Falling into the ISIS Trap

Special Report: The Islamic State has entered into “phase two” of its plan. After establishing a rudimentary “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq (phase one), it is now seeking to provoke the West into a self-defeating overreaction, a trap that “tough” politicians are falling into, as historian William R. Polk describes.

By William R. Polk

The terrorist outrage in Paris has brought the reaction that “the ISIS strategist” assuming there is such a singular person expected and wanted, a massive, retaliatory bombing raid.

The strategist knows that such military action by the West has proven self-defeating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. These predictable reactions and overreactions not only did not stop the insurgents, but helped them recruit more supporters by hurting a lot of uncommitted bystanders. ISIS learned the lesson; our leaders apparently have not.

President Barack Obama meets with his National Security Staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013. From left at the table: National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of State John Kerry; and Vice President Joe Biden. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama meets with his National Security Staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013. From left at the table: National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of State John Kerry; and Vice President Joe Biden. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Anger and revenge are emotionally satisfying but not productive. The issue we face is not just how to retaliate against ISIS, which is easy, but how to achieve affordable world security. The first steps are to understand where these extremists come from, why some people support them and what they want. Only then can we cope with them.

But, as I read the press, listen to the statements of world leaders and watch the takeoff of fighter-bombers, I see little sign our leaders have found the road toward security. I do not find the satisfactory beginnings of a careful and sophisticated analysis in what is now being said or done. So, drawing on many years of observation, discussions and research, I here offer a few notes on terrorism and our counterinsurgency policies and will focus on ISIS (also known as ISIL, Daesh or the Islamic State).

I cast my comments in five areas: (1) our assets and those of our opponents; (2) their strategies and ours; (3) what drives their actions; (4) the results of our actions; and (5) our options. I begin with our advantages and weaknesses and  theirs:

The United States, the major West European states and Russia employ large intelligence services that are informed by a variety of surveillance devices (telephone tapping, radio intercepts, code breaking, aerial and satellite imagery and other, even more esoteric, means of tracking, observing and identifying people).

In addition, our security services continue to employ traditional covert activities and have virtually unlimited funds to buy information, encourage defection and “rent” temporary loyalty. Plus, the bulk of the community from which the attacks are mounted wish the attacks would stop. Thus, our most important asset is the desire among the vast majority of people in all societies who simply do not want their lives deranged. They want to live in peace.

Picking Sides

–Resident populations in rebel-held areas are probably neutral. But they are caught between two dangers: ISIS and us. What we do and what we do not do will sway them in one direction or the other. The “ISIS strategist” understands this and seeks to get us to harm or frighten the bystanders. When and where they can, many will run away from the near danger (as hundreds of thousands have).

But, in today’s counterinsurgency weapon of choice aerial bombing there is little difference between “near” and “far.” Targeted killings may kill leaders (and people in close proximity), but aerial bombings are more massive and less discriminating. The “ISIS strategist” knows that the heavier our attacks the more they will rally support to the ISIS banner.

ISIS’s major asset is the asymmetrical nature of the targets that the two sides expose to one another: modern industrial states like ours are highly articulated and are, necessarily, complex whereas ISIS’s organization is loose, inexpensive and scattered. We saw this contrast clearly, even before the rise of ISIS, in the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attack on America. The attack cost the lives of only a couple of dozen terrorists and probably less than $100,000 but killed several thousand victims and cost the American economy perhaps $100 billion (a cost compounded by the long-running follow-on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition, there were the psychological, legal and political costs. Al-Qaeda had little to lose in terms of law and morality, but it pushed the United States into activities that weakened its traditional values and created distrust among its citizens. For al-Qaeda, it was a very cheap victory.

–ISIS’s vulnerability is that the vast majority of Muslims want, as people everywhere have always wanted, to go about “mundane affairs,” gathering and consuming, working and playing, competing and procreating. They are not fanatics and do not want to be martyrs or heroes.

Indeed, the “ISIS strategist” takes a dim view of these common people. In the document that forecast ISIS strategy Idarah at-Tawhish· (The Management of Savagery) the strategist or strategists wrote:

“Notice that we say that the masses are the difficult factor. We know that they not generally dependable on account of [how the foreign imperialists and native turncoats have shaped them and we realize that there will be] no improvement for the general public until there is victory. [Consequently, our strategy] is to gain their sympathy, or at the very least neutralize them.”

How does the “ISIS strategist” propose to do that? His answer is a socio-political program aimed at “uniting the hearts of the people” by means of money, food and medical services and by providing a functioning system of justice to replace the corrupt system of its domestic rivals. That program has had some success but is vitiated or potentially undermined by ISIS violence and the terror it projects.

(Sayyid Qutb, an Islamic theorist who was executed in Egypt in 1966, may be taken as the philosopher behind Muslim Fundamentalism, and Abu Bakr Naji, perhaps a nom de guerre or even a committee, may be — or may have been — what I call “the strategist.” For more details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Understanding Islamic Fundamentalism.”)

Ill-Advised Wars 

–The American-European and Russian strategies against guerrillas and terrorists have both relied primarily on military action. This was obvious in our campaigns in Afghanistan. The Russians are now at least in part repeating in Syria the strategy they employed in Afghanistan just as we repeated much of our Vietnam war strategy in our engagement in Afghanistan. The U.S., our allies and Russia are now apparently embarked on the same general strategy in Syria and Iraq.

