Yes to err is human and in my earlier evaluations of the Islamic State threat I tended to view the threat as temporary and somewhat ephemeral.Because governing is much more difficult than conquering, I tended to believe the reports of a bunch of ragtag terrorists who instilled fear in their opponents and overran the Iraqi units simply because of the Iraqi ineptness and sectarian divisions. While the latter is true it has become apparent that the ISIS is a longer term threat and has demonstrated effectiveness in skillful use of propaganda with the latest in technical social media. They have taken over municipal administration with an effective organization and they continue to attract a large following in the Sunni world, particularly the Sunni Arab world.
Two aspects of the conflict I did not assess completely. First was the degree of the Arab world and Western world feebleness in response. I noted the weakness of the Obama administration in response, and that the Arabs and the West would be unlikely to enter into armed conflict with the ISIS unless the U.S, deployed troops on the ground. It will be years before the Shi’a Iraqi army is in any shape to take on the ISIS in their Sunni homeland. I also doubt the Shi’a will have the stomach to take on the ISIS on their home turf. The Saudis, Jordanians, and Lebanese will simply try to keep the ISIS out of their countries. The Iranians do not feel threatened because they have barriers of the Kurds in the north and the Iraqi Shi’a in the south. The ISIS should be best understood as a Sunni, Arab organization, which all Arab movements of recent years have been.
The second aspect I did not fully assess was the amount of Saddamist intelligence and security apparatus involved in the IS. The quick setting up of municipal governments and the effective use of propaganda and applied brutality to catch the attention of the rootless, urban, lower strata of Muslim youth in the Muslim world, including those of Europe and north America, has indicated the prowess of their political-Military apparatus. As I have written previously, the Saddamist security apparatus was very effective and was not destroyed by the U.S. Intervention into Iraq. In short to simply label them a “terrorist” organization may have domestic appeal to harness Western support for a war against the ISIS,but it is the fatally wrong definition of the enemy. which is an insurgent force with quasi-conventional capabilities. Terror is by definition “armed propaganda.”
The ISIS threat should not be overrated. It is not an “existentialist” threat to the U.S. They will not overrun the United States,notwithstanding their braggadocio to the contrary. But they are a threat to the vital strategic interests of the U.S. They should not be underestimated. They appear to have staying power and as I have written before their ideology dicataes must continue to expand into the other Sunni Arab regions of the Middle East, including northern Lebanon, Jordan, and a good part of Saudi Arabia. They can also intimidates millions of others and perhaps at some point instigate major urban strife in Western metropolitan areas of the West.