Tag: ISIS

ISIS and the Future of Counter-Terrorism

[I’ve been debating whether to post this…it’s a “transcript” of a talk I gave yesterday here at the University of Puget Sound. It’s a bit basic as it was intended for a general audience of, primarily, undergraduate students. I wrote this up for friends who wanted to hear the talk but were unable to attend. It’s a bit disorganized too. So be warned it’s kind of ramble-y and general. Also, I haven’t provided source information or links. If you want any, please ask!]

It’s been a few days since the Paris bombings, and we have some more information about what happened, which has prompted me to reflect on what the attacks—along with those in Ankara, Beirut, and the Sinai—tell us about what ISIS is doing and why, and what these attacks mean for counter-terrorism efforts.

First, it’s important to note that these attacks are occurring in the context of an increase in mass casualty attacks (defined as terrorist attacks causing more than 100 deaths). Between 1978 and 2013, there was an average of 4.6 mass casualty attacks per year. In 2014, there were 26 while to date in 2015 there have been 15. While this is indeed a small n in terms of both number of events and time, it’s interesting to note that there might be a trend among terrorists towards soft target mass casualty attacks.

While we still don’t know for sure the degree to which the ISIS leadership in Syria was involved in any of these attacks, it’s looking increasingly likely that they played a role in at least three of the attacks (the Sinai bombing is the most likely to have been done by some other organization, with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula being the leading candidate). But, if we assume that ISIS is responsible for these attacks, it would represent a shift in their tactics and overturn many of the analytic assumptions about the group’s strategy.

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What’s Going On in the Sinai?

The mysterious crash of a Russian charter plane in Sinai over the past weekend is causing all kinds of turmoil in the international arena. As you probably know, there is lots of confusion about exactly what happened to bring the plane down. Shortly after the crash, the ISIS wilayat (province) in the Sinai claimed responsibility, releasing a video purporting to show them shooting the plane down with a surface-to-air missile, a claim that was quickly debunked as ISIS does not have the kind of missiles capable of reaching 31,000 feet, the cruising altitude of the plane. Furthermore, the plane shown in the video is the wrong type. Russian authorities have been arguing among themselves whether internal failure could or could not be involved. English Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed “it’s more likely than not” that a bomb caused the crash, but President Obama backed that claim down, only saying that “there’s a possibility” that a bomb was on board. Meanwhile, the Sinai affiliate of ISIS continues to claim responsibility, but now without any kind of supporting evidence. And, now Egyptian officials are admitting that not only is a bomb possible but that it is the most likely scenario and Russia has suspended all flights into the Sinai.

So what the hell is going on the Sinai?

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The Danger In "Leading From the Front"

Kerry ISIS

The conventional wisdom about the gradual U.S. ramp up for the military campaign against ISIS is just that, all too conventional. Blistering criticisms from the Right—that the ramp up was too slow and that the President is to blame for leaving Iraq too soon—have both proved hollow. They have been fading as the U.S. and its allies have been successfully degrading ISIS. During the last two months of their successful election campaign, Congressional candidates essentially dropped this criticism from their attack ads and stump speeches. But the notion that the U.S. displayed weakness in the gradual roll out of its anti ISIS operation persists.

However, there was and still is a danger that the U.S. ramped up too soon. One of the primary strategic problems over the last five austerity addled years has been the sizable reduction in defense spending by a series of western allies (although the capabilities reductions, which matter more, have been much smaller and in some cases augmented). As important as maintaining capabilities is, there is also the necessity of strategy, which includes the willingness to use force if necessary. The U.S. attempt to “lead from the middle”, which involves allies sharing security burdens, could be impeded if allies interpret the U.S. taking the lead against ISIS as “leading from the front.” The danger is that this could result in a new round of allies reducing their spending and/or capabilities, which would be a serious setback to American national security interests.

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U.S. Options Limited Due to Will and Not Lack of Drones

Today, Kate Brannen’s piece in Foreign Policy sent mixed messages with regard to the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS).  She reports that the US is balancing demands “For intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets across Iraq and Syria with keeping an eye on Afghanistan”. The implication, which the title of her piece implies, is that if the US just had more “drones” over Syria, it would be able to fight IS more adeptly.   The problem, however, is that her argument is not only misleading, it is also dismissive of the Arab allies’ human intelligence contributions.

