Small Wars Journal

If Wishes Were States

If Wishes Were States

Chris Townsend

In a recent War on the Rocks piece, Mike Pietrucha called for treating the Islamic State as a state instead of an insurgency. Pietrucha noted that the Islamic State

… controls territory, collects taxation, maintains a military force, promulgates and enforces laws and policies, and pays government employees, including fighters. It gathers resources and maintains a budget. It oversees education, issues IDs, and establishes provincial governments. It has a written set of principles for governance.

The danger in following Pietrucha’s advice is that it would give the Islamic State one of the key traits they are lacking, legitimacy.

Pietrucha is not alone in his assessment. Stephen Walt called the group a “revolutionary state-building organization.” Quinn Mecham acknowledged that the group has many of the qualities of a state and was working to increase its level of “stateness.” Mecham graded the Islamic State according to the categories of the Fragile States Index and found that despite high marks in tax and labor acquisition, the organization performed poorly in managing international relations and promoting economic growth, with only middling grades in defining and regulating citizenship, providing domestic security, and providing social services. The danger Mecham noted is that as institutions stabilize it becomes more difficult to unseat the group without creating additional problems on the ground. Cole Bunzel admitted that the group had a “plausible claim to statehood” calling for efforts to reduce the group to a “paper state.” Will McCants acknowledged that the Islamic State has the “manpower, money, and territory to make a credible claim to be a state.”

Charles Lister was less committal, recently labeling the group a terrorist organization that is seeking to operate as a state. President Obama said of the group, “it is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL (a previous moniker of the Islamic State) is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.” Daniel Byman warned that “calling it a terrorist group … is both true and misleading,” while admitting that it is unclear how well the organization can provide and sustain basic services. Steve Ferenzi noted that “Al Qaeda Does Governance Too,” but no one is suggesting we call them a state.

The definition of what a state is has long been a point of contention in the political sciences. Yuval Shaney, Amichai Cohen, and Tal Mimran suggested measuring the Islamic State against the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. The convention defined four criteria: permanent population, defined territory, an effective government, and a capacity to enter into relations with other states. Shaney, Cohen, and Mimran also examined two other requirements they deemed “customarily raised in relation to an entity seeking recognition as a state”: independence and legitimacy. Despite some hallmarks of effective governance (noted in Meecham’s analysis), the Islamic State meets none of the other criteria. The recent flight of Islamic State leaders to Libya further demonstrates the failure of the group to claim success in any of the other categories. The Islamic State, despite its name is not a state and recognition of the group as such threatens to provide a self-fulfilling prophecy. Providing them that legitimacy would allow for them to shore up population and territory requirements, improve their capacity for governance, and allow for engagement on equal footing with other members of the international community. 

If not a state, then what can the international community consider the Islamic State, and how might that label suggest the means to combat the group? Robert Jackson used the term “quasi states” for other developing country governance systems, but that term is loaded because it recognizes sovereignty while admitting that the functions of the state are missing. Zachariah Mampilly suggested the term rebel governance, defining it as the set of “institutions and practices of a rule to regulate the social and political life of civilians by an armed group.”

I believe that Mampilly’s is the most apt description of the group. They are a religious terrorist organization running a rudimentary rebel governance. Seth Jones and Martin Libicki studied religious terrorist organizations from 1968 onward and noted that no religious terrorist group has ever achieved victory. Jones and Libicki warned that military solutions were not the most effective means of countering such groups. Local police and intelligence services were responsible for 73% of the failures of religious terrorist organizations. This suggests an increased role in the fight for the FBI, CIA, and State Department, along with a smaller, supporting role for the US military. Jones and Libicki suggested an increase in the use of regional forces because of the legitimacy they can bring to the conflict and their better understanding of the region. Audrey Kurth Cronin advised striking a balance between counterinsurgency and all-out war through containment and empowering regional powers to defeat the group.

The military does and should have a role to play. Since the group operates as a network of local hubs, it can be most effectively damaged through the destruction of those hubs. William Polk pointed out that that the bulk of success against such terrorists historically has come from harming their ability to recruit and disrupting their warfighting capabilities such as financing and weapons. The recent airstrike against cash warehouses in Iraq is a useful attack on the network itself. Special Forces missions to capture or kill terrorist leaders create a “decapitation effect” which has shown to be effective because it complicates succession and increases mortality rates, but those effects diminish over time, highlighting the importance of concerted efforts now. Daniel Byman warned that such efforts must be exercised judiciously and preferably under civilian review to prevent the erosion of the United States’ legitimacy in the fight.