The supposedly more sophisticated strategies (such as encouraging training, anti-corruption campaigns, “security” programs, jobs creation, various forms of bribery and other economic activities) are given relatively minor attention. Least attended is the political dimension of insurgency.

Yet, at least by my calculation, the reality of insurgency is the reverse of how we are spending our money and devoting our efforts. I have calculated that in insurgency politics accounts for perhaps 80 percent of the challenge; administration is about 15 percent; and the military-paramilitary component is only about 5 percent. A look at the program numbers shows that our allocations of money, political savvy, administrative know-how and military power are in reverse order.

–Three reasons explain why these allocations which, although proven ineffective, are still employed: the first is failure to understand the political dimension of insurgency as I believe most of the counterinsurgency “experts” fail to do; the second is that “standing tall,” beating the drum and calling for military action win plaudits for political leaders; and the third is that arms manufacturers and the workers who make the weapons want to make money.

On that last point, President Dwight Eisenhower was right: the military-industrial complex (to which we have added the lobby-corrupted Congress) is “the tail that wags the dog” of American politics.

We don’t have to guess what the strategy of ISIS is. Their leaders have told us what it is. The Management of Savagery (using the Arabic word tawhish, which evokes a sense of dread and is applied to a desolate area, the haunt of wild beasts, where there is no humanity or softness but only savagery, terror or cruelty) specified the long-term campaign to destroy the power of those societies and states that ISIS calls “the Crusaders,” i.e., the Western powers, which ISIS identifies as imperialists, and to cleanse Islamic society of the turncoats who support them.

The Three Stages

–The ISIS campaign falls into three stages:

The first stage is “vexation” of the enemy aimed at creating chaos in which the forces of the foreign powers and their local proxies are distracted and exhausted while Muslim terrorists and guerrillas learn how to use their power effectively.

The second stage is the “spread of savagery,” which begins locally with small-scale attacks and metastasizes. Individuals and local groups take up the cause and act either on their own or with limited coordination. Those who carry out ISIS programs will do so because they have adopted its ideas not because they are directed by any central authority.

As their campaigns spread, ISIS’s enemies, and particularly the United States, will  seek to retaliate but will be frustrated. “America will not find a state on which it can take its revenge, because the remaining [states] are its clients,” according to the plan. “It has no choice but to [occupy] the region and set up military bases. [This will put it at] war with the population in the region. It is obvious at this very moment that it stirs up movements that increase the jihadi expansion and create legions among the youth who contemplate and plan for resistance.”

“So,” the “ISIS strategist” writes, the correct tactic is to “diversify and widen the vexation strikes in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it [of energy, will and money] to the greatest extent possible.

“For example: If a tourist resort that the Crusaders patronize in Indonesia is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which [will cause] a huge increase in spending.”

As though implementing this plan, ISIS claimed that its supporters downed a Russian airliner in recent days in the Sinai Peninsula as it returned from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaikh.

The plan continues: “If a usurious bank belonging to the Crusaders is struck in Turkey, all of the banks belonging to the Crusaders will have to be secured in all of the countries and the draining [that is, the costs of security] will increase.

“If an oil interest is hit near the port of Aden, there will have to be intensive security measures put in place for all of the oil companies, and their tankers, and the oil pipelines in order to protect them and draining will increase. If two of the apostate authors are killed in a simultaneous operation in two different countries, they will have to secure thousands of writers in other Islamic countries.

“In this way, there is a diversification and widening of the circle of targets and vexation strikes which are accomplished by small, separate groups. Moreover, repeatedly (striking) the same kind of target two or three times will make it clear to them that this kind (of target) will continue to be vulnerable.”

The attack on Paris was not, as The New York Times announced on Nov. 16, a change of ISIS tactics; it was an event that fit exactly into the second stage of the long-range strategy.

‘Fighting Society’ 

The third stage is the “administration of savagery” to establish “a fighting society.” To minimize the air power of its enemies, ISIS has turned itself into an almost nomadic state, virtually without frontiers. But within the areas it controls, it has set out a socio-political program that aims at “uniting the hearts of the people by means of money, food and medical services and by providing a functioning system of justice under Sharia [Islamic] governance. From this base it will become possible to create a rudimentary state.”

The “ISIS strategist” draws a lesson from the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan. Since the Afghans could not defeat the Russians in formal battles, they aimed to provoke the Russians so that their forces over-extended themselves and they were caught in a wasting, unwinnable conflict. This conflict bankrupted the Soviet economy while the harsh tactics the Russian army employed cost the Soviet Union the support both of their own people and the Afghans. America and Europe, the “ISIS strategist” believes, can be lured into a similar trap.

In this struggle, the “ISIS strategist” believes, violence is the key. It weakens the enemy while it performs as the school almost the social “hospital” needed to transform corrupt societies into tomorrow’s Islamic “true believers.” In this policy, ISIS may have been inspired by Frantz Fanon, the Afro-French-Caribbean psychiatrist, whose book, The Wretched of the Earth, reached a vast audience in the Third World.

As Fanon wrote, violence is a “cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.”

The “ISIS strategist” thought of violence both in those terms and in the impact of violence on its opponents, writing: Jihad “is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening (others), and massacring.”

It also must be conducted ruthlessly: “Jihad cannot be carried out with softness. Softness is one of the ingredients of failure for any jihadi action. Regardless of whether we use harshness or softness, our enemies will not be merciful to us if they seize us. Thus, it behooves us to make them think one thousand times before attacking us.

