Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Political Theater of Beheadings and 'Terror Shock Value': Is Isis a Tar Baby That is Successfully Baiting Barack Obama and the United States Into an Unnecessary War?

We have some smart folks here on WARN who know quite a bit about international relations and foreign affairs. I hope that they can help to answer some of my (and likely your) questions about the organization known as Isis (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

Several days ago, Isis beheaded a second American journalist. In response to this most recent provocation, Barack Obama has promised to "degrade" and "destroy" Isis. This statement will likely lead to an expansion of American air strikes into Syria, as well as the public use of American ground combat troops in direct action against Isis.

The beheading of Americans for propaganda purposes--and then disseminating those images through a professionally produced and edited video--is horrific. However, the murder of individuals does not necessarily constitute a direct threat to the national interests of a given State actor. Yes, it is a challenge to the notion of citizenship and that the State maintains legitimacy by protecting its members against harm from outsiders. But beyond the symbolic offense, the murder of a given citizen ought not to compel a country to enter into armed conflict unless there are other more vital strategic interests at play.

Is Isis a credible long-term threat to the United States and its interests? The spokespeople for the United States military have depicted Isis as being remarkably sophisticated, with good leadership and a core of professional soldiers. Others have suggested that Isis is just a group of thugs, the threat of which is being greatly exaggerated in order to create war fever in the United States by the overuse of such tired phrases like "a threat to our way of life" or "they are just like Hitler".

In my opinion as a hobbyist grognard, Isis does not appear to be a significant military threat to American power. They have conquered territory and resources; but Isis does not yet have the infrastructure or legitimacy to control and manage it. The armed forces of Isis are not particularly impressive and would be destroyed by a professional military with integrated arms and proper doctrine.

Isis' power comes from its ability to scare, threaten, and intimidate its adversaries. Terror Shock Value is Isis' comparative advantage:

Why is ISIL so successful? Simply put they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers – suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called TSV – Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends and countrymen. TSV for ISIL is the belief that they will blow themselves up, they will capture and decapitate you and desecrate your body because they are invincible with what the Pakistanis call Jusbah E Jihad “Blood Lust for Jihad”... 
ISIL has now progressed from local victories to a regional strategy. They have moved from what is referred to in Counterinsurgency warfare as Phase II to Phase III operations, or transformation from fixed covert insurgency to an overt war of mobility. This is when a terrorist group grows strong enough to come out of the shadows to transform into a mobile “liberation army”. ISIL are now seizing the lines of communications (roads and trails) between the location of each victory and holding that terrain by using the Iraqi Sunnah militia as local guards under supervision of ISIL forces. Their trusted members are advancing and doing it in a bold manner that would normally be done with caution. 
ISIL is successful because they understand that Iraqis will run in the face of boldness and brutality. If it’s a small outpost they defeat it, hold the site and link up with resupply from Mosul. The spear head forces now fighting the Kurds are the best of their group. A massive defeat on ISIL could decimate their professional spearhead of veterans and break the image of invincibility. Just one drone and a Special Forces forward control team with a B-1 bomber package with could do that with ease. However, absent US airpower on the offensive, it’s up to the Iraqi air force to strike as they cluster.
Military strategy and doctrine reflect the limitations of technology and equipment; technology and equipment are developed in response to strategy and doctrine. Is Isis successful because they have no interest in fighting a traditional Western style military campaign? Are they just land pirates with lots of oil and money?

Isis is a rational actor. They have specific goals which they are using military and other types of power to achieve. Like all rational actors, Isis may be making choices that will have sub-optimal or divergent outcomes from those they originally imagined or intended. To point. Why is Isis beheading Americans and other captives? Goading the United States into a massive retaliatory campaign, one that you will largely be unable to defend your forces against, would appear to be poor strategic and tactical decision-making.

Would the smarter strategy be for Isis to lay low, keep a larger power out of the fray, and make nice while they consolidate power?

Please entertain a concluding, and perhaps what some would consider a "conspiranoid" question/hypothesis.

One, who wins and who loses if the United States and its allies attack Isis? This answer provides some insight into the agents who are shaping the events in the Middle East.

Two, it is odd that Isis is providing its own panoply of horrors for American and Western media consumption. They are not hiring PR firms to gin up lies about Iraqis unplugging babies from incubators in Kuwait, or of the Germans raping and pillaging the country of Belgium--hoisting unarmed civilians on the tips of bayonets.

