dug in infantry, and murderous in an urban setting, and when fitted with TOW or Javelin launchers, can kill most Gen 3 tanks at greater range than the tank.  In urban areas and open desert, they give light infantry mobility and abilities that heavy armour does not have.

    Third, ISIS is the "Army" or the "Revolution", of extremist Wahabbism.  It's not The Political Party, or the Government. As such, I would not expect to see much form in it's structure about effective ruling, civic management or economic development.

    Forth, ISIS believes is the "shock of the Umma", "the Sword of the Prophet", a transformative belief that their mere actions and presence has the ability to convert others through the demonstration of truth, and that Allah will reward them and the society that forms in their wake with peace, bountiful plenty, justice and wealth. It is akin to the millennialist Christian cults beliefs that by creating the right societal conditions, God will basically "return", take charge and show his will.

    Basically, a long winded way of saying that ISIS believes after they win, God will give them a Government.

    Fifth, prior to Dubya Dubya Me Too, back when Operation Iraqi Liberation was still on the table, it was pointed out in many of the "Why We Fight" arguments, that the barren desert areas of Sunni Iraq, were some of the least explored, least developed, oil and gas regions of the earth, and that the oil and gas deposits there, was potentially as large the entire developed oil and gas of Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia combined. For a long time, Iraq was so oil Rich in the developed fields, that nobody was looking for new fields.

    •  Lebanon it is, thanks.... (0+ / 0-)

      I haven't seen any technicals armed with ZSU-23s, which would be difficult because the ZSU-23-4 is actually a self-contained, tracked weapon system. Sure, mounting a TOW launcher on a pickup truck makes it an anti-tank system, and multiple machine guns makes it a better weapon, but my point remains: these are the weapons of a militia, not an army. Against a real army, they make good targets, particularly from the air, and they are most particularly susceptible to drone attack.

      As for your third and fourth points, I don't disagree with you, but if ISIS truly believes God will reward them with a government for what they're doing.... well, good luck with that. You are adding to my point (that ISIS hasn't got the ability to rule) with the observation that ISIS isn't motivated to try to rule.

      Finally, sure, there's oil and gas in the Sunni tribal lands of Iraq, but are we supposed to believe that the Sunni tribal leaders are just going to hand it over to ISIS? I don't think so.


      Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. Friedrich Schiller

      by databob on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 09:02:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Counter point, (0+ / 0-)

        Sorry, ZU-23-2,

        Second, the Lybia-Chad Wars featured the Chadian Army, Army, not Militia, using light infantry and Toyota Technicals, to utterly defeat and humiliate, Libyan Heavy Armour formations, in the open desert, in both mobility engagements and in attacks on entrenched armour, and this was pre-digital portable communications and hand held GPS.

        The reality is a Technical can be easily armed up to defeat a tank, stick a TOW on it's back or bolt down a Javelin launcher, and you have a one shot, one kill vehicle, that consumes a fraction of the fuel of a tank, runs through open desert at three times the speed of a tank, doesn't need the support of a heavy armoured combat engineering vehicle to get unstuck from a sand blow, just a couple of cloth mats and some shovels, and free from the logistical and support train required to support heavy armour, can be easily broken up into tiny groupings, dispersed into the desert on multiple attack routes and converge on a target from multiple directions,

        Desert warfare, aside from air superiority, is a "game" of mobility and logistics. ISIS is reliant on the Sunni Tribes "keeping" the logistical "oasis's", in urban warfare.

        As Sunni sects and tribes in Iraq have become more radicalized, "inshallah", has basically become their "plan" for future Governance. ISIS has little need for long term future political plans, so the depressions of today, against their fellow Sunni's, has little bearing on what happens even next week.

        As for the Sunni Tribal leaders, they are not focused much on the future either, so as for the oil and gas, that is a game for some time in the long future, and who can say if there will even be Sunni Tribal Leaders at that time,

        Inshallah, if things go " well", there will only be the Caliph and the Umma, and no which things as tribes.

        Not making long term plans, and the political "consequences", becomes trivial when such things are left up to "God's Will".

        Trying to minimize the threat, based on ISIS's lack of long term planning, when much of the Sunni Community has also given up on long term planning, is very "orientalist".

  •  This is the Presidents "wrong side of history" (0+ / 0-)

    argument, with which he seems enamored. That is, "the Arc of history bends toward justice." Perhaps so, but the arc is long. As others have discovered (Europe's 30 Year War (1618–1648), 1914-1945), it sometimes takes killing off two generations of fighters to continue the arc. This has all the earmarks of being a similar circumstance.

    As the previous practitioners also discovered, 'over there' has a funny way of becoming 'over here', and a policy of complacency seldom serves.

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