“Consequently, there is nothing preventing us from spilling their blood; rather, we see that this is one of the most important obligations since they do not repent, undertake prayer, and give alms [as required in Islam]. All religion belongs to God.”

Making the enemy “pay the price”  can occur anywhere: “if the apostate Egyptian regime undertakes an action to kill or capture a group of mujahids [combatants] mujahids in Algeria or Morocco can direct a strike against the Egyptian embassy and issue a statement of justification, or they can kidnap Egyptian diplomats as hostages until the group of mujahids is freed.

“The policy of violence must also be followed such that if the demands are not met, the hostages should be liquidated in a terrifying manner, which will send fear into the hearts of the enemy and his supporters.”

As we know, liquidating captives in a terrifying manner is an ISIS specialty. But, as we look over guerrilla wars, we see it to have been generally practiced.

Guerrilla Playbook

–The ISIS politico-military doctrine that the “strategist” lays out can be described as a religious version of what Mao Zedong and Ho Chi-minh proclaimed as their kind of war: a combination of terrorism when that is the only means of operation, guerrilla warfare when that becomes possible as areas of operation are secured, and ultimately — when the conflict “matures” — the creation of a warlike but minimal state. This sequence often has played out in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries all over the world as I have reported in my book Violent Politics. It is ugly, brutal and costly, but it has nearly always eventually succeeded. ISIS has adopted it.

As ISIS leaders tells us, they regard their struggle “not as an economic, political, or social battle” with state-like opponents for territory but “a battle for minds,” underwritten by a determined proclamation of Islam. Nothing quite like it has been on the world stage since the great wars of religion in Europe some 400 years ago.

Why would Western nations today plunge into the kind of battle? If we cannot answer that question and ultimately cope with the answer we have many painful years ahead of us.

–The ISIS guidebook, Management of Savagery, begins with an interpretation of the world Muslims inherited from imperialism and colonialism. Not only Muslims but most of the peoples of the Third World suffered grievously. And their descendants harbor painful memories of “the ghastly destruction of souls.” According to ISIS, the great powers and their native proxies “killed more people than have been killed in all of the wars of the jihadis in this century.”

Is this just hyperbole, designed to inflame hatred of us? Unfortunately, it is not. Whether we remember these events or not, the descendants of the victims do.

Memories of the years beginning after Columbus led the way across the Atlantic become increasingly bitter. As first the Europeans, then the Russians and later the Americans — the world’s “North” — gained in relative power, they thrust into the “South,” destroying native states, upending societies and suppressing religious orders. Imperialism, with the resulting humiliation and wholesale massacres of populations, although largely forgotten by the perpetrators, remains today vivid to the victims.

The numbers are staggering: in one relatively small part of Africa, the Congo, where one in ten is a Muslim, the Belgians are estimated to have killed about twice as many natives as the Nazis killed Jews and Roma — some 10 million to 15 million people.

Hardly any society in what I call “the South” lacks memories of similar events inflicted by “the North.” Look at just the more recent military record:

In Java, the Dutch imposed a colonial regime on the natives and, when they tried to reassert their independence, killed about 300,000 “rebels” between 1835 and 1840; they similarly suppressed Sumatra “rebels” between 1873 and 1914.

In Algeria, after a bitter 15-year-long war that began in 1830, the French stole the lands of the natives, razed hundreds of villages, massacred untold numbers of natives and imposed an apartheid regime on the survivors.

In Central Asia, the Russians and Chinese impoverished or drove away previously thriving populations. While in a bitter war in the Caucasus, as Tolstoy recounts, the Russians virtually wiped out whole societies.

In India, after the attempted revolt of 1857, the British destroyed the Mughal Empire and killed hundreds of thousands of Indians. In Libya, the Italians killed about two-thirds of the population of Cyrenaica.

Old Grievances and New

One may reasonably say that these things are long in the past and should be forgotten. Perhaps, but there are other slaughter, just in the last few decades, that cannot be so excused. In the American campaign in Vietnam (a non-Muslim society), napalm, cluster bombs and machineguns were followed by defoliation, cancer-causing chemicals and assassination programs that, in total, killed perhaps 2 million civilians.

In Afghanistan, the numbers are smaller because the population was smaller but, in addition to about half a million deaths, a whole generation of Afghan children have been “stunted” and will never grow to their normal size or, perhaps, mental abilities. Afghan casualties in the Russian war are unknown but could not be less than half a million. In Iraq, as a result of the U.S. invasion in 2003, estimates run up to about a million Iraqi deaths.

Death is only one result of war; the survivors face continuing terror, starvation, humiliation and misery. As the structure of societies is severely damaged or destroyed, civic life has often been replaced by gang warfare, torture, kidnapping, rape and desperate fear.

Studying these events, I am reminded of Thomas Hobbes’s description of mankind before civilization, “poore, nasty, brutish and short.”

Collectively these and other results of imperialism, colonialism and military intrusions into “the South” of the world constitute a holocaust as formative to current Muslim action as the German holocaust has been to Jewish action.

The scars still have not healed in many societies. We see the legacy in the fragility or complete destruction of civic organizations, the corruption of governments and the ugliness of violence.

