Friday, August 22, 2014

The CFR Take: Why ISIS Wants a Confrontation with the United States

At Foreign Affairs, the house organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, Barak Mendelsohn discusses why ISIS may have viewed its march toward Erbil as a win-win, whether the U.S. joined the battle on the side of the Kurds or not:
ISIS’ relatively unimpeded march toward Erbil caught the White House and many other observers by surprise. Most had expected that the jihadist group would concentrate its efforts in Iraq on Baghdad, the capital and a historical seat of the Abbasid Caliphate, where numerous Sunni reside. They also believed that the Kurdish peshmarga forces were strong enough to deter ISIS attacks and would be able to block its advance if deterrence failed. That turns out to have been wrong, a miscalculation that forced the Obama administration’s hand. Still, because ISIS’ move provoked a U.S. bombardment, some believe it might well be its undoing.

For that reason, ISIS’ strategy might seem like a surprising overreach. It is entirely consistent, however, with the path the group charted early on, which tended toward the bold and risky. In fact, ISIS’ recent moves are simply a continuation of prior efforts to expand its control over new territory and natural resources (primarily oil fields and water dams that it can use for income and tools of war), enforce its harsh ideology, and strengthen its own primacy within the jihadi camp.

For now, it is impossible to say whether ISIS intended to provoke the United States to intervene or simply miscalculated. But it is hard to believe ISIS did not understand that threatening the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan would mean directly challenging the U.S. alliance with the Kurds and potentially provoking it to fight. Indeed, it is likely that ISIS viewed such a challenge as a win-win situation.

If the United States had failed to protect its allies, ISIS forces would have been able to advance deep into Kurdish territory and masses of “undesirable” non-Sunni inhabitants would have fled. The demonstration of U.S. timidity would also have given ISIS a boost as it set its sights on Jordan, another anxious U.S. ally in need of Washington’s defense.

If the United States decided to step in on behalf of its allies -- as it did -- then ISIS must have believed that it would be able to strengthen its position within the jihadi camp. ISIS could use the bombings as evidence that the United States is waging a war on Islam, and to portray itself as the defender of Muslims from “Crusader” aggression. In other words, ISIS would steal a page right out of al Qaeda’s playbook. And that puts more pressure on al Qaeda. After all, if ISIS wins vast territory in the heart of the Middle East, implements Islamic governance, and battles apostate regimes and their backers, al Qaeda will -- after refusing to do so -- have to give its full support to ISIS. Already, ISIS supporters are calling all jihadi forces to stand behind Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. As a result, the flow of fighters abandoning al Qaeda affiliates to join ISIS, which U.S. intelligence has already observed, is likely to increase. Moreover, leaders of al Qaeda franchises will come under greater pressure to shift allegiance from al Qaeda to ISIS.

The full article is worth reading for the factual information it provides. However, keep in mind that Mendelsohn has a neo-conservative take on the world and believes that it is only natural for the U.S. to meddle in the affairs of others, when rational thinking wold suggest that the U.S. would have a lot fewer enemies, if it minded its own business.



  1. "factual information"? Really? And how is anyone to separate fact from fiction from this piece unless they are actually living in that part of the world? Even then it would be as difficult as separating fact from fiction from your local newspapers or politicians. And even if one accomplished this miracle how would it improve your life? Facts from the U.S. War between the States onward have had no impact on reversing the interventionist foreign policy. Rather than wasting time on Mendelsohn's article, focus on the life in front of you.

  2. Jordan? Nobody cares about Jordan. the way ISIS thinks comes directly out of Saudi Arabia.