The Islamic State is not a state and should not be recognized as such. It is a religious terrorist organization operating a rebel governance. The United States, along with its foreign partners must recognize and commit to the legitimacy of Syria and Iraq, giving no credence to the would-be Islamic State. Despite claims to the contrary, the lines drawn by the Sykes-Picot agreement are the reality on the ground and are not likely to collapse. As a terrorist organization, the Islamic State cannot be defeated through military means alone. The effort will require police and intelligence forces in conjunction with regional partners. Humanitarian organizations can help ease the pain of the necessary destruction of Islamic State institutions and minimize their effects on the populace. The international community can help the people caught in the fray while denying the fruits of the group’s desperate grasping at legitimacy. Do not grant the group’s wish of statehood. Statehood must be earned; the Islamic State is not worthy.

Comments

Robert C. Jones

Sat, 03/12/2016 - 1:34pm

In reply to by RantCorp

European Sunni FF are the smallest fraction of this conflict. The number of Pakistani and Afghan Shia FF supporting Assad is far larger.

Emotional arguments blind us to the reality of the strategic situation.

Did we unleash chaos and competition by taking out Saddam? of course.

Things are what they are, not what we wish them to be.

RantCorp

Sat, 03/12/2016 - 8:54am

RCJ wrote:

‘Not only is ISIS the government of a [Sunni Arab] proto-state, but that state is not the threat to the Westphalia system so many claim it to be. The very opposite is true. This emergent state is actually the very personification of Westphalia!’

I struggle with the suggestion that thousands of petty criminals born and bred in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen and a whole host of other secular Western cities (who professes an overwhelming desire to travel to the Syrian desert and join the IS so as to bring on the End of Days) flags the presence of a Revolutionary/Resistance energy to create a Sunni proto-state in a foreign country wherein 99 percent of these FF can neither read, write or speak the native language.

I also find it difficult to reconcile the notion that a man who declares himself the Messiah and the harbinger of Armageddon represents a manifestation of Sunni Islam and Westphalia state-hood. I would hazard the guess that more Americans believe Elvis is currently walking the earth as Jesus than Muslims believe Abu Bakr to be their Messiah. I mean to say if you wander around any major bus-stop, railway station, market square in every Muslim city on the planet you will encounter the local version of Abu Bakr.

After Friday prays you will find several – usually squabbling over the most lucrative location for sharing their vision with the passer-by. To break the wind of an ironic Persian phrase ‘Behind every hill there is an emperor, behind every mountain there is a Messiah.’

I spent many years searching for Islamic inspired revolutionaries and resistance fighters. In all the youthful flotsam and jetsam that poverty and war conjures up in regions of conflict I could count on one hand individuals inspired by a combination of Islam, Revolution and Resistance. Needless to say those few souls were soon not of this world.

In my experience the motivational spectrum of the young Jihadi 99 % fell within the typical dysfunctional youth found on any street-corner anywhere in the world where people are poor. Of late, mobile phones and the internet has inspired an unusual number of psychopaths to make the journey to these regions – not to fight of-course as they don’t like getting hurt - but to make a spectacle of their mental illness. The internet’s accessibility has granted the insane criminal actor an unprecedented global audience. Obviously war-zones have always been the most violent of places but the spectacle of the criminally insane in full vigor has given the conflict a gravitas that normal folks find somewhat overwhelming/intimidating.

I could not agree more with RCJs oft argued/disputed analysis of the critical role Revolution and Resistance energy played in the Vietnam War. However, IMO these powerful motivational factors do not translate well when examining the conflict with IS.

I would respectively suggest a revisit to ‘Last Night I Dreamed of Peace’ by the Viet Cong doctor Dang Thuy Tram. Almost every page gives voice to a Revolutionary and Resistance energy that drives the human spirit to take up arms against impossible odds. The tone of Tram’s testimony (which is eerily similar to equally doomed Anne Franks musings) epitomizes the energy that delivered Vietnam’s Independence. I dare suggest a similar spirit was called upon by the Dough-boys to carry the German trenches at Belleau Wood or go over the sea wall at Iwo Jima. I personally couldn’t imagine anything more removed from these human virtues than the disgusting, bragging, posturing, enslaving, raping, murdering IS scum that the media projects upon us ad nausea.