While Brannen is right to note that the US has many of its unmanned assets in Afghanistan and that this will certainly change with the upcoming troop draw down there, it is not at all clear why moving those assets to Syria will yield any better advantage against IS. Remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) are only useful in permissive air environments, or an environment where one’s air assets will not face any obstructions or attacks. The US’s recent experience with its drone operations abroad have been mostly all permissive environments, and as such, it is able to fly ISR missions – and combat ones as well – without interference from an adversary.   The fight against IS, however, is not a permissive environment. It may range from non-permissive to hostile, depending upon the area and the capabilities of IS at the time.   We know that IS has air defense capabilities, and so these may interfere with operations.   What is more, we also know that RPAs are highly vulnerable to air defense systems and are inappropriate for hostile and contested air spaces. NATO recently published a report outlining the details of this fact.   Thus before we claim that more “drones” will help the fight against IS, we ought to look very carefully at the operational appropriateness of them.

A secondary, but equally important, the point in Brannen’s argument concerns the exportation of unmanned technology. She writes,

“According to the senior Defense Department official, members of the coalition against the Islamic State are making small contributions in terms of ISR capabilities, but it’s going to take time to get them more fully integrated. U.S. export policy is partly to blame for the limits on coalition members when it comes to airborne surveillance, Scharre said. ‘The U.S. has been very reluctant to export its unmanned aircraft, even with close allies.’ ‘There are countries we will export the Joint Strike Fighter to, but that we will not sell an armed Reaper to,’ [Scharre] said.”

The shift from discussing ISR capabilities to exportation of armed unmanned systems may go unnoticed by many, but it is a very important point. We might bemoan the fact that the US’s Arab partners are making “small [ISR] contributions” to the fight against IS, but providing them with unarmed, let alone armed, unmanned platforms may not fix the situation. As I noted above, they may be shot down if flown in inappropriate circumstances.   Moreover, if the US wants to remain dominant in the unmanned systems arena, then it will want to be very selective about exporting it. Drone proliferation is already occurring, with the majority of the world’s countries in possession of some type of unmanned system. While those states may not possess medium or high altitude armed systems, there is worry that it is only a matter of time until they do. For example, arming the Kurds with Global Hawks or Reapers will not fix this situation, and may only upset an already delicate balance between the allies.

Proliferation and technological superiority remain a constant concern for the US. Which is why, taken in conjunction with the known limitations of existing unmanned platforms, there has not been a rush to either export or move the remaining drone fleet in Afghanistan to Syria and Iraq. IS is a different enemy than the Taliban in Afghanistan or the “terrorists” in Yemen, Pakistan or Somalia.  IS possess US military hardware, they are battle hardened, have a will to fight and die, and are capable of tactical and operational strategizing. Engagement with them will require forces up close and on the ground, and supporting that kind of fighting from the air is better done with close air support. Thus it is telling that the US is sending in Apache helicopters to aid the fight but not moving more drones.

ISR is of course a necessity. No one denies this. However, to claim that this can only be achieved from 60,000 feet is misleading. ISR comes from a range of sources, from human ones to satellite images.  Implying that our Arab allies are merely contributing a “small amount” to ISR dismisses their well-placed intelligence capabilities. Jordan, for example, can provide better on the ground assessment than the US can, as the US lacks the will to put “boots on the ground” to gather those sources.  Such claims also send a message to these states that their efforts and lives are not enough. When in fact, the US is relying just as heavily on those boots as they are relying on our ISR.

 

Tweets of the week #4

This was another busy week in global politics and I’m going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.

I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team — and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.

None of those victories featured  the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:

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Tweets of the Week #3

Twitter HQ: Logo artwork

It’s the weekend, so it’s time for the third edition of “Tweets of the Week.” My twitter feed was again filled with some interesting micro-blogging.

By the way, I apologize for the way last week’s home page post looked. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong with the images, though it seems to be fine once the reader clicks the link to Continue Reading. I hope readers can see the image at the top of this page. Continue reading

ISIS, Syria, the Rebels and the US-Led Coalition: What Governs Who?

In a phone call today with a friend working on issues pertaining to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), an interesting question arose. In particular, what types of conflict are going on with the fight against ISIS? My friend wanted to draw attention to the R2P aspects of the crisis, and whether the “intervention” on the side of the US was just according to these standards. While this is certainly an interesting question, I think it points us in the direction of a larger set of questions regarding the nature of the conflict itself. That is, what are the existing laws with which we ought to view the unfolding situation inside Syria? The complexity of the situation, while definitely a headache for strategists and politicians, is going to become equally difficult for international lawyers too. In particular the case has at least two different bodies of law at work, as well as laws pertaining to R2P crimes. Thus any action within Syria against ISIS, or Al-Qaeda, or Assad, or the rebels will have to be dealt with relationally.

