What Conditions Enabled ISIS To Flourish In The Middle East?

By Sal Bommarito

ISIS is a band of quasi-organized murderers and thugs that has taken the Middle East by storm. The success of ISIS to date is best exhibited by its annexation and retention of vast areas of land in Iraq and Syria.

There are other noteworthy achievements that should be mentioned. No army of fighters can be successful without recruits, arms, ammunition and cash. Most believe ISIS is funding these requirements by stealing and selling oil and antiquities. Additionally, some wealthy Arab interests and/or insurgent groups may be providing funds to help conduct ISIS’ military pursuits.

Regarding recruitment, the insurgents have masterfully used social media to broadcast their propaganda and to encourage disenfranchised and unhappy young people to affiliate with their cause. Thousands have joined the fight in the Middle East. Exacerbating the situation are ISIS enlistees who may try to take the fight to enemies outside the region. ISIS developed a “lone wolf” concept of training and funding people to attack nations around the world who are not sympathetic to its cause.

How was ISIS able to achieve such success in a short period of time? A perfect storm made it possible, beginning with the destitution of many Muslims and a desire for self-rule. Regimes were toppled as many young people demanded more say in the selection of their leaders.

This dream was never a real possibility and led to a vacuum as long-time leaders across the Middle East abdicated. The ideal of democracy in places like Egypt, Libya and Yemen faded away quickly. However, it served as a catalyst for the ensuing anarchy led by fanatical clerics.

In lesser-developed countries, destitution leads many people to embrace orthodox religion. Clerics have a great impact on many nations, especially in the Middle East. Adding to this is the age-old feud between the two largest Muslim sects. Frankly, democracy is not plausible in places where religion is as strong as government, the logistics of fair elections are too complicated and the populous is conflicted by two competing religious groups that are continuously fighting for dominance.

Anarchy resulted from all these forces, a condition that breeds ultra religious fanaticism. The most powerful leaders in rural areas are the ones who ultimately take control when the central government is in chaos. This scenario enabled ISIS to gain traction.

From its outset, ISIS’ belligerent and threatening attitude should have been a warning to observers on the outside, in places like the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. These countries stood aside for months and allowed ISIS to gain a foothold and great momentum. Success soon followed becoming enticing to disenfranchise people in surrounding countries.

Even after Middle East countries and the west recognized the potential of ISIS globally, they did not react with the aggression necessary to squash this determined rebel group motivated by a dangerous ideology. Muslim countries were tentative about going to war with other Muslims. The U.S.’s tepid response to ISIS gave the insurgents time to flourish.

So now ISIS has dug in for the long-term. The fighters have fortified their positions in populated areas. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of lone wolves are cooking up plans to kill in scores of locations around the world to instill terror.

The U.S. has been unable to convince Middle East countries to become more engaged, probably because the U.S. has not engaged to the fullest extent. Dropping bombs without ground controllers and not employing ground troops to mop up after bombing are not a plan for victory.

Current news: President Obama is attempting to get congressional approval for the continuing conflict with ISIS, but the approval would specifically forbid the use of ground forces. It appears that members on both sides of the aisle are not amenable to the proposal. Also, the new proposed law would be in force for three years extending into the next presidency.

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