From what I can determine the House of Saud, The Mad Mullahs, Assad and Putin are all attempting to seize as much of Saddam’s oil our WMD inspired folly left up for grabs. Unfortunately this ambition has attracted a particularly moronic element of deluded cannon-fodder to execute their Ways, Means, Ends. As such, rather than some lofty political/religious ambition, I would argue the intention of the vast majority of the belligerents has very little to do with Westphalia or Islam and everything to do with money, power and greed.

RC

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 1:44pm

Appears that social media is winning against the Russian and Syrian info warfare...MSM has not even come close to having an anti Russian campaign..sometimes the true really does hurt......

Lavrov calls Kerry to ask him to stop the "anti-Russian campaign" in the Western press.
http://www.interfax.ru/world/497960

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 2:28pm

In reply to by slapout9

When Syrians thought USA won't let atrocities happen, when Amb. Ford drove 2 Hama
http://youtu.be/oI5S1IVwUyo ..
But what do u do whn ur let dwn?

AND Obama wants to find a Syrian "moderate"???? AND he wants the Saudi's to compromise with their arch Shia enemy????

Is he really that naïve???

slapout9

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 1:28pm

We would do well to remember what Martin Van Creveld said about"war being a continuation of Religion" is just as valid as "war being a continuation of policy."

Outlaw 09

Fri, 03/11/2016 - 8:17am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Reference the Obama comment of "farmers, carpenters and engineers" ...responded to by someone who fully understands the current anti Assad forces that maybe the Obama WH should have approached for advice....before he made this somewhat ludicrous statement...kind of reminds me of the Putin statement also made during a press conference when he stated also "wrongly" that the UAF had been beaten and captured by "miners and truck drivers" at Debaltseve....which they had not been as they had conducted a bold military retrograde action which allowed 2.5k and their heavy equipment to avoid capture "by Putin's so called miners and truck drivers".........so was in fact Obama "channeling" Putin"....

QUOTE:
He's foremost diving into illusions that these 'farmers, carpenters, and enginers' are all alone - and not consisting to about 50% of professional, well-educated officers and NCOs that defected from that famed 'SAA'.
UNQUOTE:

So was in fact Obama in his so called "Obama Doctrine interview" just blowing smoke to cover up his total lack of understanding anything about what is ongoing inside Syria????

Obama's own disinformation attempts are as badly conducted as are Putin's disinformation attempts......

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 1:02pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Obama Doctrine:
1-question Israel security edge
2-don't treat Saudis as allies
3-Iran outreach

Image of Pres Obama by the end @JeffreyGoldberg intv: disdainful of US allies, resentful of US responsibilities, sympathetic to Iran

Obama describes exact concert system in Middle East that @Doranimated has arg'd is end-goal of O's regional policies

On "balance" or "equilibrium" between allies and enemies in the Middle East.

The demand to be evenhanded between Riyadh and Tehran misses the insight of Ibn Hazm , given a millennium ago…”If you treat your friend and your enemy the same, you will arouse distaste for your friendships and contempt for your enmity and you will not be long for this world.”

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 11:47am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I previously mentioned an Obama "informational smokescreen"...here it is in full action with an attempt to rewrite a tad bit history and place his legacy in the center of the article.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/…

The Obama Doctrine

The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.

By Jeffrey Goldberg

April 2016

NOTE: The following comment is a tad off base...check an interview that Kerry had together with the Russian FM where he during a reporters question went off the reservation and stated..."we could see a strike not being carried out if the chemical weapons were removed"....when he was called out on the statement by the same reporter he hesitated and repeated it...then the Russian response was immediately there two days later..THIS had nothing to do with the G20 meeting....Kerry is known for veering off base during press conferences and this was debated by the MSM for a number of days after he said it as being just one of those moments.

Notice the comment...and ask yourself ..why would he pull Putin to the side after he had already made the announcement to not strike???