Let us look to the case. Syria has been experiencing civil war for three years. Assad’s violations the rights of his people mean that he has manifestly failed to uphold the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. R2P requires that states hold the primary responsibility to protect their peoples from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given Assad’s use of chemical weapons and cluster munitions, as well as targeting civilian populations, he has clearly committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. That Assad has employed the Shabiha, a private paramilitary force, to engage in killing means that he has also more than likely engaged in ethnic cleansing as well. In a perfect world, the Security Council would have acted in a “timely and decisive manner” to stop such abuses, and would have referred the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution. Of course, in May of this year, 53 countries urged the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC. A mere two days later, Russia and China blocked the referral to the ICC by utilizing their permanent veto powers.   Three years of bloodshed, civil breakdown, hundreds of thousands dead, and three million of refugees, it is too clear that there was no desire to intervene in the crisis.   Thus we can say that there is an ongoing R2P crisis, and that Assad—as leader of the government of Syria—ought to be held to account for these acts. Moreover, there is a failure of the international community to live up to its obligations (as it voluntarily incurred under the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document).

The sheer destruction and violence inside Syria is what permitted the rise of ISIS. This seems an indisputable fact.   The group capitalized on the civil war and breakdown, the tensions between and factionalization of the Syrian rebel groups, and the international community’s reluctance to engage Assad.   Thus until ISIS pushed into Iraq, the international community would probably have let it be. Moreover, international law would have deemed the issue one of a non-international armed conflict.   However, once ISIS set its sights on the Mosul Dam, the international community began to wake up.

With this act, ISIS transformed the non-international armed conflict into a two-dimensional one. In other words, it added an international dimension too. Thus as the fighting between the rebels and the Assad regime continued (and continues) to be a non-international armed conflict, but the fighting of ISIS in Iraq meant that ISIS-Iraq-Kurd conflict is international. If one doubts this reading, then it would have at least become a transnational armed conflict at the very least, but because ISIS targeted Iraqi infrastructure, it seems more likely that this single act transformed the conflict into an international one.

Now that the US and other regional powers have entered the fray, it is most definitely an international armed conflict – between ISIS and these states. However, we must still remember that the civil war between Assad and the various rebel fighters is also still ongoing (as well, presumably between ISIS vs. Assad). Thus there is still a non-international armed conflict here too. And, let us not forget, R2P and Assad!

What does this all mean? Well, in short it means that the only way to tell which set of laws applies is to look at the relation of the parties at any given moment. The casuistry here will become the all-important determining factor. For example, if the US trains and arms “moderate” Syrian rebels, one would have to look at the particular operation to determine which set of laws applies. Is the operation one undertaken in support or in concert with the US-led coalition against ISIS? Yes? Then international humanitarian law applies. Is the operation undertaken by these trained and armed rebels one against the Assad regime? Yes? Well, then this may or may not be a non-international armed conflict. The International Court of Justice, for instance, holds that in the case of third party intervention in support of a rebel group, the third party needs to have “overall control” of the rebel group for that conflict to be considered “internationalized.” Given the different rebel groups, this could become a daunting analysis. Is control of one sufficient to say it is for “all?” Or just this one group?

These little details matter because the law of international armed conflict is much more robust than the law pertaining to non-international armed conflict. As the International Committee of the Red Cross notes:

“Although the existence of so many provisions and treaties may appear to be sufficient, the treaty rules applicable in non-international armed conflicts are, in fact, rudimentary compared to those applicable in international armed conflicts. Not only are there fewer of these treaty rules, but they are also less detailed and, in the case of Additional Protocol II, their application is dependent on the specific situations described above.”

In other words, there are gaps in the protection of rights, persons, property and the environment relating to non-international armed conflict that do not exist in international humanitarian law (i.e. international armed conflict).   Thus the case of ISIS challenges the international community in more ways than one. It is not that there are not laws applying to these conflicts, but that the conflicts are so convoluted that the states and parties to this conflict, as well as potential international prosecutors, will rely on so much more circumstantial evidence to sort out the details about what is permissible and when. This, however, is not something likely to happen ex ante in targeting operations, training and arming. I fear that while there are overlapping jurisdictions of rules and laws here, the convoluted nature will engender an even greater realm of permissiveness and the parties to the conflicts will end up transferring more risk and harm to the bystanders. Civilians always suffer, to be sure, but the laws of war are supposed to mitigate that suffering. If the laws of war are convoluted because of the complexity of the actors and their relationships, then this will have greater deleterious effects on the lives and rights of noncombatants.