As the “ISIS strategist” writes, and as I have heard from many informants in Africa and Asia, we of the “North” practice racial and religious double standards. When “they” kill a European, we rightly react with horror. Any killing is abominable. But when “we” kill an African or Asian, or even large numbers of Africans or Asians are killed by ISIS or another terror group, we hardly notice.

On Nov. 13, the day before the attack on Paris, a similar attack was carried out in Beirut, Lebanon, in which 41 people were killed and about 200 were injured. Almost no one in Europe or America even noticed. This is not merely a moral issue although it is certainly also that but cuts to the quick of the issue of terrorism.

Memories of events such as these go far to explain why young men and women, even those from relatively affluent and secure societies are joining ISIS. To “airbrush” the record, as an English journalist with wide experience in Asia has recently written, is to fail to understand what we are up against and what we might be able to do to gain affordable world security.

Successful Insurgencies

–The results of insurgency are described in my book Violent Politics. There I have shown that in a variety of societies over the last two centuries in various parts of Africa, Asia and Europe, guerrillas have nearly always accomplished their objectives despite even the most draconian counterinsurgency tactics.

Consider just one example, Afghanistan: the Russians and then the United States deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers, large numbers of mercenaries and native troops and used unprecedented amounts of lethal force over nearly half a century of warfare.

While the outcome is not yet definite, it is obvious that, at minimum, the guerrillas have not been defeated. Afghanistan has been called “the graveyard of imperialism.” Its role in destroying the Soviet Union has been well-documented. It is not through with us yet.

Consider also results in those parts of the world where hostilities have been relatively subdued. When I was a young man, in the 1940s and 1950s, I could go into villages practically anywhere in Africa or Asia and been received cordially, fed and protected. Today, in virtually all of those places, I would be in danger of being shot.

So what are our options in this increasingly dangerous world? Let us be honest and admit that none is attractive. Public anger and fear will certainly make some of them difficult or impossible to effect. But I will here put them all “on the table” and evaluate them in terms of cost and potential effectiveness.

The first response, which was announced by both Presidents François Hollande and Barack Obama in the first hours after the Paris attacks is to engage in all-out war. The French Air Force immediately bombed areas where ISIS is believed to have training camps.

The next step, presumably, although neither leader was specific, will probably include the sending of ground troops to fight in Syria and Iraq in addition to the bombing campaigns now being mounted by both countries and Russia. This is an extension and intensification of current policy rather than a new venture, and, to judge by the Russian experience in Afghanistan and ours in Afghanistan and Iraq, the chances for destroying ISIS are small. Those chances will be lessened if we also attempt to “regime change” in Syria.

A second option, which I assume is being broached in Washington as I write, is for Israel to volunteer to invade Syria and Iraq as well as using its air force to supplement or replace the other air forces operating there. This option would be militarily painful for ISIS but would fit exactly into its long-range strategy.

Moreover, it would play havoc with the emerging anti-ISIS bloc of Iran, Russia and Syria. If Israel advances this idea, as I think likely, it will probably be rejected while Israel will be “compensated” with a large new grant.

A third option is for the United States to reverse its anti-Assad policy and join with his regime and with Russia and Iran in a coordinated campaign against ISIS. While this policy would be more rational than either of the first two options, and might be initially more successful, I do not believe that alone it will accomplish its objective.

Drone and special forces strikes are already being employed and will almost certainly be continued as an adjunct to whatever is adopted as the main thrust, but they have not proven decisive where tried elsewhere. Indeed, at least in Afghanistan, they have proven to be self-defeating.

As the “ISIS strategist” predicted, such attacks will increase local hostility to the foreigner while, if the ISIS combatants are wise, they will simply melt away to return another day. Worse, by “decapitating” scattered guerrilla units, they will open the way for younger, more aggressive and ambitious leaders to emerge.

Domestic Repression

Coordinated with any of the above three options, I think it is almost certain that the United States and the European powers will tighten their domestic security programs. Controls on movement, expulsion (particularly in France) of alien or quasi-alien populations, mounting of raids on poorer urban areas, increased monitoring and other activities will increase.

These tactics are what ISIS hoped would happen. Outlays for “security” will rise and populations will be “vexed.” But these policies are unlikely to provide complete security. When terrorists are prepared, as those in the Paris attack were, to blow themselves up or be killed, attacks can be expected regardless how tight security measures are.

So what about non-military and non-police measures? What are the options that could be considered? Two combinations of economics and psychology come to mind:

The first is amelioration of the conditions in which the North African Muslim community now lives in France. The slums circling Paris are a breeding ground for supporters of ISIS. Improvement of living conditions might make a significant difference, but experience in America and also in France suggests that “urban renewal” is far from a panacea.

Even if it were, it would be hard for any French administration to undertake. It would be expensive when the French government believes itself to be already overburdened, and French anti-Muslim feeling was strong long before the Paris attacks. Now, the public mode is swinging away from social welfare toward repression.

As in other European nations, the combination of fear of terrorism and the influx of refugees will make implementation of what will be described as a pro-Muslim program unlikely.

Perhaps even more unlikely is one that I think ISIS would most fear. The “ISIS strategist” has told us that the major resource of the movement is the community, but he recognized that, despite horrific memories of imperialism, the public has remained relatively passive.

This attitude could change dramatically as a consequence of invasion and intensification of aerial bombing. ISIS believes it will, turning increased numbers of now “neutral” civilians into active supporters of the jihadis or into jihadis themselves.

Obviously, it would be to the advantage of other countries to prevent this happening.