QUOTE:
At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, which was held the week after the Syria reversal, Obama pulled Putin aside, he recalled to me, and told the Russian president “that if he forced Assad to get rid of the chemical weapons, that that would eliminate the need for us taking a military strike.” Within weeks, Kerry, working with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would engineer the removal of most of Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal—a program whose existence Assad until then had refused to even acknowledge.

NOTE: There is a tendency by Obama to negate certain countries......while this comment applies to KSA...some in Ukraine point to his lack of interest in helping Ukraine with defensive ATGMs as he was a major Senate sponsor of a disarmament bill that destroyed literally tons of munitions and weapons that were urgently needed by the UAF during their earlier days of fighting with the Russian invasion force and the Obama total reluctance to use the word "invasion" instead of his preferred word....."incursion".......ALSO is one looks at the Kerry demands placed on the HNC to basically surrender and give in to Assad...THERE is no difference in his statements that with a "little effort and some good faith" the sanctions could be pulled off Russia and it does not include the US demands placed on Ukraine for a number of unilateral appeasement moves that Russia wanted...all without a single reciprocal move made by Putin......

QUOTE:
The Saudis, too, were infuriated. They had never trusted Obama—he had, long before he became president, referred to them as a “so-called ally” of the U.S. “Iran is the new great power of the Middle East, and the U.S. is the old,” Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador in Washington, told his superiors in Riyadh.

NOTE: Obama is quick to negate farmers, carpenters and engineers who have after five long years of fighting Assad become a very professional urban warfare militia and who has basically been fighting IS for the last three years as well as now dodging Russian air strikes...HAD he simply provided weapons and support IS would have been cornered a long while ago.....BUT he did not..WHY...many point to his not wanting to jeopardize his Iran Deal by siding with the Sunni farmers, carpenters and engineers.....BUT what did we get out of the Obama WH smoklescreen...one really long debate on "what and who are the moderate forces" when ALL along he knew they were farmers, carpenters and engineers who were being radicalized by a genocidal dictator.........

QUOTE:
Obama flipped this plea on its head. “When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …” He paused. “The notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true.”

NOTE: How often has Obama told the US public that IS is not an existential threat"....cannot remember him ever saying this publicly......

QUOTE:
“Isis is not an existential threat to the United States,” he told me in one of these conversations.

NOTE: with the previous article and statements that Obama was angry at "partners riding US coattails"...DOES this sound like a US leading anyone anywhere? Has Obama provided deep US leadership in say eastern Ukraine, Crimea and or Syria...not really..he has basically allowed the EU, NATO, Assad, Iran and the UN to take the lead.......

QUOTE:
But he also has come to learn, he told me, that very little is accomplished in international affairs without U.S. leadership.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 9:28am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

BTW..the Obama comments on Libya are quiet a rewrite of history..as someone deeply involved in the targeting process the US under Obama guidance was immediately the first one's into Libya and then handed off to NATO..ALL the while still maintaining "high touch" on the bombing, intel support and logistical side with a strong contingent of US fighter aircraft but under NATO.

After the hand off to NATO the Obama WH went into a denial period...meaning NATO is running all of it now....and really failed to tell the US public just how deeply we were still involved and now he comes out blaming the French and the UK for getting the US involved?????

Obama "smokescreens" the US public just about as good as Putin does the Russian public.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 9:21am

Perfect example of just why the current Obama WH has foundered in their approach to dealing with IS and yes even AQ...remember SWJ recently carried a MSM article stating publicly that the Obama WH had this great Syrian IS strategy that was working...it just needed some more messaging in order for us poor folks to understand that it was working........

NOW it is clear that the Obama tilt towards Iran is indeed a full scale tilt to the disadvantage of the Sunni's in the entire ME...never thought I would see a sitting US President state that just as he states clearly the Ukraine is in the Russian "sphere of influence"....this article is a clear signal that he backing the US out of Europe and the ME and clearly defines him as a retrenching Wilsonian President.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/10/wo...smtyp=cur&_r=0

WHAT is extremely interesting is that both the Saudi's and the Turks have stated multiple times when the US SecDef and or Obama asked for assistance in combatting IS in Syria..."you led and we will follow"....and "we will provide plenty of troops and aircraft".....BUT nothing except silence came back from the US. He also failed in the article to fully indicate that the Saudi's and the Turks offered numerous times to help institute a NFZ that would have avoided the large number of current refugees....AND Obama remained silent....

