Despite Its Success, ISIS Is Not Mythical

By Sal Bommarito

The battle against ISIS has become a psychological conundrum according to an article in the New York Times. Maj. General Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations in the Middle East, has been chosen to determine, “What makes the Islamic State so dangerous?”


The article elevates ISIS to a mythical status. I am sure the terrorists are enjoying such notoriety as a growing world power.


Global terrorism should be analyzed on the basis described in the story. But, attributing such ideological prowess to a rag tag group of misfits is overkill. They are driven by a much more basic and primal instinct.


ISIS is a “hybrid” organization, a combination terrorist and conventional army that Nagata indicated “We do not understand. . . , and until we do we are not going to defeat it.” I am skeptical that the compulsion of ISIS is so complex to comprehend. Remember, it does not represent a nation and has no citizens. It is an illegal group of renegades stealing land and oil from sovereign states.


Frankly, if General Nagata were assessing the worldwide Al Qaeda threat or some huge terrorist conspiracy that had affiliates throughout the world, his mission would be more pertinent. ISIS, currently, is in only one location. The insurgents are a gang of misfits whose cohesiveness is based upon unhappiness, religious fanaticism and disenfranchisement, hardly characteristics that should generate horror or be the basis of a new nation. As far as anyone knows, ISIS wants to establish a religious caliphate amidst two countries, period.


The article indicates that the Obama administration is beginning to believe that Iraqi forces together with coalition airstrikes have “blunted ISIS’ momentum.” In the same paragraph, the Times writes “Other officials [unnamed] acknowledge [the Iraqis and the airstrikes] have barely made a dent in the larger campaign to kill the ideology that animates the terrorist movement.”


So, which is it? I think Obama is dreaming if he believes the war is progressing well, and so do others, who are obviously concerned about going on the record. ISIS is growing and prospering because the U.S. and surrounding Arab countries are not taking the fight to the invaders on the ground.


ISIS has done a remarkable job “controlling” those who it overwhelms. But, there is no secret to its strategy- ISIS employs cruel and unusual methods to frighten those it conquers. Dissenters are executed immediately. Women and children are taken from their homes, destroying family groups. Those who do not convert to ISIS’ brand of religion are murdered. Brutal force enabled Saddam Hussein to live in relative tranquility without effective opposition during his reign, and the same tactics are working for ISIS.


The article refers to “psychological tactics” such as terrorizing populations, religions and sectarian groups. True, ISIS creates fear in the hearts of the conquered, steals their possessions, destroys their families and demands uncontested loyalty. The alternative is death. I’m puzzled why these tactics are enigmatic to U.S. military officials.


One issue that needs more thought is whether ISIS is “territorial or ideological” or both. If this can be determined, it will greatly enhance the success of the coalition forces. If “branching out” to other Arab countries such as “Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Libya” is a priority, coalition tactics and the involvement of these nations must be more intense. Ironically, Iran was not mentioned as a target, which I believe is a serious oversight.


The question of what makes ISIS so alluring and magnetic is critical. Studying the reasons why terrorists groups are attractive should be a high priority. Nevertheless, the universe of discontented and disenfranchised people around the world will be fertile ground for ISIS propaganda. Many of these people have little to live for, and would be thrilled to be associated with an anti-establishment group of troublemakers. Social media makes recruiting and distribution of propaganda much more productive.


The Times article piqued my interest. Yet, I think the U.S. is unnecessarily elevating the power of ISIS. The jihadists seem all-powerful because a capable, enthusiastic and well-armed fighting force has not confronted them to this point. If the U.S. and its allies piece together a ground force, ISIS will prove it is not so invincible. I am at sea why the president has not adopted this perspective.


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