Some prevention of ISIS violence can be accomplished, perhaps, with increased security measures, but I suggest that a multinational, welfare-oriented and psychologically satisfying program could be designed that would make the hatred that ISIS relies upon less virulent.    

Inadvertently, ISIS has identified the elements for us: meeting communal needs, compensation for previous transgressions, and calls for a new beginning. Such a program need not be massive and could be limited, for example, just to children by establishing public health measures, vitamins and food supplements.

Organizations (such as Médecins Sans Frontières, the Rostropovich Foundation, the Red Cross and Red Crescent) already exist to carry it out and indeed much is already being done. The adjustment is mainly in psychology the unwillingness for nations to admit wrongdoing as we have seen in the German “apology” for the Holocaust and the failure of the Japanese to apologize for the Rape of Nanking. It would cost little and do much, but, in these times, it is almost certainly a non-starter.

So, sadly, I fear that we are beginning to move toward a decade or more of fear, anger, misery and loss of basic freedoms.

[For more on these topics by William R. Polk, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Many Muslims Hate the West.” and “Muslim Memories of West’s Imperialism.”]

William R. Polk is a veteran foreign policy consultant, author and professor who taught Middle Eastern studies at Harvard. President John F. Kennedy appointed Polk to the State Department’s Policy Planning Council where he served during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His books include: Violent Politics: Insurgency and Terrorism; Understanding Iraq; Understanding Iran; Personal History: Living in Interesting Times; Distant Thunder: Reflections on the Dangers of Our Times; and Humpty Dumpty: The Fate of Regime Change.

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21 comments for “Falling into the ISIS Trap

  1. Tom Ford
    November 17, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Thank you for this illuminating article. I only wish that our elected leaders had the courage to honestly discuss the brutal realities that have brought us all to where we are today. Without that honest discussion, the future holds nothing but fear, ignorance and chaos.

  2. Zachary Smith
    November 17, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    The strategist knows that such military action by the West has proven self-defeating in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.

    Mr. William R. Polk has written so much good stuff that it’s hard for me to believe he actually penned this one. Take the quoted sentence. Starting with Jimmy Carter in Afghanistan, the US used that first conflict for “revenge” against the support given to the Vietnamese which sustained their defensive war. Later on, $400/gallon gasoline delivered in Afghanistan was a mighty profitable operation for somebody. Especially when much of it was used to run generators making electricity for air conditioning cloth tents. Iraq enriched many people, starting of course with Halliburton. It also smashed a nation on Israel’s “hit” list. Libya – too much an Arab success story, and anyhow the oil reserves needed to be under western control. Probably the biggest point was the desire to “liberate” the massive stockpile of weapons to send to our good terrorists in Syria. Libya is supposed to have had over 100 tons of gold – gotta wonder where it is now. It’s my opinion that our neocons count every one of those military actions a glorious victory for the only nation they really adore.

    Mr. Polk says that Israel might actually be invited to participate in Syria by invading the place. As if that’s not what they’ve had in mind from the outset. Until recently that shitty little nation functioned as part of ISIS’s air force. And along with Turkey in the north, a hospital system for ISIS in the south. No doubt they’d LOVE to be begged and bribed to make another land grab to the north.

    Mr. Polk pretty much ignores the massive aid ISIS has been getting from outsiders. If Syria tries to get close to a fortified target to take it out with tank fire, ISIS is ready to destroy those tanks with the latest and best anti-tank weapons from the US by way of Saudi Arabia. So Syria is forced to use the much less selective artillery and “barrel bombs” which cause so much hyperventilation in the West.

    ISIS has been getting really significant amounts of money by stealing Syrian and Iraqi oil and reselling it to Turkey. Did the US do a thing to stop this until the Russians recently shamed them into it? NO. The BHO neocon administration was happy enough smashing oil infrastructure owned by the Syrian government, but ixnay on bombing the endless truck convoys. In many backhanded ways the US has been fully supporting ISIS.

    Inadvertently, ISIS has identified the elements for us: meeting communal needs, compensation for previous transgressions, and calls for a new beginning. Such a program need not be massive and could be limited, for example, just to children by establishing public health measures, vitamins and food supplements.

    Organizations (such as Médecins Sans Frontières, the Rostropovich Foundation, the Red Cross and Red Crescent) already exist to carry it out and indeed much is already being done. The adjustment is mainly in psychology – the unwillingness for nations to admit wrongdoing – as we have seen in the German “apology” for the Holocaust and the failure of the Japanese to apologize for the Rape of Nanking. It would cost little and do much, but, in these times, it is almost certainly a non-starter.

    This dream-world stuff assumes two things – that ISIS would permit outsiders to do any such thing, and also that the US would permit outsiders to do any such thing. The US recently destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Afghanistan while killing dozens of medical workers and patients. And MSF had to withdraw from ISIS areas because of abductions. I’ll admit the latter case could have been a public excuse to cover for private threats from the US. In any event, this scheme isn’t going to work.

    The US has walked away from the carnage it caused in Iraq, has done nothing for Libya after destroying that nation, and Holy Israel continues to get over 50% of US foreign aid despite needing it not at all. No apologies or reparations for the tons of depleted uranium left contaminating Iraq. No prosecutions whatever for the illegal torture programs.