Could there be a third (or fourth) party who is doing everything possible to provoke an American assault on Isis? Or am I just crazy, uninformed, and working outside of my depth like a half-blind man trying to play chess against a drunk in a dark closet? 


RPM said...

It's all about resources. Oil is the point of U.S. involvement. It's always been oil. Resources dictate U.S. military's actions not human rights, not revenge for american deaths, not for democracy. The Saudi government financed the 9/11 hijackers. They also impose a violent, sexist dictatorship that also has barbaric beheadings and other tortures inflicted on it's population. Strongest ally in that region for the U.S. Look at all the arms we sell fascist states. America has never given a flying fuck about human rights. North Korea is on of the worst dictatorships in the world. We leave them alone, it's China we're after. But what about democracy and human rights in North Korea? America doesn't give a shit. What it can't have it destroys. If it can't have or destroy something, it ignores it. Who wins if America attacks ISIS? Same people that always win in war. The profiters. True answer for who wins. No one. Over and over again we build up rebels in country after country. Training them arming them fostering hatred for the enemies that were once our allies but are uncontrollable now. And every time that hatred gets turned on us. Finland doesn't have these problems. Maybe if we stop trying to control the world we wouldn't either. The problem, the not so secret to all the endless war and violence we have a hand in, it's simple. America thinks it rules the world, deep down knows it doesn't and keeps trying to anyway. Empires are horrible, which is why they never last.
The solution is not easy. It requires willpower and compassion. Nationalize all oil and other resources in that region so everyone living there has financial stake in preserving the state. Send in humanitarian aid. Food, medicine, educators and yes peace keepers. Unfortunately violence born in decades of bloodlust and helplessness requires security in these case. Then you need to stop all this forcing people from different tribes to cohabite with those they hate. The west drew a bunch of meaningless lines on maps and called them countries after last centuries wars without any understanding of the regions history and politics. If people want to come together it can't be under some dictator's thumb. It's easy to view things in the way we think they ought to be but that is not how the world works. Finally stop bombing the hell out of Arabs. Stop killing their families and destroying their homes. Stop propping up demented little warlords and stay out of their affairs unless they ask for help. Zinn once asked "Why do we have to be a military superpower. Why can't we be a humanitarian superpower." Short answer: no money in it. Long answer, lots of money and resources in it, once those who think they have no power in this country realize THEY run this country, not the few power-hungry psychos that they think they do.

chauncey devega said...

If it is about oil why not just by it from Isis via intermediaries? The war profiteers always win. I saw a talk here in Chicago by someone writing a book on WW1 and local history. A young man in the audience asked about the hearings about war profiteers in the years that followed. I am a hobbyist but I know more than the average person about WW1. The speaker glibly dismissed the question as having no basis and being discredited in the years that followed by scholars of the topic. My jaw dropped. That is very much at odds with what I have read about WW1 and other wars.

Funny how history is misremembered and misrepresented then and now. How will this moment be transcribed?

joe manning said...

It seems that there would be gargantuan symbolic capital to be gained from the US knocking the chip off ISIS' shoulder, especially if it correctly perceives ISIS as all bark and no bite. And ISIS is playing the tar baby to provoke an extreme reaction throughout Islam to increase recruitment, and demonstrate the putative "equity" of the Caliphate; as compared to US/Bagdad sponsored genocide. Its an ungentlemanly gentleman's agreement between the US and ISIS, an irresistible win/win for both parties, a ploy to perpetuate the Orwellian "endless war," favored by every elite for time immemorial.

balitwilight said...

ISIS is not an actual physical threat to the United States. It is a threat to US hegemony. These are two different things. Similarly, if Germany/Spain/Japan or South Africa wanted to control and puppeteer the Middle East, then ISIS would be "a threat" to the imperial ambitions of those nations as well, because ISIS is not a willing client to those interests.

ISIS was a threat to US "interests" in the same way that my neighbour's guard dog is a threat to my interests in stealing his stuff. Why aren't the public of Norway, or Australia, having their tax money plundered right now, and their media hyper-focused in a manufactured panic over ISIS?

The crossover from "threat to INTERESTS" to "actual physical threat" happened when Obama wisely chose to start lobbing $58,000-a-pop Hellfire missiles at ISIS members in Iraq. The usual blowback happened, and ISIS began killing US citizens in retaliation. Having a head severed by a knife is criminal and gruesome - but no less so than having a head torn off by molten copper from a US bomb. But it's win/win for Lockheed Martin and the demented flag-waving Nationalists that run this country.

