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February 23, 2015

A Strategy to Defeat ISIL

Our President has been criticized for not having a strategy and for leading from behind. I would counter that leading from behind is a partial strategy. It is a device that has drawn out various militias to be boots on the ground. So the Kurds were forced to defend themselves. Then the Christians formed a militia. Even the Yezedis up on Mt. Sinjar have a militia now. This is, of course, a messy process and one that is likely to lead to the Balkanization of the Middle East.

An air campaign can also be strategic. It can be the catalyst that increases the effectiveness of the various militias. Our President has stumbled onto something here. Unfortunately, he may be driven by the media into an attack on Mosul. Is he about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? On the other hand, is the word that he has Mosul in his sights a strategic feint, an attempt to draw ISIL resources to Mosul and away from other targets?

What is Daesh, ISIL, ISIS, or the Islamic Caliphate?

What it is makes a difference in terms of what can be done about it. Making distinctions can help define a strategy to counter this movement. First, the President and his minions are wrong. The Islamic Caliphate is not unIslamic. It is not a perversion of Islam. In its own view, it is the purest of Islamic movements. We might think of it as a fundamentalist movement, or a literalist movement. It is a type, but not the only type, of Salafi Islam. It would be appropriate to think of it as a Medieval or Archaic Islamic movement. It has an apocalyptic vision and is seeking to bring about the apocalypse by following a prophetic roadmap.

Without understanding their theology or what people are calling their “ideology,” it is unlikely that coherent strategies to deal with it will emerge. The genocide, slavery, expansionism, strict behavioral rules and extreme punishments all have scriptural support. In fact, the declaration of a Caliphate itself has scriptural support. In addition, it is a critical draw for recruiting. Those who are drawn to the movement want to be part of the Caliphate, they are expecting to die in its service, and are not generally contemplating returning to their place of origin.

Disrupt Prophesy

The first rule is to disrupt prophesy whenever possible. I do not assert that I am an expert on Islamic prophesy; experts should be sought out. Nevertheless, allow me to sketch several possibilities. Do not send a Western army to confront them on the field of battle. This is what they expect and this is what they want. Instead, one might try to persuade Turkey to join the opposition to ISIL, because it appears that Daesh is intent on sacking Istanbul at some point, because it was the Medieval seat of the Byzantine Empire. One of their prophesies relates to an ultimate confrontation with Iran; perhaps in their view when seen through a knowledge of contemporary weapons, this confrontation could be nuclear in nature. So it might be wise if Iran and Hezbollah were to take this into account in their opposition to Daesh.

Delegitimize the Caliphate

One of the requirements for a Caliphate is that there must be territory over which the Caliphate rules. For example, a guerrilla army that moves around cannot be considered a Caliphate. This suggests that invigorating the policy of taking over soft targets such as villages and denying them access to roadways, drives them into the large cities and opens them up to internal criticisms that they are not really a Caliphate, because they do not hold contiguous territory.

Another requirement of a Caliphate is that it provides for the economic needs of its people. If Daesh only holds a few cities, these cities will be difficult to service and this will open them up to internal criticisms that they are not able to behave like a real Caliphate. So don’t attempt to take Mosul. Instead, try to take every village you can around Mosul.

How Will this End?

If Daesh is not a Caliphate and if prophesies are not coming true, then their appeals for funds and fighters will fall on deaf ears. The Daesh movement will collapse. The residents of the cities that they hold will tire of the extreme constraints on their lives. They will chafe at the foreigners in their midst imposing these constraints. If given modest military aid, they will rid themselves of the Daesh nuisance.

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