The first sentence is telling....in all my years of following international relations I NEVER have seen two arch rival regional hegemons EVER share the same battle space.....life is just not that perfect???...ESPECIALLY when it entails the sectarian rivalry between Sunni and Shia for the global leadership of the Muslim world.

Quote:

WASHINGTON — President Obama believes that Saudi Arabia, one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East, needs to learn how to “share” the region with its archenemy, Iran, and that both countries are guilty of fueling proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In a series of interviews with The Atlantic magazine published Thursday, Mr. Obama said a number of American allies in the Persian Gulf — as well as in Europe — were “free riders,” eager to drag the United States into grinding sectarian conflicts that sometimes had little to do with American interests. He showed little sympathy for the Saudis, who have been threatened by the nuclear deal Mr. Obama reached with Iran.

The Saudis, Mr. Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg, the magazine’s national correspondent, “need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace.” Reflexively backing them against Iran, the president said, “would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”
UNQUOTE

So if we intently look at this article.....I am not sure even Obama fully understands the depth and breadth of the current sectarian divide that is between Iran and the KSA.

If anything this article will actually cement in the minds of the Saudi's and the GCC that the US is no longer a "trusted partner"....just ask the Israeli's who stood up Obama last week in their no we are not coming to visit you...WHY Obama had promised extra military aid to win over the Israeli's during the Iran Deal which has simply stopped going anywhere and was not even followed up on by Obama after the Iran Deal cleared Congress.

So even the Israeli's "mistrust" Obama.....they are now simply waiting for the next incoming President who will have to dig themselves out of a very deep deep cave in the ME.

In seven years this President has basically driven 70 years of US ME FP into the sands of the ME.....

BTW...after this article makes the rounds in the ME and Europe...not so sure Obama is going to find any further support for US actions against IS...as the ME and Europe will on their own figure out what to do.

ctownsend

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 4:21am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Sir,

I would agree that the Islamic State does not pose an existential threat to the US, despite being a threat to security in the region and to Americans and their interests in the region.

It is as you point out a dangerous ideology. Ideologies can't be defeated by armies. I believe our counter-messaging efforts are misguided. As I said in a recent New York Times Op-ed response

We can't conflate messaging with narrative. US efforts seem to be stuck on countering the messaging to the so-called Islamic State without enough attention on countering the underlying narrative. Narrative is about the story that forms the identity of the group. Countering that narrative requires a conversation by insiders about WHO the members of the group are, what is the PROBLEM they define, and what are their proposed SOLUTIONS.

I agree that more can be done with the personal accounts of former jihadis (I'd love to see a cinematic treatment of Omar Hamammi's story as it is a powerful example of expectations vs reality), but we need amplification of the contradictions between the ideology and actions of the group, especially about distortions in interpretations of religious texts. Scholars can provide context to the original sources, but that requires legitimate scholars with credibility among the masses and not a tone-deaf government Twitter account.

Invalidating the narrative requires showing that the Islamic State is not WHO they purport to be, their PROBLEM is a distortion of reality, and their SOLUTION is a dark and untenable future for the modern world.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 3:47am

In reply to by ctownsend

ctownsend......one very simple question that many cannot actually answer and or do not really want to answer...

Is in fact Islamic State a true "existential threat" to the mothership US?

Not really would be the answer.....some might even answer "it really is a police and security problem" much like the terrorism of the 60/70s that we faced and largely with time disappeared.

IMHO Robert is pointing to something far different than what we saw in the 60/70s...namely "a religious ideology that has the ability and has in fact formed itself into a quasi nation state".....as it is currently structured in Iraq and Syria.....

We must learn to toss out all former concepts of what is and or is not a so called nation state when dealing with a "religiously driven ideology" that has the capability of aggressively taking territory under it's control.

Think about this...what was the view of the Arabs in the ME when the Crusaders marched into the ME...were they not actually a "armed religiously driven ideology" aggressively taking over territory in the name of religion....?? If you really read the countless stream of info war comments by IS and yes even AQ....it all goes back to the Crusaders......and that view of history for Salafists/Takfirists.

