Sunday, June 14, 2015

The ISIS Governing Machine

You have to wonder how a malignant and unforgiving force, one that openly deals in the buying and selling of female sex slaves, commits genocide as a matter of policy, presents brutal beheadings routinely on the worldwide web, tells the world it is hell-bent on global conquest and forced religious conversion and is brutally intolerant of any deviation, however minor, of their twisted view of Islam could possibly generate recruits, be openly welcomed in too many villages and towns and, even after taking control, is able to sustain a host of loyal “citizens.”
The world has never witnessed what began as an asymmetrical insurgent force that has so completely embraced modern technological and economic capacity with such murderous efficiency. ISIS controls a huge chunk of Western Iraq and Syria (see above map from the UK’s A very significant national landmass. And although they are ultra-extreme in their views, they are Sunnis and are selling that they can protect their fellow Sunnis from the Shiite dominated Iraqi military, Iran’s Shiite military that has joined in the fray (including their surrogates, such as Hezbollah) as well as the Shiite-led Syrian Assad regime. Shiites, they maintain, are serious enemies to all Sunnis, much on the same level of Israel and the United States.
ISIS has taken over radio stations in conquered territory. They broadcast their malicious perspectives in professional velvet voices in five languages. There are news programs, talk shows, and a panoply of fare that mirrors professional broadcasts everywhere. Their understanding of the Internet, particularly social media, reflect the technological and social sophistication of the younger elements that have been drawn into their center. Well-edited audio-visuals, compelling pleas to the “faithful,” and clear and consistent messaging to their worldwide sympathizers have developed a constant flow of adherents, lone wolves and new recruits rapidly replenishing their losses.
But we’re so smug that ISIS’s message of gross violence simply and logically is not finding real traction in the global media market, while in fact the opposite is true. “An internal State Department assessment paints a dismal picture of the efforts by the Obama administration and its foreign allies to combat the Islamic State’s message machine, portraying a fractured coalition that cannot get its own message straight.
“The assessment comes months after the State Department signaled that it was planning to energize its social media campaign against the militant group. It concludes, however, that the Islamic State’s violent narrative — promulgated through thousands of messages each day — has effectively ‘trumped’ the efforts of some of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations.” New York Times, June 12th.
Further, ISIS’ business savvy has allowed them to seize and operate oil rigs and, despite embargoes against their products, find ways to circumvent efforts to thwart the export trade. They have rapidly learned how to impose commercially viable commercial systems over their conquered territories.
“As the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, works to establish its empire, the jihadists have become fastidious bureaucrats: imposing taxes, paying fixed salaries, and imposing trading-standards laws in a bid to create a healthy economy that will sustain the group's autocratic rule.
“Yet despite brutal punishments for those who break the laws, many Syrian businessmen see ISIS as the only option when compared with the anarchy that prevails in areas controlled by other rebels, including Western-backed groups.”, June 8th. ISIS provides predictability and a measure of stability to conquered lands, and for those willing to adhere to ISIS’ strict laws, the ability to make a solid living is very possible, with a bit less corruption than under prior regimes… although, wink wink, the rich still have a strong edge.
There are a few tradeoffs: “For most Syrians, the price paid for this modicum of stability is repression… The jihadists' extreme version of Sharia law imposes a culture that is inimical to that of most Syrians, whose Sunni population overwhelmingly subscribe to a moderate interpretation of Islam.
“Now women cannot leave the home unaccompanied and must wear the face-covering niqab. They cannot interact with men who are not close relatives or their husbands. Men should wear pants that fall above the ankle and long beards. All animal products entering the city must be halal. Films, music, and all kinds of games are banned.
“The tactics used by the jihadists to enforce their order are not dissimilar to those used by the regime: spies, detentions, and killings… The extremists carry out spot checks, randomly entering homes, or stopping people on the street to check their phones and computers for transgressions.”
Those of in the United States cannot contemplate how any civilized human being could ever follow the mad policies of ISIS. We assume that they will self-destruct or that their conquered lands will overthrow them post-haste. While realistically, most of those conquered would seriously prefer a less brutal regime and are not deeply supportive of ISIS, they are used to dealing with brutal masters and a most concerned with getting on with their lives, putting the guns, knives and bombs behind them. And many of those believe that as bureaucracy settles into governance, ISIS will itself moderate.
While reality will imbue ISIS with perpetual military struggle, Americans must also know that ISIS is no longer a stateless, free floating militancy. It is very well established in very large tracts of former Iraqi and Syrian lands. As it imposes operational systems on conquered territory, we must be very careful not to underestimate ISIS or overestimate the likely success of our very limited and incomplete strategy for their defeat. Our current path is too little too late, and the cost of the required boots on the ground is nothing that the American public will tolerate (or can afford) anytime soon. Prepare for a more pragmatic approach to some very serious regional realignment. And expect ISIS to turn on even regional Sunni nations, like Saudi Arabia, if and when their holdings are solidified.
I’m Peter Dekom, and American leadership, across both sides of the aisle, is woefully unprepared to deal with this harsh and growing anti-Western malevolence in the Middle East.

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