This cynical lethal imperial overreach is the same pattern as Israel/Hamas (sponsored by Israel as a rival to the PLO), Afghan Mujahedeen who fought the Soviets for the US then became Al-Qaeda, and US invading Iraq spawning the vicious insurgent Al-Zarqawi, who founded ISIS.

When I hear the word "Threat" bandied around, I ask 3 questions: 1) "Threat" to what exactly? 2) Why just the USA: why aren't they a threat to New Zealand? 3) Is the "Threat" likely to increase or decrease if the US drops more bombs on people?

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

Is ISIS a threat? Yes. They could expand to the borders of Turkey and through Jordan to Israel and Egypt. That would be a terrible prospect. While Israel, for example, thinks Hamas and Hezballah are bad, ISIS is much much worse. Can they be beaten? Yes, but only through a concerted air campaign bolstered by real-time, accurate intelligence and coupled to robust ground forces capable and willing to fight. In the case of Iraq, the Iraqi Army needs to incorporate all three ethnic-religious factions. A splintered government would lead to splintered ground forces and a lack of success. Plus, since what is at stake is a form of "moderate" Islam, ground or air forces from Saudi Arabia, and other countries should take part. This is not our primary fight. This is an intra-Islam conflict that will be settled by Muslims, not Americans. We can help, but we cannot do all the heavy lifting. We can do our part with Special Operations forces as forward air controllers and helping plan operations, but others have to do the fighting.

balitwilight said...

It is about hegemony. When the British Empire ran the world, their version of oil - gold, spices, coal, opium - always weighed heavily on where the British Navy sailed for its "humanitarian or edifying purposes".

But - beyond resources - Britain was determined that none should rise to challenge its power. So everything was "a threat". Britain intervened and strategised endlessly: blocking Belgium here, surrounding Spanish colonies there. The USA is in the grip of the same terminal disease. The Grand Game is to surround China and Russia with forward-deployed US military forces and client states. Indeed, to engirdle the planet. Oil is just the gold and spices of today's declining empire.

chauncey devega said...

Always share info. Resources, resources.What of all this talk about the U.S. being "energy independent?" If that is true, then the corporateocracy still needs the resources as power and leverage, no?

chauncey devega said...

Maybe I am immoral, but I am going to put some money in the IRA and focus it on "aerospace", i.e. weapons. Can't go wrong there.

chauncey devega said...

How does one "degrade" and "destroy" Isis? That language--along w. Biden's "chase them to the gates of hell" silliness--is worrisome. I am w. you on the strategy and tactics. The Saudis and others have the tools. They also have the money to bring in mercenaries.

balitwilight said...

Indeed. In this climate, that would be merely prudent and highly profitable.
As long as the US establishment remains able to so easily manipulate even otherwise intelligent members of this citizenry (never mind the hoi polloi) into supporting the immoral proposition that arbitrary and conveniently-defined "Threats (TM)" in the world need to be "Dealt With (TM)" by USA invasions, bombings, death squads (aka "special forces") and kidnappings - your return on investment will be healthy.

At least until the musical chairs music stops. Krupps was a good investment from 1936-1945.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Malarkey on US "energy independence." Even if you have enough, greed dictates that you could always get more. I think it more or less comes down to the strategic interests of our allies in the region. Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait with the US. Syria, Russia, and Iran on the opposing side, resource strategy-wise.

There's always money to be made in "development" particularly for the energy sector. Look and you will find a bank or finance company poised to benefit from increased production/distribution from any of these countries.

No one wants ISIS, but we all want to be on the top of the hill so to speak.

balitwilight said...

See "Domino Theory", circa 1968. Was it not also a version of this domino propaganda that persuaded so many in the US to invade Iraq? Yet somehow, like a sick dog, we keep going back to the vomit of interference and grandiosity.

Where were all our Junior State Department theories when 7-nation-armies slaughtered millions of Congolese?

Yet, now that it suits American vanities I see many "amateur State Department" Americans spinning grand fantasies as substantial as Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz's cotton-candy-sociopathies: orchestrating a narcissistic symphony of arranging the world Just So. If only Muslims would do this, or Saudi Arabia would do that. If only those wogs in Iraq (especially the Iraqi Army) would finally realise that we know what's best for them.