What were the AQ comments directed against the KSA during the Desert Storm era? "You have let the boots of the Crusader on the lands of the two holy cities".....

We seriously do need to fully understand the "pull" of that "religious ideology" on individuals as a whole and yet since 9/11 we seemed to have utterly failed in that "understanding". Or do you have an explanation of what it has taken until 2016 to crank up a counter info war against IS and for that matter AQ that will fail also because it is not addressing the "religious pull"????

Right now we have literally killed our way through 25,000 religiously motivated individuals and the FLOW still continues....is it not about time to try something radical and totally different???

ctownsend

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 3:24am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Sir,

Thank you for your response. I apologize for not checking earlier to see if there had been comments. My "delusional and dangerous analysis and fantasies" and my "unprofessionalism" for not checking this post every few hours for comments aside, my opinion is informed by my studies of the region and the group. As I stated, based on the western ideas of a state in Montevideo, as well as your own Westphalian analysis the group does not meet the criteria. Your suggestion that we reconcile with the group and allow it to continue to operate with legitimacy in the region is, to me, a recipe for disaster. It would be akin to a farmer leaving a pack of wolves to wander the land amongst the other farmers and sheep on the condition that the wolves leave his farm alone. It is irresponsible and ignores the very human costs on the ground of allowing such a deal.

Respectfully,

Chris

ctownsend

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 3:38am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Sir,

I am not currently in the US. Between the time of your original post and your complaint about my lack of response, I was likely asleep. I do not feel that I have exaggerated or mischaracterized the situation. The references in the piece are from scholars who are much more knowledgeable than I. I appreciate your willingness to engage on the topic, as I agree with you that it is the "greatest security disaster of our generation."

Respectfully,

Chris

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 4:22am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

One of the problems that has come back to haunt the US is the constant stream of "we have no one on the ground willing to fight IS"....Robert has often stated as I do..it must be done by the Sunni's themselves....

We do have a rather large 60K plus Sunni Army on the ground in Syria already fighting IS for over three years and YET we ignore them BECAUSE we cannot figure out who is a "moderate"......AND then we support the Kurds ignoring the Sunni majority inside Syria....

THEN we shut off weapons to them to force them into surrendering in Geneva...does that make any sense to anyone?

The FSA has on their own done well against IS, Assad and the entire Russian/Assad air forces in Syria yet we treat them as cannon fodder to be used in negotiations with Putin and Assad.......instead of pouring everything into them and then allowing them to take care of IS and positioning the US then as a true friend to be listened to when they move on....as we showed them through our assistance we are there for the long haul not just for an election cycle.

Let the Sunni's figure out how to deal with IS...just give them the tools to do it and then stand by them when they work it out regardless of the outcome.

Free Syrian Army - Stronger Together FSA_OurChoice https://youtu.be/M5qDwXdHKqo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M0goHDR0cg

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 4:21am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

One of the problems that has come back to haunt the US is the constant stream of "we have no one on the ground willing to fight IS"....Robert has often stated as I do..it must be done by the Sunni's themselves....

We do have a rather large 60K plus Sunni Army on the ground in Syria already fighting IS for over three years and YET we ignore them BECAUSE we cannot figure out who is a "moderate"......AND then we support the Kurds ignoring the Sunni majority inside Syria....

THEN we shut off weapons to them to force them into surrendering in Geneva...does that make any sense to anyone?

The FSA has on their own done well against IS, Assad and the entire Russian/Assad air forces in Syria yet we treat them as cannon fodder to be used in negotiations with Putin and Assad.......instead of pouring everything into them and then allowing them to take care of IS and positioning the US then as a true friend to be listened to when they move on....as we showed them through our assistance we are there for the long haul not just for an election cycle.

Let the Sunni's figure out how to deal with IS...just give them the tools to do it and then stand by them when they work it out regardless of the outcome.

Free Syrian Army - Stronger Together FSA_OurChoice https://youtu.be/M5qDwXdHKqo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M0goHDR0cg

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 8:05am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

This is the exact development that has to take place that we the US should be greeting and allowing to development without getting involved....the internal Islamic tension was there under the surface and needed to work out on it's own as Assad slowing exits Syria....and is indicative of the entire global question between Salafists, Takfirists and secularists inside Sunni Islam.....they will get there but it will be a bumpy ride....we just need to deeply inhale and take a coffee break.....and be tolerant and supportive of the final outcome.