    To end this rant, what are the chances of the US (and the rest of the West) doing the right thing for brown-skinned Muslim kids when Madeline Albright declared that the execution of 500,000 Iraqi children “was worth it”. I would remind readers the number is TWICE the death total of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. But will the new religious fanatics who make a yearly ritual of mourning those deaths ever do the same for the dead Iraqi kids? Hell no. So what are the chances of the US stopping it’s stealth support for ISIS and making active reparations for the wreckage of all the nations it has recently destroyed for Israel.

    My estimate of that probability is zero.

    • Abe
      November 18, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Thank you for the rant, Zachary.

      Professor Polk perhaps may be congratulated for being one of the few Consortium News contributors to directly acknowledge the obvious — the Israeli dog in the fight in Syria, and the eagerly anticipated payday the Israelis invariably manage to wring out of the chaos they instigate.

      • BG Davis
        November 21, 2015 at 1:27 am

        Gee, Abe, do you feel better now that you have mindlessly insulted someone who doesn’t agree with your ideas?
        BTW, love your clever antisemitism: (“the Israeli dog in the fight”).

  3. Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
    November 17, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    For all its life, Islam (not Muslims) has been sending an Empire after Empire to the garbage bag of History. The Persians were the first to go and the Soviet Union was the latest. Now is the time for the next generation of Empires (now called Super powers)!! Today, even the Presidents of Democracies consider themselves to be temporary Emperors!! Have you heard of The Imperial presidency?! Nixon used to think and act as if he was an Emperor. His late night phone calls to even Bill Clinton directing him on what to do were his way of feeling that he was shaping the world very much like Alexander the Great!! Even Iron Asses like Cheney and Rumsfeld acted like vice Emperors!!

    There is something about Islam (again not Muslims) that makes even its weakest adherents able to defeat the mightiest of the mighty. One has to understand Islam to know what that is…..The real strength of ISIS is that although the vast majority of Muslims despise some of its actions, the idea of Muslims being united again in a country that binds them together is irresistible because it is part of the religion itself. If there is something called The United States of America then why can’t there be The United States of Islam?! If there is something called The European Union then why can’t there be The Muslim Union?! The West thought that it can manipulate Political Violent Islam to their advantage by creating Al-Qaida (mother of ISIS) and the plan will end up working against the West itself. It is like the west created a monster that will end up destroying it…………….Too bad that people do not remember history especially when they have power…………

    • Bill Bodden
      November 17, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      Too bad that people do not remember history especially when they have power

      Too bad that people never learned history especially when they have power

    • BG Davis
      November 21, 2015 at 1:28 am

      “why can’t there be The United States of Islam?”
      Because the Muslims are too busy killing each other for control of Islam.

  4. F. G. Sanford
    November 17, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    This article discusses two themes: the so-called “grey zone” and international terrorism. Most people are uncommitted – they live in the “grey zone”, neither with or against the “terrorists”. They just want to go about their lives. Terrorism initiates retaliation, which kills civilians and inspires a desire for justice and revenge. That polarizes the “grey zone”, generating recruits. What the author touches upon but fails to adequately illuminate is that “international” terrorism requires STATE SPONSORS. It does not and cannot exist otherwise. In the case of ISIL, the state sponsors and enablers are Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and The United States. While insurgencies can generally not be defeated by strategic bombing, this one could be ended very quickly by just that. The “official” policy is the destruction of ISIS, but the hidden agenda is destruction of Syria and eventually Iran on behalf if Israel. A few “strategically” placed bombs on Rhyad, Tel Aviv and Ankara could make this the shortest war in human history. Don’t expect that to happen. The real “strategic objective” here is to keep this war going for as long as it is profitably possible. We’re talking in terms of decades, unless Russia, China and Iran finally get tired of screwing around with the neocon imbeciles orchestrating the chaos.

    • November 18, 2015 at 5:33 am

      You are completely right. IS could be economically isolated by closing the supply routes to Turkey, Israel, Jordan. The terror organization is not able to keep economic networks and state institutions functioning without substantial help from outside. This would of course instantly initiate the accusation of starving the population, as it happened in Eastern Gouta and other areas, where Islamic radicals are besieged by the Syrian army.

      To some extent Jordan has already scaled down support for the Islamic fighters and impeded traffic, but the lifelines to Turkey and to Israel are intact. This is the reason the towns Jarabulus, al-Bab, Manbij at the Turkish border are of such immense importance. That stretch of the border is the main crossing area for IS apprentices and supplies of all kind, who come from the Turkish city Gaziantep and enter the Aleppo countryside to reach the caliphate capital Raqqa.

      The Kurdish YPG/YPJ would like to march into this area to close the gap between the Afrin and Kobane canton, but Turkey has made clear that any move of the Kurds across the Euphrates to the western border region would be a casus belli. Turkey has shelled YPG/YPJ positions various times and concentrated huge forces along the border, ready to invade Syria.

      Ironically the G20 summit in Turkey, Antalya was all about reigning in IS, despite the fact that the second largest sponsor of terrorism was hosting the conference and Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor, was represented by a sizable delegation led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

      One wonders, how long this diplomatic lampoonery can go on without exposing the utter cynicism, dishonesty, and immorality of Western leaders to everybody with a functioning brain.

    • Abe
      November 18, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      Not hard to guess where to prick with the pin — Herzliya and Bethesda.