Tweets of the Week #2

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Welcome to the second edition of “Tweets of the Week.” It was a busy seven days for news and my twitter feed provided much useful information — in micro-form.

The Scottish independence referendum featured especially prominently in my feed. This was perhaps my favorite tweet about the final result:

Prior to the vote, my feed was filled with some great tweets about the #indyref. Here are a few of the shorter ones that I found especially helpful:

https://twitter.com/ZiggyRoswell/status/510153980144787457

The Scottish referendum, of course, was not the only interesting issue in global politics this week. And, over the long haul, it almost assuredly wasn’t the most important either.

For example, the continuing spread of Ebola might be the biggest near-term threat to international security — depending upon how we define “security.”

No matter how depressed you might be about the prospect of new war in the Middle East, this tweet helps provide context:

But read this too, on ISIS/ISIL:

It also seems appropriate to be worried about Ukraine:

Finally, here’s a blast from the past that might be quite helpful in a class that is discussing renewed war in Iraq:

Obama’s ISIS Strategy: A Clausewitzian Perspective

Much ink has been spilled over the last few days concerning President Obama’s speech on Wednesday evening regarding ISIS, as well as how his strategy will face many challenges going forward. Some cite that he does not go far enough, others that he has not fully laid out what to do in Syria when he has to face a potential deal with Assad. I, however, would like to pause and ask about the motivations on each side of this conflict, and whether we have any indications about how the asymmetry of motivations may affect the efficacy of Obama’s campaign. Moreover, we ought to also look to how this strategy is designed to reach the end goal (whatever that may be).

Clausewitz’s famous “trinity” is helpful here, and it is worth quoting him in full:

“War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity–composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.

The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government. The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people; the scope which the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends on the particular character of the commander and the army; but the political aims are the business of government alone.”

While Clausewitz is here looking only to one side of the equation, ignoring the same trinity at work on the adversary’s side, it is helpful for us today. In particular, Clausewitz’s focus on the people – the passions of the people – to wage war are a key component of the discussion about US involvement in Iraq and Syria. Without such a will to fight, the war effort will be hampered. Indeed we can see evidence of this when one looks to the scholarly work on coercive diplomacy.

As Alexander George argues, “what is demanded of the opponent, and his motivation to resist are closely related […] there is often an important strategic dimension to the choice of the objective.” Indeed, he goes on to argue that coercive diplomacy is most likely to successful when there is an “asymmetry of interests,” where the coercing power has more motivation to fight and back up his threat to fight than the target. Even then, there is a poor success rate (32%).

While it is certainly true that the “fight” against ISIS is not really a classic case of coercive diplomacy, at this point it does not feel like a Clausewitzian conventional war either. President Obama’s reluctance to engage in ground combat, and his restriction of US military force to training and air power is a signal that his interests, while strong enough to engage, are not strong enough for more than “limited” war. That he will rely on Iraqi and Kurdish forces, as well as the disparate patchwork of “moderate” Syrian rebels to do the ground fighting is case in point. The asymmetry of interests, as it stands now, favors ISIS and not the US.

This leads us to the second part of the trinity: chance, probability and the commander. While Clausewitz does speak of the genius of a commander, one with a coup d’œil, this presupposes that the commander (or general) truly understands the adversary, the forces – his own, his allies and the adversary’s – and is able to augur the adversary’s strategies and tactics. John Allen, retired four-star Marine general, has been tapped to lead the fight against ISIS.  While Allen is certainly talented and experienced with coalition actions and counterinsurgency strategies (COIN), fighting against ISIS is a different game. First, the coalition in Afghanistan was a NATO-led one, meaning that the soldiers Allen had to oversee where professional soldiers who have for decades engaged in mutual training exercises together. They train together to ensure interoperability. The coalition in Iraq/Syria will not look even remotely like this. Second, fighting a counterterrorism campaign requires different tactics than regular warfare. ISIS is not wholly one or the other. In other words, the US military, in conjunction with its allies can attack the ISIS combatants and materiel, but this will not “defeat” ISIS. ISIS is an ideology as much as it is a group of brutal extremists. Allen, for all his experience in Afghanistan cannot rely on this as a heuristic when facing ISIS, for any strategy going forward will have to blend COIN, conventional and unconventional war.