Truce Tests Relations Between Syria's Islamist Giants http://www.syriadeeply.org/articles/2016/03/9869/truce-tests-relations-… … on rebel politics, for @SyriaDeeply

BTW as we are totally wrapped around the flagpole with Sunni jihadists we have completely looked the over way when it comes to the transnational Shia jihadist threat.....which is the second major player in the sectarian fighting in the ME.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 7:23am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I cringe when I see things like this as it goes to the heart of an absolute failure in our current political system and it largely explains why we are as a country are failing in general.......

There are times here in Berlin when I actually agree with many German comments to the effect we the US no longer understand our own selves much less the global world we live in....

Trump campaign manager says Assad is "keeping things in check" in Syria http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/trump-campaign-manager-assad-ke…

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 6:27am

In reply to by ctownsend

Nearly all political revolutionary movements are "radical" during the period of illegal activity (violent and nonviolent) necessary to coerce change onto a system that is out of step with some segment of the people they affect. Equally, nearly all become much more normal once the necessary changes occur. For the US to assume a duty to impose our morality onto such a situation is hubris at best. This fusion of neocon and neoliberal rationalization driving our post Cold War foreign policy is serving to make us weaker, not stronger, less influential not more so, and a worse ally, not a better one.

ISIS is the government of a proto-state, and that reality is in no way diminished by the existence of a Western definition in some political science text.

ISIS is currently the primary champion for the plight of Sunni Muslims around the globe who perceive their own governance to be some mix of illegitimate, oppressive or out of step with their evolving needs in the world as it actually exists today. AQ's promise of Caliphate someday was out competed by the ISIS promise of Caliphate now. What does the US offer besides a commitment to the status quo, but with additional western cultural perspectives on governance and morality so as to make it more acceptable to us. Ultimately these many revolutionary movements being networked through the UW campaigns of AQ and ISIS aren't about us. And to try to make them about us is counter to the principles we were founded upon, and counter to the heritage of Westphalia from which we derived.

ctownsend

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 3:30am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Sir,

You make some good points about extremist groups being tamed by inclusion in the governing system. In this case I believe the moral hazard of such inclusion would poison the entire system. I support as an alternative to outright destruction, should it prove impossible, Cronin's advice that we contain the group and let them rot on the vine. The problem there is accepting the high cost in human lives and suffering that will result in the spaces in which we contain the group.

Respectfully,

Chris

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 2:32am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert....your point is well taken by not many here but here is an interesting development...if you look at the social media side of the house ie say just Twitter you will notice a vivid and clear discussion of exactly your point...it is high time to sit down and debate face to face with IS..and even for me this social media debate has brought attention to the development of the caliphate idea of al Baghdadi's and his initial search for support of the idea from the Saudi's who stated the time was not right.....and this is not talked a lot about in US MSM.

For all of our comments here...IS which has been in the face of a massive bombing and drone strike campaign which has cost them well over 25K fighters.......they still are able to hold and defend the Sunni heartland...which might sound crazy is not an easy thing to do when being constantly bombed and being surrounded by Shia militia and a largely Iraqi Shia Army.

Even in Syria they are able to lose and then retake territory.

What many SWJ readers/commenters need to do is follow the events in Syria as a role model....where JaN the AQ rep is in charge they themselves have had to "mellow" and compete for support from the local civil society if they wanted to remain in theory "in charge"...when the bombing stopped and a serious set of nonviolent demos broke out all across the Sunni anti Assad areas....JaN attempted to disrupt them and arrested and held four major local secular activists but in the end had to release them as the other local players threatened to gang up on them...we are slowly seeing in the Syrian areas controlled by IS a faintly similar sputtering start by the civil society to push back.

In Iraq there is a strong difference...in the areas controlled by IS the civil society actually looks towards IS for defensive reasons...namely murdering Shia militias bent on ethnic cleansing of anything Sunni....and answering only to Iran and the IRGC.

If we look at the IS in Iraq they are quite able to defend their Sunni areas with diverting attacks to keep the central Shia government off balance....ie the recent Abu Ghraib raid which was really to capture a large amount of grain needed by the local Sunni population as the Shia have been besieging a large number of the Sunni locations and not allowing food shipments in.