  5. Bill Bodden
    November 17, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Der Spiegel has a related article in English: Taking Terror Abroad: The Islamic State’s New Strategy: The attacks in Paris mark a shift in the Islamic State’s strategy. For the first time, the Syrian jihadists have organized attacks abroad, making the terrorist organization look more like al-Qaida. By Jörg Diehl and Christoph Sydow – http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/paris-attacks-illustrate-shift-in-islamic-state-strategy-a-1063309.html

  6. Stefan
    November 17, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    A “trap”?
    Give me a break

  7. November 18, 2015 at 3:23 am

    The tactics and strategy of ISIS, as described here, sound remarkably like the tactics and strategy US neocons and their black-ops mercenaries are employing around the globe already.

  8. November 18, 2015 at 5:40 am

    I’ve always had issues with the “they did it to provoke us into bombing them” theory, including: [i] a uniform lack of evidence that the motivation in reality exists; [ii] its counter-intuitiveness; and [iii] western governments’ unwavering insistence on doing precisely what the enemy putatively wants them to do.

    The theory was trotted out after it became clear that George W. Bush’s “they did it because they hate our freedoms” wasn’t going to fly as an explanation for 9/11. But it scarcely could be reconciled with an al Qaeda set on getting westerners out of the Mideast. Provoking the U.S. into invading the Mideast just didn’t fit.

    And just so with the ISIL situation. At a time when ISIL is attempting to consolidate territory and create functioning government institutions clear down to the community level, we’re expected to believe that what they really want is for us to bomb them back into the Stone Age?

    Then there’s the somewhat overwhelming evidence that ISIL is a U.S. creation, still directed by the U.S. Add to that the fact that the U.S. has long had a virtual monoply on terrorist acts in Europe (all false flag actions) via Operation Gladio, and the picture of reality becomes something, although still murky, quite a bit different than portrayed by Mr. Polk.

    • Daniel
      November 24, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      Exactly. Seldom is the question asked: If it is so easy to identify IS targets and strongholds with all of our sophisticated satellites and surveillance, and if they are such a threat to the West, why have we not addressed them before? Somewhere in that question lies a truth that neither this article nor any mainstream journalist will dare speak to. Oh what a tangled web we weave…

  9. Naresh
    November 18, 2015 at 7:07 am

    In this mayhem one thing is guaranteed thanks to Russia –
    a secular repeat secular core Syria comprising the coastal region and the connecting Homs-Damascus corridor .

  10. Peter Loeb
    November 18, 2015 at 8:01 am

    “SUCCESSFUL”

    Mr. Polk brings up some helpful points but as some commenters
    have observed gives others short shrift.

    1. The power of the lobbying of the (primarily) US defense
    contractors is made clear in William Greider’s
    FORTRESS AMERICA (1998). Since WW Two
    companies have less weapons to make and desperately
    search for other high-paying jobs and more weapons to
    make and design. As Greider explains, they want
    a World War Three. They compete for “market share”
    of sales of weapons worldwide. They even sell at
    discounts etc. to assure of this as well as profit.

    2. Racism and Supremacy: These points are
    dealt with but insufficiently. Killing civilians—
    not “military targets—is and always has been the
    goal of bombing even prior to the atomic bomb.
    It is not an “accident”. This includes Dresden and
    many other objects of ariel bombing. The
    civilians are defined as inferior. The more who die
    the better for the “North”. For a more in-depth
    discussion see Gabriel Kolko’s POLITICS OF WAR,
    especially in sections on dropping the A-bomb,
    possibly a disappointment since fewer (non-superior
    and “yellow”) civilians were killed and injured in
    the actual A bombs of that perior (Aug. 6) compared
    to non-Atomic bombs previously and then in use.

    2. The provocative role(s) of Israel and US
    Jewish “elites” is central. So too are the
    relationships with other so-called American
    “allies” with whom Polk all-too-quickly
    discusses. Is the west(“north) in fact dealing
    with al-Quaeda through its affiliates including
    al-Nusra. (The “moderate opposition” as we
    hve learned is a fabrication. Ditto our
    “friends” the Turks. Note detailed
    analyses of the recent Turkish election
    based on anti-Kurdish fear mongering.

    3. It has always seemed particularly brutal
    that such groups as al- Quaeda and others are
    so willing to sacrifice the blood and well-being
    of its own people. That has been a fact.
    The “north” has been invited, in fact welcomes,
    to liquidate hundreds of thousands of their own
    neighbors. Often I had thought this was
    a miscalculation on their part, but perhaps
    instead it is the essence of ISIS’s and others’
    calculations.

    The complex history of diplomacy and the
    development of war is discussed in detail
    by the late Gabriel Kolko in his many land-
    marks works.

    I agree that there are holes in this
    presentation of Polk’s but remain indebted
    for the new information provided.

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  11. Lusion
    November 18, 2015 at 9:31 am

    While I agree with other commentators on a lack of discussion of certain crucial aspects of the ISIS phenomenon, I nevertheless enjoyed this article very much.

    Mr. Polk has given us a rare analysis of the actual mindset and strategy of those who are “honestly convinced terrorists”, no matter who happens to enable, finance, train and arm them from behind the scenes.

    Mere mercenaries don’t tend to be willing to blow themselves up, maybe some can be blackmailed by having their families in harm’s way, but in general I reckon them to be the genuine article.

    I had to instantly think of Putin’s UN speech, where besides this clever catchphrase:

    “I’m urged to ask those who created this situation: do you at least realize now what you’ve done?”