Finally, if we are to learn from the Prussian strategist, we must look back to President Obama and his Joint Chiefs. The political goals must be clearly defined. Strategies without a clear objective are useless to the commanders, the warfighters, and all those who suffer under hostilities.   President Obama declared: “Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” There are two problems with this perspective.   First, the only “interest” that the US has here is that ISIS (or ISIL) is a distant but potential threat to the US. It is unclear how probable this threat is, let alone how imminent. Prudence, law and morality dictate that one ought only to respond to imminent – that is temporally impending – threats. We are left wondering when it comes to this one. Thus the strategic goal is not to protect the US (this is a secondary or side-effect of the Obama’s objective). Rather, the goal is to degrade and destroy.

This brings us to the second point: there is a fair bit of daylight between degrading an adversary’s ability to act and destroying it.   The first involves a denial strategy, whereby the US and its allies would undermine or make it increasingly difficult ISIS’ ability to achieve its military (and presumably political) objectives. But denial strategies do not involve eliminating an entire force. While ISIS is certainly liable to attack, and any fighter within its ranks is a legitimate target, there are still some rules that would prohibit wholesale slaughter. What if the US begins its campaign, and deals significant blows to ISIS? What if the ISIS fighters start surrendering? They have combatant rights: they wear insignia, carry their arms openly, and are in a hierarchical command structure. Thus, the US and its allies are obligated to give them prisoner of war status. But here is the rub: destroying ISIS, because it is an ideology, would require the wholesale slaughter of all ISIS fighters. But this is clearly immoral and impermissible, not to mention it would not be a full guarantee that the symbol of killing them would generate only more fighters taking up the black flag. Thus one can never wholly destroy ISIS in the way President Obama lays out. I wrote before that one can only destroy ISIS when one takes away the need for it. What this means is that even if the US and its coalition are able to stop this atrocious group militarily, it will require post-conflict reconstruction, jobs, education, healthcare, and rebuilding the rule of law. This is a fact – if the US wants to “destroy” ISIS. The other uncomfortable truth is that post-conflict strategies are going to be increasingly difficult when Assad is still in power and a civil war still rages on. Thus if the US holds tightly to its “strategy,” it should be very careful about expanding its war aims beyond ISIS to the Assad regime, for otherwise the US and many others will end up tumbling down the rabbit hole (again).

Obama's "Lack" of Strategy Towards ISIS

The last two days have seen a maelstrom of media attention to President Obama’s admission that he currently does not have a strategy for attacking or containing ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in Syria.   It is no surprise that those on the right criticized Obama’s candid remarks, and it is equally not surprising that the left is attempting some sort of damage control, noting that perhaps the “no strategy” comment is really Obama holding his cards close to his chest.   What seems to be missing from any of the discussion is what exactly he meant by “strategy,” and moreover, the difficult question of the end he would be seeking.

Let’s take the easy part first. Strategy, at least for the military, has a very particular meaning. It is about ends, ways and means of a military character. Indeed, strategy, as distinct from operational planning and tactics, is about the overall end state of a war (or “limited” war).   The strategic goal, therefore, is about the desired state of affairs post bellum. It requires that one ask: What is it that I want to achieve? How would I get there through the use of force? “Strategy” is not tantamount to “planning,” and for the strategist, ought to be reserved for strictly military activities.

Once one identifies the desired end, one must then take this goal and break it down into more manageable pieces through another two levels: operations and tactics. The operational level concerns the middle term: it something beyond a particular tactic (say aerial bombardment of an enemy’s rear line), to something broader, say a collection of missions. All the operations ought to be directed toward some particular portion of the overall strategy.   At each level a commander is issued a set of commands, and each commander then takes her orders and operationalizes them into how she thinks to best achieve those orders (commander’s intent). She does so by consulting with a variety of reporting officers (weaponeers, logistics, lawyers, etc.) This is a hierarchical and a horizontal process, and it always feeds back upon itself to ensure those goals are in fact being achieved.   Or, at least, this is how the process ought to go.