The old boundaries of the ME are now forever ended and it is time for the US to sit down face to face with IS and the other players and to allow this informal break up of Iraq and Syria to move ahead....in Syria we might not see a breakup as the Sunni majority has from the very beginning stated they want a unified nation state with some form of federalization to account for the varied ethnic makeup and after five years of rebellion are still saying the same thing...remember even under a 40 year or so dictatorship and until 2011 the ethnic minorities got along fine with each other until a dictator went on a genocidal Sunni rampage and with support from Iran tilted to sectarian violence.

Free Syrian Army - Stronger Together FSA_OurChoice https://youtu.be/M5qDwXdHKqo

Iraq will split up simply because the majority Shia state has become a de facto Iranian sub state......largely under the control of Shia militia warlords which we are seeing now in say the south with Basra answering largely to IRGC.

I am listening to what you often say here simply because it makes to much sense especially for the ME....

In some ways the total hesitancy of the Obama WH in the ME and other locations is wrapped up in your comments...Obama senses I think the coming changes BUT here is my brutal critique of him...he simply is not strong enough nor experienced enough and coupled with a very poor NSC cannot seem to get a solid strategy in place to handle the coming breakup....

People fail to remember he came up as a local community activist who did everything through negotiation thus that is what he is all about and when negotiations fail he has no further ideas.... nor does he have a "can do attitude" that would motivate others to follow him.....he has always been to intellectual to suddenly become an "actionist"....

BTW.....just a side comment...article writers would do well to totally ignore anything Obama states, writes and or verbalizes.....WATCH his actual actions in order to understand him.......ignore his words..it is his actions or lack of actions that tell his story.

Hate to say this as an American BUT Obama uses words in much the same fashion as Russian disinformation uses them...to fog and confuse...

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 03/09/2016 - 8:38pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Crickets.

This is perhaps they greatest security disaster of our generation. Agree, or disagree, but to remain silent as we continue to exaggerate and mischaracterize the situation in Syria and Iraq is professional malpractice.

The neocon and neoliberal communities are locked arm in arm as they frog march our nation to the brink.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 03/09/2016 - 11:09am

Chris,

You appear to be wallowing in the same delusional and dangerous analysis and fantasies shared by most.

But wishing ISIS was still just the organizational leadership of revolutionary insurgency movements against Syria and Iraq does not make the facts change to support that position. They are the government of a Sunni Arab Proto-state. Now, IF we succeed in defeating ISIS as that governing body we will convert this fledgling state back into fragmented, violently competing revolutionary movements, and most likely restore AQ as the influence leader and UW HQ leveraging the energy of those movements once again to advance their agenda.

But consider this: AQ is the far more dangerous opponent than ISIS, as being a state is a huge vulnerability, imposing duties to secure specific terrain and governing responsibilities over a specific population. Recognizing this Proto-state does indeed add legal legitimacy to the popular legitimacy it already has, but it also makes it just another small, weak, poor state and completely within the controlling influence of US statecraft. Coupled with an offer of reconciliation, it would split ISIS current leadership with a classic "prisoners dilemma." Take the deal or die. We win.

AQ sanctuary has always been their status, and not any particular patch of dirt. Afghanistan and Pakistan have been a tragic fool's errand in that regard.

Now, here is the real ball buster for the West: Not only is ISIS the government of a proto-state, but that state is not the threat to the Westphalian system so many claim it to be. The very opposite is true. This emergent state is actually the very personification of Wetphalia!

Prior to Westphalia sovereignty came from God and was communicated by the Pope, as the distant Holy Roman Empire decided borders, leaders, form of government and official religion to be used to exercise control over all. Westphalia held that sovereignty came from man, and he who was able to rise to power was sovereign by that very fact, regardless of what Rome wanted or thought was "legitimate." Also, that that leader could pick the religion of his choice to impose as the official state religion.

Sadly, in the current fight we are champions for the perspective of the old Holy Roman Empire ( and de facto proxies of Iran as a bonus poke in the pride) - While ISIS is representing the spirit of Westphalia.

The truth has rarely been so painful.

Respectfully,

Robert C. Jones