The great tragedy here is that there is truly nothing but good intentions (see "road to hell") behind the "Amateur State Department" disposition. Whereas, the true power brokers (in the bowels of the State Department and the boardrooms of Lockheed Martin, Blackwater, etc) know that this is about nothing other than raw naked power and money.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

Unfortunately, you have to look at political reality two ways. One way is to concentrate on the strategy, resources, coalition building, etc. The other way is that our political leaders must resort to apocalyptic, moralistic language to rally the American people. There is always the hyperbole that the foe is another "Hitler," that we are at a "Munich" moment, or conversely, that we must not get in a "quagmire" or its "another Vietnam." It should go without saying, but this the logical outcome of intervening in Iraq in 2003. We've created this mess and we have to deal with it. But, in a larger sense this is an intra-Islam problem that the "moderate" Muslims have to solve--unless, of course, they don't mind taking a great leap forward to the 12th century.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Stratfor published a good analysis of both issues between Ukraine and Syria/Iraq. They think the US should look at both issues as though forming a single front even though they are two completely different conflicts.

They call it the Black Sea Strategy, ultimately relying on the efforts of people in the Black Sea rim, namely Romania/Poland, and Turkey, Georgia/Azerbaijan as intermediaries in both conflicts.

"The United States ought to adopt the policy of the Cold War. That consisted of four parts. First, allies were expected to provide the geographical foundation of defense and substantial forces to respond to threats. Second, the United States was to provide military and economic aid as necessary to support this structure. Third, the United States was to pre-position some forces as guarantors of U.S. commitment and as immediate support. And fourth, Washington was to guarantee the total commitment of all U.S. forces to defending allies, although the need to fulfill the last guarantee never arose."
Read more: Ukraine, Iraq and a Black Sea Strategy | Stratfor
Follow us: @stratfor on Twitter | Stratfor on Facebook

I am a non-interventionist by nature, but a humanist nonetheless. I would like to see aggressive states checked like the US and Russia, but I would also like to see an end to brutish warlordism.

Much of the West, however, does not trust a non-white nation to be able to act on their own behalf and unfortunately the equipment and strategy necessary to fight an ISIS, Boko Haram, drug lord, or multi-militia force as seen in eastern Congo must be more advanced, but twice as lethal as those they're fighting.

balitwilight said...

I believe Martin Luther King was a humanist too. In 1967, like today, many "liberal" Americans were equally caught up in the self-aggrandizing fever-dream propaganda of the "Goodness of American Militarism".

Because these issues are interlinked it is appropriate to this forum to remember what MLK said in 1967:

"When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of RACISM, materialism, and MILITARISM are incapable of being conquered...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

balitwilight said...

Here is what Stratfor had to say in 2003, wisely advising the invasion of Iraq:

"Stratfor has argued that the United States had two fundamental reasons for invading Iraq:
1) To transform the psychology of the Islamic world, which had perceived the United States as in essence weak and unwilling to take risks to achieve its ends.
2) To use Iraq as a strategic base of operations from which to confront Islamic regimes that are either incapable of or unwilling to deny al Qaeda and other Islamist groups access to enabling resources."

Enough said about Stratfor?

Camilla Cracchiolo said...

I'm an amateur middle east watcher with experience in Palestinian support politics. Never assume humans are doing things for rational reasons, especially when trying to restore the Caliphate. ISIL has a huge emphasis on destroying all heretics, especially Shia muslims. This is going to eventually wind up with ISIL in a war with Iran, which will be only to the benefit of the Western powers.

Thomas Sanchez said...

The question of there there being a third or fourth party manipulating the US to enter this conflict. Is quite believable. With the rush of the last administration to engage Islamic radicals, a lot of money was made, those. Same actors are still quite possible pulling the strings. Different. Administration same actors listening to Fox tv stirring up the fear with (convert them or kill them.) Follow the Money quickly before the taxpayers realize what is happening.

chauncey devega said...

Ask a question, get a good and thorough answer. Nothing wrong w. disagreeing w. me. But, I didn't comment on the Kurds. Perhaps another person did.

Maybe that could be an option. The Kurds have fought well when led by U.S. advisers and given other support. As some of the other commenters said, have the Arabs take care of this problem w. Americans and Western support.

balitwilight said...