It is, therefore, laudable that President Obama admitted that he does not yet have a strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria. Why? Because, the desired “end goal,” of which any strategy necessarily requires, is not yet clear. Does the US want to “defeat” ISIS? Surely that is part of the equation, as Secretary of State Kerry called it a “cancer.”   Yet there is more to this tale than merely quashing a group of radicalized, well-organized and heavily armed nonstate actors.  The US military power could do this relatively quickly, if it desired to do so.   But this would not “defeat” ISIS in the way of seeking a better peace or achieving one’s end goal. For taking it out does not entail that justice and harmony will prevail.

This brings us to the second and more difficult question: What is the desired end goal? While I am not privy to the Commander-in-Chief’s thought processes, nor am I present with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their briefings to the President, but as a student of strategy and an observer and academic, it appears to me that the President has not adequately formulated what this end goal ought to be yet. If one truly desires that ISIS is “defeated” this will take more than air strikes, it will take more than (whoever’s) boots on the ground.   It will take establishing the rule of law, providing for basic needs, such as food, security and water, as well as jobs, education, and infrastructure. For ISIS is not a traditional “enemy,” it is a monster made from the blood, havoc, insecurity and fear that have ruled Syria for three years. This new crisis over ISIS does not come from nowhere: over three million Syrians are refugees; over six million are internally displaced; and almost two hundred thousand have died. Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against humanity and war crimes provided the incubator for ISIS. Moreover, the world’s—not just the US’s—failure to do anything to protect the Syrian people and respond to Mr. Assad’s crimes generated an expanse for ISIS to grow and consolidate. That the international community manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the Syrian people is obvious, and it is equally obvious that one cannot ignore a crisis and think it will just go away.

Recall that at the very beginnings of the Syrian crisis, up until the (in)famous “red line” of chemical weapons, the US could not garner support from its allies or from its own people. The geopolitical situation then, while heavily dictated by Iran and Russia, is not much different. To be sure, Russia is clearly on its own dangerous course in Ukraine, and Iran has ISIS in its backyard, but there is no upwelling of international support to this cause.

Secretary of State Kerry’s op-ed in the New York Times calls for a “global coalition” to fight ISIS. Whether he realizes that this threat is not just about ISIS, that ISIS is merely a Golgothan of the Syrian civil war, is yet to be seen. To actually “defeat” ISIS is to remove the need for ISIS. ISIS has merely filled a Hobbesian vacuum where:

“The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice have there no place [in a state of nature]. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law; where no Law, no Injustice. Force and Fraud, are in warre, the two Cardinal Vertues. Justice, and Injustice are none of the Faculties neither of the Body, nor Mind. […] They are Qualities, that relate to men in Society, not in Solitude” (Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 13, para. 63.)

Yet if we view the fight against ISIS beyond the mere military victory, it is a fight against ideology, insecurity, and fear. Indeed it does require a global coalition, but one directed towards the establishment of peace and security in the Middle East – and beyond – and the protection of human rights and the rule of law. In this, it requires states to look beyond their immediate self-interests. Therefore, I am actually happy to see the President give pause. For maybe, just maybe, he too sees that the problem is larger than dropping tons of ordinance on an already destroyed nation. Maybe, just maybe, he sees that ISIS can only be defeated through broader cosmopolitan principles of justice.   If this is too tall an order, then he must tread very carefully while formulating his restricted and “limited” strategy.

The New Blitzkrieg, Part II

isis convoyAs I wrote a few days ago, a new pattern of warfare is emerging in the Middle East and Africa. This “new blitzkrieg” isn’t really new, but it is asymmetric warfare at its best, pitting swarms of fast-moving, lightly armed fighters operating as a network against hidebound hierarchies of Western-trained and equipped “professional soldiers”. These state forces have a bad track record of crumbling under the tempo of swarming, networked attackers; and the only thing that has proven capable of stemming the tide is early airstrikes followed with a robust military “prop-up and mop-up” campaign, as demonstrated by French and African Union forces in Mali. The outcomes aren’t that great in any of the recent cases – but it’s much, much worse when any regional government has fallen to the non-state forces. Continue reading

The New Blitzkrieg

A new version of maneuver warfare is being utilized mainly by Islamic fundamentalist forces to seize territory from government forces trained, equipped and organized along the Western model.

This “new blitzkrieg” relies on lightly armed fighters mounted on “technicals” – 4×4 trucks with heavy machine-guns, light cannons, or automatic grenade launchers mounted on the vehicle. Here are some key factors we should be thinking about in order to potentially combat these forces in the future. Continue reading

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