The Delusions of American Strategy

Washington looks for 'existential threats' in all the wrong places.

Graeme Wood has demonstrated in the Atlantic that Daesh was the direct descendant of the takfiri Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the ruthless late commander of Iraq’s terrorists before he perished in a 2006 U.S. bombing. Western media described Zarqawi as head of “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.” But he called his group The Islamic State of Iraq. In a 2004 article, I asked, “Are bin Laden and Zarqawi running competing terrorist organizations?” and ended by noting:

“Historically speaking, the dynamic of revolutionary movements favors the most radical faction--the Jacobins, not the Girondists, the Bolsheviks, not the Mensheviks. If this dynamic prevails in contemporary Sunni terrorism, Abu Musab al Zarqawi represents the future.”

Wood’s account confirmed that dismal surmise.

Zarqawi’s IS heirs regrouped and awaited the departure of U.S. troops demanded by the lamentable liege we installed in now Shia Iraq. Then along with abandoned US arms, funds from Sunni Gulf states enabled ISIS to acquire swathes of Syria and Iraq over which Daesh’s emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “Caliphate.”

As Wood noted,

“the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much: [telling] his Saudi agents to ‘deal with the rafida [Shia] first… before the crusaders and their bases.’”

Thus “the near enemy” (e.g. Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Israel) and not Al Qaeda’s “far enemy” (the West) is the main target of the Islamic State. For millenarian IS, living the apocalypse, the Qur’an is observed with the literalism of those who believe the world was created in six days. By 2016, more than thirty-five thousand recruits had joined the caliphate, doubling IS in one year.

Europe’s jihadis burst back into the news last year, primarily thanks to ISIS’s adept use of social media. Over five thousand European post-immigrant youths have trained with the Islamic State. An estimated 10 percent of returnees are prepared to assault their parents’ adopted country.

IS explained its Parisian atrocities as retaliation for France’s air and sea assaults on Daesh in Syria—the most extensive Western intervention there. Despite cries from Washington politicians and pundits that those Paris assaults signify “a global terrorist threat,” IS’s focus remains on “the near enemy.”

The Islamic State recruits men and women, nurses and doctors, technocrats and schoolteachers. It presents IS-labeled backpacks to schoolchildren.

“Brand Caliphate” offers not merely jihad but an Islamic state, a utopia in the form of a dystopia. The IS utopian appeal is as potent today as was Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Fidel’s Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua.


Our Next Middle East War?

Daesh’s penetration of Egypt was perhaps its most resounding achievement last year. That came shortly after the bloody overthrow of the elected—if incompetent, reckless and divided—Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi. In a well-engineered coup, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Morsi’s chosen Interior Minister, massacred peaceful protesters and jailed and tortured liberals, journalists, and tens of thousands of Brotherhood activists and alleged sympathizers. A former Muslim Brotherhood youth told Al-Monitor his fellow-prisoners’ craving to join Daesh had reached "IS fever."

Such recruits have extended the reach of IS beyond the lawless Sinai desert abutting Israel to the opposite desert, neighboring Libya, presently an IS redoubt. The worried Israeli Defense Forces now allow Sisi to deploy forces in the Sinai, beyond the Camp David Accords’ authorization.

IS has also infiltrated the neighboring Gaza Strip. Last June, Daesh militants declared on video from Aleppo: “We will uproot the state of the Jews and you [Hamas] and Fatah [the PLO]… will be overrun by our creeping multitudes.” Yet Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists the danger comes from the north, Iran, not the south. Should Daesh storm Israel, will American troops again find themselves in a Middle Eastern war?