    He also said the following:

    “I’d like to tell those who engage in this [arming, financing…]:
    Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are. So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here?”

    Here’s a bit of the context (I don’t know how to highlight text here, hence the repetition):

    “In fact, the Islamic State itself did not come out of nowhere. It was initially developed as a weapon against undesirable secular regimes. Having established control over parts of Syria and Iraq, Islamic State now aggressively expands into other regions. It seeks dominance in the Muslim world and beyond. Their plans go further.

    The situation is extremely dangerous. In these circumstances, it is hypocritical and irresponsible to make declarations about the threat of terrorism and at the same time turn a blind eye to the channels used to finance and support terrorists, including revenues from drug trafficking, the illegal oil trade and the arms trade.

    It is equally irresponsible to manipulate extremist groups and use them to achieve your political goals, hoping that later you’ll find a way to get rid of them or somehow eliminate them.

    I’d like to tell those who engage in this: Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are. So, it’s a big question: who’s playing who here? The recent incident where the most “moderate” opposition group handed over their weapons to terrorists is a vivid example of that…”

    Well worth considering in whole: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/page/10

  12. albert
    November 18, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    There is no way that millions just start migrating out of the Middle East into Europe because of a sudden impulse to do so, some very powerful supporting group is behind this and it simply is not clear what would be the motivation for such a massive invasion this mass movement of people across European borders equates to genocide:
    Who has the most desire to empty the Levant of Arabs and send them packing to Europe. You kill so many birds with that one stone it’s irresistible.
    IS-rael & ISIS-rael, one and the same. This flood of muslim refugees into White CHRISTian Democratic Europe is a repeat of Israel’s actions in 1948 , terror used to depopulate areas that Israel wishes to grab for “Greater Israel” and at the same time to dilute and destroy CHRISTian Europe. http://journal-neo.org/2015/10/23/america-s-coalition-of-treachery/
    ————–
    Before the state of Israel was founded, the terrorist underground militias that were to become the Israel “Defense” Forces committed over 100 massacres of civilians. The atrocities intensified in the months leading up to the “declaration of indeperndence”. In March and April 1948 alone over 25 massacres were committed including infamous ones such as Tantura and Deir Yassin. Israeli leaders themselves credited these actions as of great use in getting the Palestinians to evacuate Palestine so that a Jewish state could be established without a demographic “burden” of “non-Jews” (Christains and Muslims). The massacres continued after the war with government ordered slaughters at Kufr Kassem in 1956 (see http://www.taayush.org/new/kas…, and more until the latest slaughter of 1400 in three weeks in Gaza (most of them civilians). This showed that the state of Israel is still addicted to these policies of terror.
    http://investmentwatchblog.com/europe-gets-the-next-wave-of-muslim-migrants-and-its-all-men/
    “The Zionist version of the Palestinian exodus is a myth manufactured after the cataclysm took place. If the Zionists could show that the refugees had really fled without cause, at the express instructions of their own politicians, they would greatly erode the world’s sympathy for their plight — and, in consequence, the pressure on themselves to allow them to return. Thus in public speeches and scholarly-looking pamphlets they peddled this myth the world over. It was not until 1959 that the Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi, exposed it for what it is. His painstaking researches were independently corroborated by an Irish scholar, Erskine Childers, two years later. Together, they demonstrated that the myth was not just a gross misrepresentation of accepted or even plausible facts; the very ‘facts’ themselves had been invented. Orders for the evacuation of the civilian population had not simply been issued, the Zionists said, they had been broadcast over Arab radio stations. One had come from the Mufti himself. This was the cornerstone of the Zionist case. Yet when these two scholars took the trouble to examine the record — to go through the specially opened archives of Arab governments, contemporary Arabic newspapers and the radio monitoring reports of both the BBC and the CIA — they found that no such orders had been issued, let alone broadcast, and that when challenged to produce chapter-and-verse evidence, the date and origin of just one such order, the Zionists, with all the apparatus of the State of Israel now at their disposal, were quite unable to do so. They found, on the contrary, that Arab and Palestinian authorities had repeatedly called on the people to stay put and the Arab radio services had consistently belittled the true extent of Zionist atrocities.”
    —David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, Faber, 1977, pp. 136-7.
    This ex-marine points out how the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is nothing more than a well-planned strategy to be in a “perpetual state of war to destabilize the region for the Greater Israel plan. http://investmentwatchblog.com/ex-marine-blows-whistle-on-syrian-false-flag-and-real-agenda/ Also known as the Yinon plan

  13. Ethan Allen
    November 18, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Kudos to Professor William R. Polk and Robert Parry’s ConsortiumNews for this excellent factual articulation of many of the causal historical events that have led humankind to this present circumstance; as well as the thoughtful offering of some of the actual potentially idealistic solutions, and their lessor alternatives, that may mitigate continuing wanton death and destruction.
    The actual “Merchants of Death and Destruction”, together with their global economic and political facilitators, must be publicly identified, their activities exposed, and should collectively be removed from all influence affecting the life and liberty of modern civilization; their confiscated wealth could become the economic resource for international infrastructure repair, humanitarian reparations, and societal repatriation.
    As Dr. Polk succinctly describes the commonly held human interest:

    “Thus, our most important asset is the desire among the vast majority of people in all societies who simply do not want their lives deranged. They want to live in peace.”

    “Work is love made visible.” KG
    As Usual,
    EA

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