In this and subsequent posts, the terms Islam and Muslim, respectively, will refer to a specific religion and the people who adhere to that theology. Islamism and Islamist, respectively, will designate a small but potent subset of Islamic theology and Muslims that Islamic State exemplifies.
The theology preached and followed by the most passionate proponents of Islamic State derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of the Quran—the Muslim holy scripture—that have been minor features of Islam since its beginnings. Nearly all Muslims reject Islamic State and its religious, militant, and millenarian (end times) theology. Pretending this theology does not motivate Islamic State, however, has already led the Western democracies to underestimate this militant group. The failure of President Obama and other like-minded individuals to avoid precise terminology, e.g., radical Islam or Islamist terrorists, not only reflects an egregious form of political correctness but, more importantly, also perpetuates the underestimation of Islamic State.
Objective, Strategy, Tactics
Before developing tactics that will implement our strategy against Islamic State, we first should be clear about our objectives. Total eradication, if possible, of Islamic State will require a different strategy and tactics than effective containment of this militant group.
My understanding of the military capabilities of the United States and our allies suggests we could adopt a strategy leading to the total destruction of Islamic State territories and the people within that area. The tactics could involve a massive and continuing bombing campaign of the present Islamic State territory. Of course, some proponents of this strategy, e.g., Sen. Ted Cruz, could advocate use of thermonuclear weapons as a “cheaper” and more effective tactic. I don’t think we should go down this pathway at the present time. Even if we chose total eradication of Islamic State territory and the people within it, perhaps thousands of its adherents exist in other lands. These persons outside the geographical area of Islamic State will continue to attack the Western democracies. That is, we can legitimately think of Islamic State as a cancer that has metastasized: We might remove the original lesion, but the malignant cells it has spawned would continue to be dangerous.
I think a better strategy would be containment that leads to the destruction of Islamic State. A very good and longtime friend believes the Western democracies should think of counteracting Islamic State as a serious infection. He suggests:
(1) Our Muslim citizens and residents should be vaccinated against the extremism of Islamic State and other Middle Eastern Islamists, and
(2) Our non-Muslim citizens and residents should be vaccinated against the demonization that creates the increasing separation between non-Muslims and Muslims here in America.
I think many people may agree with my friend.
How could this vaccination be accomplished, keeping in mind that most immunization processes lack total effectiveness? Combating Islamic State will be effective only in alliance with moderate Muslims who neither accept nor support Islamic State theology and its application. For example, such moderates must:
(1) Speak out against Islamic State theology in mosques and other public forums, and
(2) Notify governmental authorities of individuals who have been radicalized or who are suspected of radicalization.
Non-Muslims must forthrightly decry acts of domestic terrorism against Muslims, e.g., arson attempts on mosques.
We need an effective social media campaign to counteract Islamic State propaganda and capabilities in this important facet of modern communications. Fortunately, we are seeing some efforts developing in these directions. Furthermore, I’ve read that our government has awesome “hacking” and electronic capabilities. Why not unleash these abilities against Islamic State? Additional non-military tactics should include shutting down Islamic State international finances and media outlets.
Importantly, Mr. Donald Trump’s contentious proposals regarding exclusion of all Muslims from our country must be disparaged as leading to the polarization of our civil society.
The Intrinsic Weakness of a Caliphate
A Caliph is a Muslim ruler whose authority comes through the prophet Mohammed. Caliphs must come from the same tribe as Mohammed. Caliphate refers to the territory over which a caliph rules. In the summer of 2014, Abu Baki al-Baghdadi declared himself caliph of Islamic State in territories within Iraq and Syria. Islamic State, therefore, is the first modern iteration of a worldwide caliphate to be established conforming to Islamic prophecy. According to some aspects of Islamic theology, al-Baghdadi is the eighth caliph of an expected total of twelve.
Islamic theology maintains that a caliph must constantly act to expand his territory, including going to war once a year, until the entire world is incorporated into the caliphate. If geographical extension of the caliphate fails, the caliph will be considered illegitimate and removed from his position, an action that might very well lead to the destruction of the caliphate. Thus, the characteristics of the caliphate, especially the requisite expansion, show a possible way to the destruction of Islamic State: Keep it from expanding. From this perspective, I believe Islamic State should better be considered a cancer rather than an infectious process. A cancer and its metastases require different treatments than an infection.
Regardless of the perspective—cancer versus infection—I don’t think we have sufficient time for our therapies to work as long as Islamic State exists geographically with open borders that Islamic militants can cross with little difficulty. If this assessment is correct, our efforts to combat Islamic State must incorporate the judicious and resolute application of military actions from the Western democracies and Sunni Muslims.
Appropriate Military Action
Vigorous and prolonged targeted bombing of military assets and non-military resources can be a strong adjunct to the containment and ultimate, destruction of Islamic State. Bombing alone, however, is unlikely to destroy Islamic State. The proverbial “boots on the ground” or ground forces will be needed. The majority of the ground forces should come from Sunni opponents of this vicious caliphate. The Western democracies can arm, train, and assist this Sunni force. Despite the renowned military prowess of Kurdish forces, the Kurds are unlikely to participate in combat outside of the area of the independent state they wish to form, Kurdistan.
I do not advocate, at this time, a ground invasion of Islamic State territory; rather, I think the borders of Islamic State must be closed. Closing the borders of Islamic State will need cooperation from adjacent states like Turkey. We need to apply diplomatic efforts to convince the Turks and other countries to assist in closing Islamic State borders. This diplomacy should forthrightly remind Turkey of the value of continuing military and economic support from the United States and other Western democracies, including advocacy for NATO membership.
I also think we should establish a “no-fly zone” over Islamic State territory except for aircraft from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany. I would have sufficient numbers of armed drones constantly flying over Islamic State to assist in targeting and destruction of any motorized vehicles—armed pickup trucks and tankers for oil transport—and massed groups of armed individuals. Destruction of the Islamic State-controlled oil fields should be immediate and complete. I understand the environmental damage that could result; but, the petroleum removed from intact oil fields also will lead to environmental damage through consumption in vehicles and power generation.
The military, financial, and diplomatic efforts we can bring to bear on Islamic State will keep the original cancer of Islamic State from expanding and producing further metastases. If the Islamic State caliphate cannot expand, Abu Baki al-Baghdadi will be viewed as an imposter caliph. His caliphate will much easier to destroy with appropriate ground forces.
The strategy and tactics I have summarized necessarily mean that innocent civilians within Islamic State must continue to suffer. Absent a full-scale military invasion that will require large numbers of United States troops initially and as a subsequent occupying force, I see no alternative to this suffering. Even if sentiment within the United States changes toward majority support for an immediate invasion of Islamic State, I think containment is the best option.
Islamic State longs for a Quran-prophesized final battle between the armies of Islam and Rome, i.e., the Western democracies. This battle, which evokes images of Armageddon described in the Book of Revelation, is to take place in the northern Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. Once Islamic State is suitably degraded by containment, I think the United States and its allies should send a heavily armed brigade or division as an invasion force to Dabiq and dare Islamic State to come to its final battle and military defeat: That is, in this instance, to give Islamic State what it wants.
My next post will discuss how the final apocalyptic battle Islamic State desires can lead to the destruction of the current iteration of Islamism.