How do you quantify "Evil"? What are your scales of measurement? How do 500,000+ dead Iraqi civilians weigh on those scales? And do your scales of Evil include the - literally - uncounted thousands of other dead men women and children blown up from the sky or shot to pieces in the middle of the night in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia? Those orange jumpsuits in the Evil ISIS Videos - they are a callout to Guantanamo Bay. Do your scales of Evil count the 13 years of torture and imprisonment that hundreds of innocent men tonight still endure? How heavily does a human pyramid of tortured people at Abu Ghraib weigh on your scales of evil? Is there still room on your scales for the countless faceless men tortured at Baghram Air Force Base, many to death itself?

How do your scales of Evil look to you now?

Randy Gould said...

No, I know you didn't mention Kurds. I actually think PKK, which has had no US advisors, doesn't need any. They could just use some better weapons. My disagreement with you centers more on that it seems you are concentrating your analysis around ISIS being or not being a threat to the USA. I don't think that is the issue with which we need bother ourselves. I believe it is right where they are that they are more than a threat, they are a pathological group of theocratic fundamentalists who are inflicting horrors upon people right now and something should be done, on moral principles alone, to put an end to it, and if possible (and I propose that it is) without direct US/NATO involvement since god knows where that would lead next. If US and NATO want to arm the PKK, for whatever reason, I support that. By the way, the PKK knows exactly how to fight a group like ISIS. The PKK has years of guerilla fighting under its belt, and, as the US oft says, but never does, "winning the hearts and the minds of the people." Of course, these are just my thoughts and nothing more.

Randy Gould said...

Which is why I single out the KPP versus the other Kurdish forces...

Randy Gould said...

If you know anything at all about me or my blog, I am perfectly aware of all you say. Yes, all that and more is "evil." I would just add give ISIS the military might of the USA and then we can talk numbers again. If you want to "defend" ISIS by pointing out what others have done, so be it, that is reasonable, but that is simply not the place I am coming from at the moment. You are right though, it is hard to "quantify" evil.

balitwilight said...

I'll generously assume that is is mere casuistry to propose that pointing out (as Martin Luther King did) that America should stop slaughtering, corrupting and spawning nightmares all over the world - is to "defend ISIS".

Everyone can now see what America has wrought in the world with metastasized military might (and consequently atrophied diplomatic capacity). But still - out of neo-colonialism, or propagandised narcissism - some still want to believe that the solution to every problem is an American calling the shots, with a gun.
You say you recognise USA actions as "evil". But you argue for more of the same. Furthermore, while the USA was (and still is) in the frenzy of "evil" actions, should any rational or moral person argue for China or Russia to intervene by bombing DC or Kansas to magically stop our "evil"? Yet, from the safety of the other side, that is your argument now. Did you take a poll in Iraq whether the people want even more US shrapnel in their homes? When you consider the origin of ISIS in Iraq's Zarqawi and his ferocious "AQI" insurgency combating US invaders of his country - tell me...who's position (yours or mine) will inflate the ranks of ISIS?
It is revealing of a certain mindset that the trump card against merely insisting that the USA cease actions you already recognise to be evil is "Defending ISIS!!".

Randy Gould said...

Can you read? I am supporting the PKK, not the USA, in the fight against ISIS. I am not advocating military action of any kind by the USA or NATO. I am calling for whomever can to send the PKK arms . If those arms come from the USA, so be it. I trust that the PKK will not become stooges of the USA. Further, there are actually times where if I thought only the USA could stop some slaughter from taking place, I would say okay, with reservations, etc, but okay (kind of like I don't support cops, but if cops drop a hammer on the head of some nazi for some reason, I ain't too upset about it. You probably would be. Have you taken any polls in the ISIS dominated or threatened areas to see what the people there think? No you sit in the safety of your home advocating...well, I don't really know what you are advocating in regards to ISIS. I understand in regards to the USA, but what about in regards to ISIS? Any actual thoughts beyond platitudes and rhetoric? I again I call for whomever can to provide material support to the PKK. What do you call for? Sheesh, It is easy to talk about the USA. Big whoop and aren't you quite the radical. However, I am talking about the problem represented by the likes of ISIS. You just keep talking around in circles...and arguing about a straw man that no one, at least not me, is putting forward. I have fought against US imperialism and Empire and all that since the 60s, but I also recognize the fact that we live in a real world where real people, not just some ideology, are sometimes at stake. Stopping genocide for the wrong reason is better than not stopping it at all. I am done with this argument.